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- Lorenzo Gatto
Lorenzo Gatto: When everything is possible
When we met, Lorenzo was in the middle of a project particularly dear to his heart: the recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. “I played it several times. I really want to record it because I feel I have something to say with this concerto, it feels good, it suits me well”, he explains. Moreover, with the musicians of the Pelleas Orchestra and their conductor Benjamin Levy, he has found people with whom he loves to work. Just after winning the second prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2009, the young man was swept up in a whirlwind of concerts and recordings, but none of that was really personal he now believes.
For a Belgian, going through the Queen Elisabeth Competition is really a lot of pressure. You feel a constant expectation from the public: everyone is waiting for you in particular to make it to the next round. Yet Lorenzo can’t deny the marvelous sentiment of Belgian pride carrying him at every moment. Lorenzo had entered the competition 4 years earlier, knowing at the time that he was not ready. “When I showed up the first year I knew that I was missing some foundation and a solid background. I knew I wanted to redo the Queen Elisabeth Competition. I am born in Belgium and this competition means everything here!” To be prepared for it, the violinist thought he had to find a teacher who was hyper grounded and ruthless. He therefore went to study with Boris Kushnir in Vienna. “I catch on my “mechanical retardation” with him, he was my accelerator.”
Lorenzo confesses there was a time when he was thought of as being a little politically incorrect. In this world it's sometimes hard to know yourself and at first, when you start learning violin you have this heavy tradition and your teacher who both have a strong hold on you. “This upset me from the beginning”, admits Lorenzo. “I knew I needed to play the violin better and to work more but I also knew I didn’t want to be confined to another’s vision. Fortunately, there comes a time when you own your personal method and it’s the best one.”
We are told how to phrase, how to articulate and in the end we tend to forget that all of it is in fact convention. “Now, people are obsessed with the phrasing and articulation but it is not necessary. It's like if I told you that when you speak you must phrase or else you will not be understood.” A good theater actor never over-phrases, he always sounds natural. Obviously he knows what phrasing is; he knows but will not use it as a goal in itself. The complexity is in the music; there is no need to highlight it. The role of a performer is precisely to simplify things for the audience. More than simplifying, a good musician arrives to the perfect clearness that makes the piece completely obvious. Sometimes old masters give the impression of playing slower than we do today. It is in fact an impression: people who play very well, succeed in making you believe that they are taking their time. It’s surely not a question of tempo: it's a question of relaxing when they play, of savoring every note, of taking the time to understand.
That is why the technical aspects should be worked on and taken cared of by playing scales. Beethoven and Mozart are not the place to work on intonation and evenness of the bow; it hampers the work. “You should only approach a piece when you are warmed up, when you can just play, when everything is possible.” Of course you will have to pay attention to the sound and the composer’s will. You will need a little bit of imagination as well. Beethoven was quite specific in what he wanted, so you will not change things but Mozart indicated very little. Sometimes you are left on your own. In that case you have to rely on your good taste, sensitivity and honesty, and you must know how to play very good scales.
Now that he doesn’t take regular lesson anymore, Lorenzo plays scales every day. It’s something he was not used to doing before though. When his teachers asked him to do scales he would but that’s about it. “Playing scales feels really good actually”, confirms the violinist. “With scales, you don’t think too much, it’s all about feeling the sound and intonation. You try to be totally released muscularly and mentally, and to enjoy the pleasure it brings physically. It makes you more serene, it clears your head. After, playing anything else is much easier!” Scales are your basics, your alphabet to express yourself so when the time comes, you let the moment create magic.
The young man believes that his strength is that he never looks for effect. “When I take my violin I never seek to make the greatest effect on one note or another.” The violinist likes to keep things as they are, as they come. He likes to have a rather simple vision of things. “I suppose I have a lot of spontaneity so I can afford that”, he justifies. Even though he always studies every piece very well, he never really finishes the work completely. It goes without saying that this is both his strength and his weakness. Many violinists who succeed today look for the highest control and solidity. “But I can’t do that. It doesn’t suit me to play like that. It bores me. I just don’t conceive music to be that way.” And that is why Lorenzo put so much emphasis recently on doing scales. He knows that he has a pretty instinctive spirit when he plays and that everything will be fine as long as his technique is strong.
Also, since Lorenzo has been playing violin on his own, he has tried not to take everyone’s advice. First, because he would only end up not knowing which way to turn and second, people are not all well intentioned, as he reminds us. “In the music world, as it’s a world of ecstasy and beauty, people tend to think that there is not such thing as malice. But of course there is because the people who make music are human.” The world is anything but fair; the world is anything but equal, he reminds us. One of the things you can rely on, thinks the young man, is self-criticism. Self-criticism exists for everyone. “It's hard to put the world on a scale but at this level there is still certain equality. There are people who come from nowhere but eventually do great things. If people are critic with themselves, I think there is chance for everyone.”
Published on Violinist.com on February 2014: