Ensemble

A Portrait in Courage

GIUSEPPE PENNISI celebrates Christmas
with Ezio Bosso and the
Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

 

The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia celebrated Christmas with an extraordinary (in the etymological sense of the term) out-of-subscription concert. It was out of the ordinary for two reasons. Firstly, a musician and composer, Ezio Bosso, who is a true 'portrait in courage', conducted the symphony orchestra. Secondly, Beethoven's fifth and seventh symphonies were in the program to anticipate the celebrations that will be made in 2020 for the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth. The concert was held on 21 and 22 December 2019 in a sold-out auditorium. I attended the 22 December performance. The audience was markedly different from that of the subscription concert series: few gentlemen in dark suits and ladies in elegant outfits, but many young people in jeans and sweaters. There were five minutes of standing ovations after the first part; fifteen after the second.

Ezio Bosso, forty-eight, started a brilliant career in Italy and abroad - he is, for example, artistic director of the European Philharmonic Orchestra. But in 2011, after an operation for a brain tumour, he was diagnosed with a terrible disease, one of those which, even if they cannot destroy a talent, imprison him in a cage. The disease does so gradually, but inexorably. Bosso has a neurodegenerative disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS). Despite the illness, Bosso did not lose heart and fought with all his strength, day by day, not to let his life and his person, fall into a thousand pieces. He had to learn to play and talk again.

In an interview, he said: 'At one point, I had lost everything, the language, the music: I remembered it, but I didn't understand it. I was playing and crying, for months I couldn't do anything. Music wasn't part of my life, it was far away, I couldn't grasp it. I found out so I could do without it. And it wasn't bad. It was different, it was another experience. I've learned that music is part of me, but it's not me. At best, I'm in the service of music.'

The disease took away the piano of which he was a great master. 'If you love me', he told the audience a few months ago, 'stop asking me to put myself on the piano and play. You don't know the suffering that this causes me, because I can't, I have two fingers that don't respond well anymore and I can't give music enough.' However, he decided that whatever illness the musician has suffered, his talent remains intact. So much so that he continues to be a conductor. 'No mercy, I didn't retire', Bosso wrote on Facebook. 'Let's be clear: I just said I don't do concerts alone on the piano anymore because I would do it worse than ever. But I'm very happy it continues - because I do my job as a conductor.' Bosso has a loyal audience of fans that follows him: this summer, at the Verona Arena, he performed Orff’s Carmina Burana for an audience of 14,000. For the two Santa Cecilia concerts, about six thousand tickets were sold.

Ezio Bosso conducting the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome on 21 or 22 December 2019. Photo © 2019 Musacchio, Iannello e Pasqualini
Ezio Bosso conducting the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome on 21 or 22 December 2019. Photo © 2019 Musacchio, Iannello e Pasqualini

He enters the stage in a wheelchair, smiling at the orchestra and the audience. He conducts sitting on a tall stool. Very thin, he gives the impression of conducting from the hip bone up, occasionally resting his left hand on the railing of the podium. He conducts with joy but also fatigue (and probably suffering), but approaches Beethoven not only with technical expertise but also with great passion. Both symphonies are well known to our readers. He emphasizes the tragic value of the 'three plus one' initial strokes of the fifth and skilfully shows the embroidery with echoes of dances that characterizes the seventh. In short, a great Christmas gift made by the Santa Cecilia Academy to the audience.

Ezio Bosso conducting in Rome on 21 or 22 December 2019. Photo © 2019 Musacchio, Iannello e Pasqualini
Ezio Bosso conducting in Rome on 21 or 22 December 2019. Photo © 2019 Musacchio, Iannello e Pasqualini

Two lines on the Santa Cecilia Academy program for the Beethovenian celebrations in 2020. Two very rare overtures will return to the billboard: König Stephan (King Stephen Overture, conducted by Antonio Pappano), and Die Weihe des Hauses (The Consecration of the House Overture, conducted by Tom Netopil): both were written by Beethoven in the years of the composition of the Ninth Symphony. The Academy will host a prestigious debut on the podium, that of the young Israeli conductor Lahav Shani, freshly appointed as Principal Conductor of the Israel Philharmonic and Principal Guest Conductor of the Wienerphilharmoniker; he will accompany Emanuel Ax in the Concerto No 5 'Kaiser' (Emperor Concerto).

Gianandrea Noseda will conduct the Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos. The Greek violinist will also star in the chamber season with two appointments to perform, with Enrico Pace, all of Beethoven's sonatas for violin and piano. Also in the chamber music billboard, the return of Nikolai Lugansky and Maurizio Pollini who will perform some piano sonatas. Beethoven will also be the protagonist of the tour that the Orchestra of the National Santa Cecilia Academy, conducted by Daniele Gatti and with Leonidas Kavakos, will have in April in Athens with the performance of Symphony No 7 and the Violin Concerto. In June, Alexander Lonquich, as pianist and conductor, will perform an important tribute to Beethoven: the Piano Concerto No 5 will be performed.

A sister Roman institution, the Accademia Filarmonica Romana, will offer all the Beethoven quartets.

Copyright © 24 December 2019 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy

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