A career in music: exclusive interview with Luca Magariello

Winner of the Khachaturian International Cello Competition, formerly Principal Cello of the Teatro La Fenice of Venice, and later of the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, today Luca Magariello is the Principal Cello of the’Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale of the RAI. He often performs in concerts as a soloist and in a chamber music ensemble, and is frequently invited to take part in music events of international renown. He regularly performs with the Camerata Salzburg as guest Principal Cello. He teaches courses in cello at the Milano Master School of Music and at the International Academy of Imola.

At the Fondazione Accademia di Musica Luca Magariello teaches an Advanced Course in Cello. As part of our section A Career in Music, we interviewed him to ask what advice he would give to our students, who are set to become the future generation of music professionals.


What were the key experiences that marked your development and training as a musician? At what time of your life did they take place? Why were they significant?

Of course I’ve had many important experiences, but undoubtedly a key role in my development as a musician was played by my teachers. I was first taught by Maestro Antonio Mosca at his Suzuki school, which I attended from when I was 4 years old. What he gave me were artistic and human values, as well as the fundamentals of technique, interpretation and good musical taste; without all these not only would I never have become a musician, but I would be a completely different human being. Antonio was an inspiring person, with the ability to create a special channel of communication with children. His teaching and my experience with the Suzuki orchestra when I was young certainly shaped my awareness as an artist.
Then came Enrico Dindo and Enrico Bronzi, the teachers with whom I decided to continue my advanced training. I took a bit of a gamble on this, in that I decided not to enrol in a school ourside Italy, because at that time I thought it was more important for me to study with teachers that were right for me rather than have an experience studying abroad. This was the conventional practice for any musician after graduating from the Conservatoire, but I could not see the point of it – I might have found myself studying with a teacher whom I didn’t know or who wasn’t up to the standard of quality I was looking for. Instead, I chose two teachers, who by chance happened to live near my home. In fact, at that time they were not teaching in a Hochschule as they are now; they were still more famous as concert performers than as teachers and were very different in their approach to teaching. In the end I found that I had made the right choice, since they gave me the tools I needed to enjoy music, tools that were technical, but, above all, also artistic.


Can you describe one or two turning points in your career? What impact did they have on your career? Why were they important?

One very important moment was winning the Khachaturian International Competition twenty years ago. Even though it didn’t really give my career the boost that I had expected, it filled me with the enthusiasm and confidence in my skills that is essential at that age if you want to improve, to take your studies to the next level, and to find your own identity as an artist. It also gave me the recognition and credibility that put me on the list of up and coming musicians, which led to my being called to perform with renowned orchestras, something which would have happened much later without this win. But I really should mention my experience of playing with the Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice, where at the age of 25, after auditioning, I was given the position of First Cello. This was the first important ensemble that believed in me and it was here that I had my first experiences and discovered how it felt to perform in concerts under renowned conductors. With this orchestra I really learnt my craft and learnt how to combine studying with work. Most importantly, it gave me a certain status, and then it launched me into the world of Opera, where I further developed my concept of art and music. I love opera and really miss it.

Luca Magariello violoncello


Often our mistakes teach us important lessons. If you could go back in time in your career what would you do differently?

I would not be so uncompromising in some situations. What I mean is that I shouldn’t have underestimated the importance of strategic and “political” factors involved in making some of my decisions. After the Khachaturian competition, I had almost come to the end of my course of study with my maestros, but I chose to continue to study with them because I felt that I still needed to acquire complete mastery of my instrument. Instead, I should have used my first prize in the competition as a springboard to bring me into contact with famous, influential musicians and thus become part of the elite of the world of music, and also as a passport to study at schools which would have given me more cachet in international competitions, with perhaps easier access to some of them, and greater opportunities for gaining visibility. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not contradicting what I said earlier. I am proud of the path I chose to follow and I am convinced that when it comes to your advanced studies you should be uncompromising in choosing inspiring teachers whom you admire.
Looking back, I realise that after winning the prize the time was ripe for me to launch my career. I could have been strategic in the moves I made, but instead I chose to follow only my heart and my instinct. If I had made different choices perhaps I would have been offered more opportunities for concerts as a soloist or to be listed by agencies. On the other hand, however, having chosen to spend two more years studying with my teachers, I matured technically as a musician, and I did not lose that focus and direction as an artist that other choices could have diminished.


Along a musician’s career path there are always many important decisions to be made and these often depend on and result from the opportunities that are offered to them. What helped you to stay focused and not to lose sight of your goals?

If we are talking about sense of direction and focus, to be understood as the process of creating one’s own identity and personality, this is linked to my answer to the previous question. I believe it is important to be very careful when choosing the teachers who you trust to guide you. They must be a good fit for you, possessing the right artistic sensibility and charisma, and, let’s not forget, the necessary severity, to not only help you realise your potential and correct your defects, but also to make you use your own head. If all these factors are present and correct, you will find your own path, since you will be guided by a deep-rooted concept of what kind of musician you want to be and this will make it more unlikely that you could lose your way.
As for your artistic choices (by which I mean the possibility of taking one path rather than another, of deciding to be part of a project or not, of setting up a collaboration with other musicians and investing time in it), I believe that I have always been faithful to my own personal concept of how I want to make music. I have managed to do this by always choosing (sometimes through rational decisions, other times following my gut feeling) the things that I believed would be intriguing to me and enrich me musically, and that could complete me as a musician. As a result, I rejected anything that did not interest me or inspire me, while always striving to find the time for the studying and the research that is really at the heart of everything. What I mean to say is this: I never lost my way because I always tried to concentrate on things that I felt an affinity with, that suited my identity and my way of thinking, that I believed in – without ever losing sight of the need to find the time for research and studying.
But like all things in life, this awareness of my goals and path needed to be met by some response, some external confirmation: postive feedback and successful performances, encouragement from others – in short, some sign that I was on the right track. What really helped me not to lose sight of my objectives and the artistic level I wanted (and still want) to achieve was the fact that very early on I found myself involved in the world of work and competitions. Rather than being shut up in my room alone, my focus was primarily on honing my performance skills and on testing myself in very different situations.
On the other hand, if we are talking about objectives for work, then I really don’t have an answer to that question. In the field of music there are so many possibilities, so many competitions or jobs to apply for. They are all potential opportunities, and we are each the master of our own destiny. It’s all about choices, one of which could be the decision not to follow the path of auditions for a position in an orchestra, even though today that’s a very difficult decision to take. The criteria you should use to make choices about work should not be related only to your skill level or your musical and artistic capacity. You should also consider where you want to live, the work/life balance that would be right for you, whether you have or would like to have a family, or which kind of work is actually suited to your personal preferences (even though in the competitive world of today few of us have the luxury of basing our work choices on the last factor).


Apart from studying with great passion and dedication, what advice would you give to young musicians who are starting out on a career in music?

This will probably seem like a cliché, but I advise you not to follow the crowd. Think with your own head, be always curious and humble: this is the way to develop your own personality, and to always be true to yourself. It is also important to choose your music mentors very carefully, following your passions; to always aim for excellence and be tough on yourself and intellectually honest; to have depth in your work, but also simplicity; and to never, ever be a poseur, pretending to be something you are not, but, rather, never stop searching for your own ideas and identity as an artist.
It is so important to face the reality of the world of work. The field of music is becoming more and more competitive and to make a steady living with music (playing an instrument) you need to apply for jobs, go through the selection process and get your name on the ranking list of candidates who will be accepted for positions in the future. So it’s essential that you get used to this often unpleasant feeling of being judged in auditions, so you can learn to live with it, and to interpret it positively in your own mind, without letting it develop into an emotional block. And never forget, as I was always told, that if you are able to play the music that excites and inspires you, then you’re privileged.
And don’t make music your only activity!! For example, try playing sport: it will keep your feet on the ground, help you to get to know your body and to deal with fatigue and emotions. You’ll learn to develop a spirit of self-sacrifice and how to work for and with others, while keeping your own individual identity. The similarities with working in music are pretty clear, aren’t they?



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