In addition to being a member of the Venice-based string ensemble Interpreti Veneziani, Italian violinist Nicola Granillo performs modern repertoire as well as tango and “zingarate” (gypsy music). This interview — on music, life, and being a violinist — took place on July 31, 2012 at his home in Venice.
How did you become interested in playing zingarate music?
Because I’m a classical violinist, I try to expand my mind and field of interest. I think, just to give myself a way to continue to grow. To be open to [other kinds of music]. Does not exist [just] classical music. Music is music. And you may call it rock, folk, jazz, blues, or whatever. It’s music, and music is vibration. You have to understand what [that] vibration is, harmonic to your [own] vibrations. That is the secret. You experience it.
Is zingarate another musical form that you feel comfortable with?
Yeah. Yes, because there two aspects, two elements I love very much. Freedom, and very small and simple feelings within that. Small musical phrases. In freedom, without judgment, without the fear of judgment. I like that very much.
When you play zingarate, do you change your interpretation, depending on how you feel?
It’s just like when you have to shake your hand with a very tall person or shake your hand with a toddler, you have to bend your back. It’s just a difference of bending, of yourself in the direction of the music you are going to play. It’s you who must bend in the direction of the music, and the music says to you “hello, come in.” You are welcome, but you have to knock, and to bend.
It’s interesting that you so often express what you think in metaphors. For example, you told me last year that music is like a stream and that you dip into it and it comes through you, in that moment. Even though you will be playing the same pieces tonight as you did Saturday night, they will be different, because today is different and you and the audience are different. Everything. Do you feel those changes as you play, whatever kind of music it is?
Yeah, there is a paradox of physics that says that when you have the poker cards, covered, one single card, before being discovered, can be whatever. Like a roulette game.
All possibilities, in the 52 cards, can be imagined with music. It will be always different. You may find a particular corner you weren’t looking for, that you didn’t notice before. If you don’t feel stupid because you didn’t see it before, you’ll get it. And you have to be grateful.
A couple of weeks ago, you told me that you were not happy with your performance of La Campanella, because you were tired and it wasn’t your best. But the next time you played that piece you were rested and it felt (and sounded) much better. Everything affects the performance, doesn’t it — mental and physical.
Yes, of course. You can be tired with your body, and it can be OK. But if you are tired with your mind….. that is the worst. If you are disordered and disoriented – those are worse than lack of strength or fatigue.
What sort of disorder are you talking about?
Your mind is like — “please, I can’t now” — but you have to play and then you force. And every time you force in your life the result is not very good. But you have to, and you do it, and you are perhaps also sometimes a hero because you arrived at the end of your journey, your piece, your travel, whatever. But there must be rest moments for your mind first. First. You must think less and feel more.
But that can be difficult, can’t it. You told me that you sometimes can’t sleep because the music continues. I think that’s true for many creative artists – it can’t be easily turned off.
Yeah. Perhaps the problem is taking too much seriously what we do, what we think. I saw an interview with Juliet Lewis. She’s not a very big actress, but I understood and liked what she said. She said, OK we act a character in a movie. But, for example, if you have to play a character, a persona, who is going to die, you have to act like you’re going to die. You don’t have to take it so seriously – “Oh my gosh, I’m going to die!” But real actors could say that is the ONLY way to act it.
That’s called “method” acting.
If I go, it’s not OK. Now listen. When I play a piece, it’s like entering a starship and the starship has autodrive, even though…
Starship, starcraft. There is the autodrive, so you can’t drive it, you can’t pilot it. It’s all automatic. To take it too much seriously, it means that you enter that starship, where you have never been before, and you want to drive it, to pilot it, but you don’t know how. You don’t have the information, you don’t have the knowledge. But you think that you are able to drive it. No, no it’s not like that. The will to pilot the starship is arrogance, and taking what you do too seriously. But this is my opinion.
Do you feel that you are sometimes too serious?
…and that the seriousness forms a block for you, in a way?
Yeah, absolutely, yes, yes.
Can you imagine a solution to this? Can you imagine a way that it could be better?
How can you think less? We can’t do that! (laugh)
We have to understand what we like very much and try to do it very often, with everything, without judgment, without being ashamed. For example, I love animals. I would like to spend more time with animals. Also, I enjoy contact with the sea, and now I live in a city surrounded by the sea, a lagoon. I also enjoy speaking deeply with one person. The crowd is good when you’re playing, but when you want to relax, the crowd is not good. I like tranquility. I like quiet. I have music inside my mind every day, so silence is….. Quiet, more than silence, is important.
Now that you have moved to Venice, you’re living alone. Does that mean you have more quiet in your life now?
Yeah. As I want to.
I’d like to get back to your earlier comment about being a serious person. Because of who you are now, I can imagine how serious you were when you were very young and beginning to study the violin, at age 8. Right?
And, very focused…
Yeah…[quizzically, hesitantly]…but…..I wanted to, you know, to go fast.
Yes. This is something I can’t correct now. There was talent. The teacher said, he is talented for violin. Of course, OK, let’s see what happens. But I wanted to play immediately, you know, play very well. Sometimes I was able, sometimes no.
Did you practice very hard?
Not so much. Not so much at the start.
In the last 3 years I started to, to train. At 30 years old I started to study seriously. Deep, seriously, violin. The sound.
Do you mean the variation of sound color, the quality of sound?
Yes. In my opinion, you have to fuse with the instrument, you have to meld with it. To be one. It’s a very romantic thing, I know. But now I understand what it means. Taking away the romanticism, taking away the psychology, taking away the philosophy, the metaphor aspect of this sentence. It’s truly scary sometimes. But you have to be, I want to be, one with the instrument. Like 4 arms – 2 arms more. I don’t want it to feel like a foreign object. Right?
Yes. The violin as part of you?
Yeah, quite. But I’m very happy to have 2 arms instead of 4! [laugh] But this is my pain. I don’t know if I am able to do it. I don’t know how it might change my career. I’m not interested, really. But I want to know what will happen.
No one knows what the future will be, but for now will you continue to play zingarate concerts as well as classical music with the Interpreti Veneziani?
Yeah. For me, everything is a vacation for experimenting. New techniques, relaxing techniques, especially for the right arm. Because the right arm is the secret of the sound. The [left hand for the] violin is not as difficult as the bow. The bow is very very much more difficult than the violin, the left hand technique. That is my opinion, for my body, for my own skill.
VIEW A VIDEO CLIP OF NICOLA GRANILLO PLAYING TRIO TANGO E ZINGARATE
WITH MASSIMO SCATTOLIN (guitar) amd STEFANO MAZZOLENI (contrabass)
I’ve heard that before — that you must feel that the violin is part of your body. But this seems to be a particularly intense feeling for you.
It’s like being sent to a place you don’t know. You have questions, doubts, fears, because everyone, everyone (also the ones who have never been there, just listened to stories and to rumors), and the ones [who have] been there — they all tell you it’s difficult. It’s difficult. OK, then you say to yourself, [I have] 2 choices: First choice [is to go along with] 6 billion rabbits, who are all scared and they call difficult what is easy. Second choice (more probable) is [that it is] difficult. There is some aspect of truth. Perhaps they exaggerated, every one of them, but there is a basic truth.
But music has been killed from the attitude that “this is difficult.” You have to study. You [are told you] have to play Bach in this way, Mozart in this way, Dvorak in this way. This is typical. And they say to you, [to learn] how to play, there is (I don’t know) a dictionary “how to play Dvorak.” Vibrato like this, bow like this.
I am arrogant, but I am sure about one thing. I am so sure about this. While all the world is speaking about how difficult it is playing Mozart for the bow, how difficult is playing Mozart for the left hand, how difficult is it to conduct Mozart, how difficult it is to sing Mozart – because the phrase, you know, is difficult, and this, this piano improviso, this metaphor. Mozart is laughing. I am so sure of this, because I think that he thinks “why so many questions” about playing my music, as this is the aim that I write for. [Just that it should be played.]
I want this music to be played, to be sung, to be conducted. Is it difficult? What is difficult? For a newborn baby, it is difficult to walk; for a 20-year-old man, no. It is the same thing. I didn’t say “walk and then fly,” I say “walk and walk.” It’s just a matter of time, and what is difficult becomes easy.
I don’t know why they persist with this idea of “it is difficult,” saying you have to be a certain way, you have to study in a particular place, you have to be born in a particular place. I have heard that. That you have to be born in that city or there is no possibility in the solar system you will ever play that composer! You become convinced. Many many centuries of musicians have been taught with this idea. And they tell you that they are right. But they are wrong to build music on this base. It is an empty basement, full of ghosts, full of fears of falling down. As musicians, interpreters of any music, we must just trust ourselves.
It’s interesting that you mention Mozart, the belief that some teachers have that there’s a certain way to play his music, one correct way and no other. But the fact is that there are many ways to interpret music, and (as in life) there are no real answers.
Hmmm. How did we get into this metaphorical, or metaphysical, discussion?!
The fact that it is metaphysical doesn’t make it less real. It’s the ongoing search for understanding and truth, in music and in life.
Having confidence in your own talent is certainly not arrogance, Nicola. But where your astounding virtuosity and range of expression in various styles and moods will take you, we will wait to see.
For more information on the Interpreti Veneziani and their CDs, visit www.interpretiveneziani.com
Brenda Murphy, MM in musicology (Manhattan School of Music) and PhD in Education & Arts Professions (New York University) is currently Associate Professor of Education at Shenandoah University in Virginia.