“We must make music together!”
That’s what famed conductor Lorin Maazel said in 2009 to young Italian pianist Alessandro Taverna, now age 29, when he heard him play in New York. Since then, Taverna has become involved with Maazel’s fledgling but prestigious Castleton Artists Training Seminar (CATS), a summer program and festival in rural Virginia that brings together young musicians and singers for eight weeks of classes and coaching with pianists, opera singers and other artists.
This year, Taverna and opera star Susan Graham performed at the CATS gala in Washington D.C.—and when Maazel takes up the baton as conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra next season, he and Taverna will “make music” together in a performance of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto (scheduled for late February 2014).
A native of Venice, Taverna, who has a twin brother, has a vivid memory from his earliest years as a musician.
“When my first teacher began to accompany me in some easy pieces, I discovered for the first time what meant ‘piano [with] four hands’,” he tells us. “So very soon, I decided to learn on my own the bass clef [the lower range of the piece] because then I could give my twin brother the treble clef part—and we could play together at home. Playing with my brother for me was an unexpected joy, and I still keep it as one of my happiest moments as a young child.”
Taverna has performed throughout Europe, North America and Africa, and has appeared with the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic and the Minnesota, Hallé, and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestras. In 2009, he was chosen by the Keyboard Charitable Trust to perform at Steinway Halls in New York, London, Berlin, Munich and Hamburg. He has a master’s degree from the International Piano Academy of Imola, and currently studies both in Germany and Italy—at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien in Hannover, and at the International Piano Academy “Incontri col Maestro” in Lake Como.
In the world of piano competitions, Taverna was awarded the “Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli” prize (named for a much-loved Italian piano master) in 2010. In 2009, he took second prize at the London International Piano Competition, placed third at Leeds, and won first place at the Minnesota International Piano Competition. His performance of Chopin’s E-minor piano concerto at Leeds was particularly well received. And if he could pick a particularly wonderful night on stage, Taverna says, it would be a 2012 evening when he played at London’s Wigmore Hall.
“The idea that so many incredible pianists of the past had played on that same glorious stage, it was inspiring,” he explains. “It was probably one of the most magical experiences of my life and career.”
He’s a sociable guy: photos on his Facebook page catch him playing a casual piano duet at an arts night in a New York City club. He “likes doing absolutely ordinary things, not too much related to music” when he has a bit of down time—and he enjoys “looking at some websites like Skyscanner, for the best air fares for my journeys!” He’s a big Woody Allen fan, says Maroon 5 is about his only “pop” favorite, and lists the movie Schindler’s List as his “first place” film, followed by Sergio Leone’s western Once Upon a Time in America. (We won’t add the word “spaghetti.”)
Beethoven is his favorite composer for the piano, though he says it’s hard to choose just one.
“Each of Beethoven’s compositions is like a cathedral of perfect architecture,” he says, mentioning “his sense of structure, combined with his phrasing and the deep and emotional influence of all human characters [in his music].” But, he adds, “I cannot forget Liszt, the first composer to become a pianist in the modern sense—and after him, I would without doubt name Rachmaninov.
“What probably I most admire in Liszt, as well as his incredible creativity and perfect writing, is the fact that he spent all his life in a continuous tension between God and man. During the day he was a sinner who indulged with several women, while at the end of the day he was on his knees—with the Countess d’Agoult—to ask for God’s mercy.”
This is his first visit to Texas. He says he’s “expecting most to feel your great spirit of hospitality and friendship, which has made you so famous worldwide…and possibly to eat one of your delicious beef steaks!”
◊ Here’s a video of Alessandro Taverna at 2012’s Winchfield Festival, performing Austrian composer Friedrich Gulda’s PlayPianoPlay—it’s short and fun:
Alessandro Taverna's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
BEETHOVEN 15 Variations and Fugue in E-flat major, op. 35 (“Eroica")
BUSONI Élegy No. 4: Turandots Frauengemach
STRAVINSKY Trois mouvements de Pétrouchka
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
MENDELSSOHN Sonata No. 3 in B-flat Major, op. 106
MEDTNER Sonata in F Minor, op. 53, no. 2 “Sonata Minacciosa”
LIGETI Etude XIII: L'escalier du diable
MESSIAEN Regard de l'Esprit de joie (from Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus)
SCRIABIN Sonata No. 10, op. 70
SCHUMANN Fantasie in C Major, op. 17
KAPUSTIN Variations, op. 41
BRAHMS Piano Quintet in F Minor, op. 34
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, op. 58
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, op. 30
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.