Pietro De Maria frequently performs in concerts, as a soloist with prestigious international orchestras and with eminent conductors, such as Roberto Abbado, Gary Bertini, Myung-Whun Chung, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Daniele Gatti and Gianandrea Noseda. His repertoire ranges from Bach to Ligeti and he is the first Italian pianist to perform in public the entire opus of Chopin in six concerts. The winner of major piano competitions, he is a Fellow of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and teaches at the Mozarteum in Salzburg.
At the Accademia di Musica Pietro De Maria teaches Advanced courses in piano, as well as holding masterclasses during the Musica d'Estate summer courses. 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?
Undoubtedly, it was hearing Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli playing live and meeting Maria Tipo. I don’t know many pianists of my generation who had the opportunity to hear Benedetti Michelangeli playing: for me it was a revelation, one of those experiences that change your life. At that concert I realized what magical sounds could be created by a piano and that concert (I was 16, I went specially to see him in Montecarlo, by myself, and for this I am still grateful to my parents) marked a turning point in the way I thought about music. And then there was Maria Tipo, with whom I heard magical sounds, not only at the many concerts I heard her play, but every time I had a lesson with her. I would say that Maria Tipo helped me to put into practice the idea of sound that I had absorbed from Michelangeli: maximum attention to supple movements, legato, pedalling, development of a fingering technique which was the exact opposite of that of the typical "pianist/typist" who plays with completely rigid shoulders, arms and wrists (the initial lessons always began with scales and for Maria Tipo flexibility of the joints was fundamental). As a teacher Maria Tipo has always been renowned for her strictness, but she was also capable of communicating enormous energy to her students.
Can you describe one or two turning points in your career? What impact did they have on your career? Why were they important?
Certainly winning the Concours Géza Anda in Zürich in 1994. This award resulted in my playing many concerts all over Europe and in America, but, above all, it gave me the opportunity to meet extraordinary people. These included musicians that I met, as well as those I had the pleasure and the honour to perform with (for example Sándor Végh, with whom I played two Mozart Concertos, one with the Camerata Salzburg and the other with Vienna Chamber Orchestra, which I remember as great learning experiences). Then there were the people I met who were involved in the Competition. Among these was Hortense Anda-Bührle, the widow of the acclaimed pianist, a woman with incredible energy and enthusiasm, a great collector of art (amazing to be playing on Géza Anda’s piano with a Gauguin painting hanging on the wall!). I formed deep, long lasting friendships thanks to this competition. Another moment that I am still moved to remember was my friendship with Nikita Magaloff, whom I met through Maria Tipo when I was studying in Geneva. Magaloff was a wonderful person and very generous to young pianists. I played for him several times and was honoured to have him in the audience at one of my concerts in Geneva.
Often our mistakes teach us important lessons. If you could go back in time in your career what would you do differently?
Mistakes are a great opportunity to grow. I often tell my students that they should be grateful for the mistakes they make at the piano: if you have the right attitude they can be enormously helpful. When I am trying out a new programme, I sometimes invite a few friends to listen or I play it at one of their homes, in front of a very small audience. During these performances I sometimes make a mistake where I didn’t expect to have a problem: it could be a passage or I may have a memory lapse. I’m usually very happy when this happens because it means that almost certainly I won’t make that mistake again during a concert! It’s an alarm bell telling me that this passage needs extra attention and from the very next day I concentrate on it. The same is true for our lives and that’s why I wouldn’t do anything differently: we are who we are thanks to the choices and mistakes we have made. What’s important is to be aware and, after all, becoming more aware is a good goal to set ourselves, both as human beings and as musicians.
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?
Maria Tipo always gave me very good advice and I consider her to be a truly great teacher because she didn’t just give incredible lessons, but was always such a generous person, ready to give advice and so open-minded. And then there is my wife: as well as being a person of great intelligence and common sense, she has helped me to keep my feet on the ground, which is very important for an artist with their head always in the clouds! To have a family, a centre of gravity, is so important when you’re a globetrotter like me, but every time you have to leave your family it’s so hard. I remember how it broke my heart when my children were small and they would say: “Don’t go away, Daddy!”
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?
Be flexible and curious. Don’t make becoming a soloist your only goal: first you need to grow as a musician. For this, I find that it’s important to be open to all experiences, like chamber music, 20th century and contemporary music. Often young musicians are not curious about listening to great artists from the past (although it’s so easy today with YouTube!) and they don’t go to concerts. YouTube is a goldmine, but there is no substitute for hearing music played live, and we have all felt this even more intensely during these months of isolation. I believe it is essential to experience Beauty in all its forms: to read good literature, go to live theatre and appreciate the visual arts. What we play is what we are, so it’s an excellent idea to feed your mind and soul!