Giorgio Carnini, Italy’ greatest organist, is extremely busy in the hours before the opening of the eighth edition of "An Organ for Rome." “It is the twelfth edition, if we consider the interruption due to Covid," he points out. The music festival is his brainchild, driven by an ethical and aesthetic mission: to make organ music known with free concerts against the background of the beautiful Academy Hall of the Santa Cecilia Conservatory. Organ music boasts innumerable scores and is not only about sacred music. Carnini’s other intent is to bring to the fore a serious deficiency in Rome’s musical scene: the Parco della Musica Auditorium, the concert venue of Santa Cecilia Academy, does not have a real organ but uses instead an “electronic clone,” that is, a digital instrument.
The first concert in the series, Germany and France at the end of the 19th century: two styles in comparison - Tribute to Max Reger 150 years after his birth, will be performed with the majestic Tamburini-Walcker. It is scheduled for next Sunday, in collaboration with the Roman Philharmonic Academy and the Ergo Cantemus Academy of Tivoli. The program includes four Sunday events in May and another four in November, all starting at 6 pm. On the following Sunday in May, Ardita sfida will be performed, featuring organ transcriptions by Debussy and Mussorgsky. Maestro Carnini will be on stage on May 28, for a tribute to his beloved Argentina, where he grew up and lived until the age of 24.
The concert is titled Recordando el 25 de majo de 1810. What happened in Argentina on May 25, 1810?
“On that day, Argentina laid the cornerstone of its independence from Spain. As an Italian-Argentinian, I wanted to pay homage to this fundamental date with a special celebration of the bond between the two countries, as many generations of Italians have emigrated to Argentina. We will also perform Ramirez's Misa Criolla, which was arranged and orchestrated by my first organ teacher, Father Segade.”
In addition to you, nine musicians and singers will come on stage, as well as two choirs of students from Santa Cecilia Academy and Alma Vox.
“I’d say that I’m participating as an intruder. I will play the Argentine anthem, with personalities from the Embassy of Buenos Aires present, as well as a Tango and Miloguita that I composed myself, for piano and bandoneon. Besides that, we will have a lineup of Argentine musicians, such as Ginastera, playing native instruments. For instance, long-standing Inti Illimani collaborator Roberto Massimi will play the charango, a small guitar from the Inca region, and the bombo legüero, a percussion instrument typical of Argentine folklore, will be featured as well.
Bacalov will also be played.
“We wish as well to pay homage to the mothers of the desaparecidos. Bacalov’s Estaba la madre for soprano, piano and bandoneon is the equivalent of the Stabat Mater of many European composers.”
You play piano in addition to the organ.
“I actually play the harpsichord and fortepiano as well. Although the piano was my first love, I was fascinated by the timbre of the organ from an early age. However, in Buenos Aires, I wasn’t allowed to touch the great church organs. Paradoxically, it happened after forty-five years spent in Italy. I moved to Italy right after I got married, interrupting my concert activity for a long time to provide for my family. I played for belly dancers and at cocktail piano bars, and I worked shifts at soundtrack recording studios. When my second child was born, I decided to go back to giving concerts, which I had given up for necessity, with great regret, as that is what I studied for.”
While working at a recording studio, you met Ennio Morricone.
“I got a lot out of that era, the end of the Sixties, and that job. Besides Morricone, I met Bacalov and Piero Piccioni. They would often ask me to find strange harmonies and particular timbres with the organ. At that time, Morricone was living in a villa in Mentana. Bacalov was his neighbor, as were Sergio Endrigo, Sergio Bardotti, and Franco Pisano. I used to go over to their houses for lunch. We played cards and chess surrounded by their children. We would play music, often with foreign artists. Once, Astor Piazzolla happened to be there. He told me Argentina was falling in the throes of military madness…”
At some point, Morricone wrote an organ score.
“I asked him for ten years, including when we would run into each other at Santa Cecilia Orchestra concerts. It took a long time, but he finally agreed to do it. It was 1994. It took me a year to set it up, that Organ Concerto with 2 trumpets, 2 trombones and orchestra. It was hard. Maybe Morricone wanted to get back at me for being so insistent. However, at the debut, he told me: “You know what? I thought it couldn’t be done. You were impeccable, my friend.” It is a difficult piece, which must be listened to more than once to be able to appreciate it but is Morricone all the way. It's both math and poetry. I performed it again on occasion of his ninetieth birthday, during the Festival of Nuova Consonanza. It took me another five months to get back into it. You need to dissect it, but it will satisfy your soul in a great way.”
Many other contemporary composers write for organ. On November 5th, we will hear a first performance by Claudio Perugini.
“It is part of the project that involves all of Bach's works, preludes, toccatas and fugues. Each of the preludes will also feature a contemporary score. In short, Bach as a creative principle.”
Are there many who study the organ at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory?
“There is a full instrument course. During the Festival, I invite many students alongside famous organists, as a contribution to society.”
In the meantime, the giant pipe organ is conspicuously absent from the Parco della Musica.
“Such a glaring absence downgrades Rome in comparison to all the other concert halls in the world. Including the La Scala opera house, where I was delighted to play with a real organ. I drafted a seven-page case study to detail the vicissitudes of the organ that doesn't exist.”
Tell us about this long adventure, Maestro.
“The organ was part of architect Renzo Piano's acoustic design project for the 2,800-seat hall at the Parco della Musica. He had planned to make room for it by removing some seats behind the orchestra. The year was 1995. Santa Cecilia Academy’s president, Bruno Cagli, set up a commission to get the project under way. I was part of it. The documentation was approved with the consent of the City of Rome. The funds were allotted. During the technical-bureaucratic invitation to tender process, Cagli was relieved by Luciano Berio. At that point, the organ inexplicably disappeared from the scene in the new Auditorium. Berio argued that there were no funds and that organs were for churches. These are mysteries of politics that those at the top of musical institutions must contend with. Further meetings with superintendent Michele Dall'Ongaro yielded no results, nor did the mobilization of Italia Nostra that followed. Among our supporters are Federconsumatori, Treccani, the Dante Alighieri Society, and the German Academy. A letter sent in twelve languages to all the countries in the world received moral support, considering that we are not asking for money, although we know that we could easily find sponsors to come up with the three million needed to build an organ for Rome. This would support something far from ephemeral, on the contrary, it would be an imperishable work, I would say.”
Do you think you will be able to accomplish your goal?
"I am confident. Institutions and associations are sensitive to the issue. The Santa Cecilia Academy has been assured that installing the organ in the Parco della Musica would not interrupt the concert events as scheduled because it can be done over the summer break. This was confirmed by the two leading organ builders in the world, the German Klais and the Austrian Rieger, after an inspection of the hall. All we have to do now is act."
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