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On “All-Italia”: an interview with pianist Steven Vanhauwaert

May 29, Piano Spheres will be featuring Belgian virtuoso pianist Steven Vanhauwaert in a solo recital, “All-Italia.” As the name suggests, the program will exclusively feature works by Italian composers, ranging from Busoni‘s epic Fantasia Contrappuntistica to later Italian works by Scelsi and Bussotti. I had the chance to ask Steven about the program, his inspirations, how he selects new works, and more. Here’s what he said: 

The Piano Spheres program features works exclusively by Italian composers. What was the motivation behind an all-Italian program?

Pianist Steven Vanhauwaert

I am inspired by Italian music and its fascinating history, and I’ve always wanted to program the Fantasia Contrappuntistica by Ferruccio Busoni; an epic ode to Bach’s Art of the Fugue. It features four massive fugues interspersed with Busoni’s own unique harmonic language and it is bigger than life in all aspects! Around the beginning of the 1900’s, there was a search for a unique national voice in many European countries. In Italy, this was personified in people like Casella, Malipiero, Busoni, Respighi, and many others. They looked for inspiration to their own past (like Gregorian chant, harpsichord music) and to a new future (with people like Russolo and their Futurist movement). I wanted to situate the Busoni Fantasia along with a more individual work of his, the Indian Diary, in their historical context (with the early futurist Pratella) and features some of the later Italian works as well (Scelsi, Bussotti).

You’re known for discovering less familiar works in the classical repertoire, and for collaborating with today’s leading composers. How do you normally go about selecting new works to perform?

I have a strong appetite for new repertoire. I collect scores whenever possible, and I sightread through music very frequently to get a feel for a particular composer’s total output and style. I have a bucket list of pieces I want to program that is so long I will likely never be able to play all of them! For this particular recital I was toying around with the idea of doing music by Busoni, Casella, Respighi, Francesconi, Malipiero, Scelsi, Bussotti, Berio, Nono, Dallapiccola, and many others. I usually try to narrow down the program closer to the concert, but I will often make some substitutions a week before the concert if I feel it benefits the flow or audience experience of the concert. Sometimes I wish I could tell the audience – after we all had a post-concert drink – to go back inside the hall so I can share some more pieces that I couldn’t include in that evening’s program.

What do you enjoy most about solo recitals versus performing with orchestras or other collaborative performances?

I enjoy all three of those formats. Playing with other musicians often brings in the magic of playful communication through music. When I’m playing by myself I enjoy striving for the feeling of being a prism through which the composer’s intentions flow. When it all works out well it’s a very rewarding experience.

What would you say is your biggest inspiration in music, and how does this influence your playing technique and style?

My biggest inspiration in music is the giddy effect that music has on me when I listen to it myself. As for influence, I find myself more influenced and inspired by other instruments, opera, and orchestral music. It helps me get out of the rather closed ‘piano world’ and focus more on the imagination and purely musical ideas.

For more information about the upcoming concert or to get tickets, check out Piano Spheres.

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