Mario Caroli Artist Interview
At the age of 22, Italian born, Mario Caroli was awarded "Kranichsteiner Musikpreis" at Darmstadt, which was his debut in the international stage. Since then he has been invited to a number of music festivals mostly in Europe, as an indispensable artist in contemporary music scenes. Having many opportunities of the initial performance of new works that many advanced composers write for him, his repertoire counts several hundred from classics to the most difficult works in contemporary music. He has been accepted by many orchestras so far and among the conductors that he collaborated with, there are Pierre Boulez, Peter Eotvos, Heinz Holliger, Oswald Sallaberger, Hiroshi Wakasugi, Jonathan Webb, Kazushi Ono. Maurizio Pollini and Emmanuel Pahud recognized him as a "great artist" and the composer Salvatore Sciarrino admired him as a "Paganini of the flute". On the other hand, he also acquires a high reputation as a pedagogue and was invited in recent years as a judge in the Biwa-ko Lake international flute contest and in the Rampal international flute Concours. Currently, Mario Caroli teaches at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg and enjoys a wonderful international career.
Can you give us 5 career highlights?
My first highlight was when I won the "Kranichsteiner Musikpreis" in Darmstadt. At this time I studied the flute from eight years only, and I just started being interested in contemporary music. This prize launched a definite step into my solo career. Another highlight, thanks to this prize, I was invited to play in Japan, at the Akiyoshidai Festival, who was at that time organized by the great Toshio Hosokawa. It was one of my biggest highlights, because, afterward, I started to be deeply linked with this country, which is, surprisingly, one of the two or three countries in which I have been performing the most.
Another fundamental highlight are the opportunities that I have had to work closely with some of the biggest composers of our Era, these experiences helped me to grow up much deeply as a musician. During the years, I won different flute professorships a bit all over Europe. Every one of those (and particularly the last one, at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg) was an important highlight because I learned that I was not "merely" a soloist, but that I could also be able to transmit and share my experience with younger musicians.
I have fond and moving memories of the recording session of a solo CD in Japan, back to 2008. The CD is called "Canti senza parole" (Songs without words), and it was a total random recording. I just didn't know what I would have done with the material I was about to record. I was alone, submerged in the metaphysical acoustics of the Akiyoshidai Concert Hall, and in a few hours, I recorded more than a hundred pieces for solo flute and with piano. I never experienced that again. It was like hypnosis. I just played and played, sometimes even twice the same piece. In the end, I made a selection of the pieces I liked the most, and Stradivarius published a CD, which was surprisingly successful and which is still available. But at home, I still have dozen of unpublished recordings from that unique session....
How about 3 pivotal moments that were essential to creating the artist that you've become?
More than 'pivotal moments', I'd rather say 'pivotal experiences' which have contributed to becoming myself as an artist.
First of all, I'd mention the fact that I studied philosophy at the University. It was an incredibly valuable experience. It opened my mind much more of what only studying music could have done. It changed my vision of the word, of the people, of our presence in this world and our role as musicians in this process.
Because the University took a lot of my time and concentration, I couldn't spread my energy off by following thousands of different masterclasses with thousands of different teachers. This situation was actually very positive, as it allowed me to focus only on one teacher (Annamaria Morini, which I followed like a totem) and going deep into only one direction, which she thought was the best for me.
The second pivotal moment was the decision to quit Italy and move to France, to Strasbourg, where I do still live. The general level (I underline "general") of flute playing in France is higher than in Italy. Being a foreign flutist who never studied in France, I felt myself since the very first moment like "being observed" especially because, as soon as moved there, I got (and accepted) the offer from the Conservative de Strasbourg to teach there. So I gave it my best, improving myself and my playing every single day. I brought top students to my flute studio in Strasbourg, creating a highly competitive flute class, which didn't exist before. Of course also in Strasbourg, like everywhere else in this world, I experienced the jealousy of some frustrated colleagues, and it was not always easy for me. The problem in France is, sometimes, that despite the objective results, some flutists think they are better than anyone else just because.... they're French! And this is not only very narrow-minded but also pretentious and pretty ridiculous! But I don't give any importance to this kind of person. I have just pity of them and I go on on my way.
The third pivotal moment was when I got the flute professorship at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg. I was overwhelmed with joy because this flute class is considered as one of the most legendary all over Europe and I feel very responsible for it. Among others, Aurèle Nicolet and William Bennett have taught here before me. Also, I opened myself to a new world and a new system, the German one, which is completely different from the French one, in which I've been for a long time, and also from the Swiss one where I've been teaching for several years as well. So, I completed my experience by bringing in Freiburg into my Italian-French background. I now consider the German system as being the best musical system in Europe at the university level.
What do you like best about performing?
My goal, by performing, is to feel completely and deeply connected with the audience. For me, giving a concert has never been an easy thing. It is a ritual, which has profound and complex consequences on me. Although I've have never suffered from performance anxiety, I feel very responsible for creating the most complete empathy with the audience. A concert is a moment in which we include, and not exclude. We accept, we listen to, we integrate. A concert can teach us to understand the necessity of someone else, even when we don't share the same view. We listen carefully to the other's reasons, we make the effort to understand something different. If only as a society we could behave like in a concert! I think that our societies would get on much, much better...
So yes, this image of a perfect, inclusive society, is what I love the most by performing.
What do you like best about teaching?
Oh, I actually adore teaching! What I like the most is the variety of the unity, the human contact, seeing the progress, helping the students build their personalities, celebrating the success and analyzing the fiascos, being a model for them. I learn immensely from teaching.
Every single student is unique, it is absolutely impossible to generalize in this field. The true pedagogy is something that one builds "à la carte", with every single student, with their personalities, with their possibilities and potential in every precise moment. The potential is a "fluid" concept, it evolves and my approach and method have to be fluid as well, by adapting to every step of the student. I don't have a "system" which works out for everyone, not at all. I adapt my pedagogy to the needs of every single student. It's hard but it is very stimulating and this is what makes this work so interesting and not a boring routine. I try to give my students all the possibilities that I was not given when I was a student at a Conservatoire in Italy.
When I choose the future students at the entrance examinations (a process which is particularity stressful, for example, this year I had 92 candidates for 4 free places) I don't pay attention only to flute playing. The overall personality of the candidate intrigues me, the way he/she interacts with the jury and with the pianist, the way to say 'hello' when entering the room, and so on. Of course, these elements are not decisive by themselves, the main parameters remain the musical and technical ones, but they complete the portrait of a person, with whom you will probably spend two to four years of your life! And I am deeply convinced that a pedagogical connection is more successful as a serene human contact between student and teacher.
All these aspects are so interesting because they go far away from the simple musical aspect. And this makes me love teaching so much.
Recording is one of the things that has occupied me the most during the years. I think I recorded more or less fifty CDs, without calculating the Radio's and TV's recordings, alternating new music and repertoire.
The next recording to be released is Thuridur Jónsdóttir's mesmerizing flute concerto "Flutter" (for flute, large orchestra and pre-recorded insects' noises), which I recorded in Reykjavík in the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Bjarnason. The recording will be released by the American CD label Sono Luminus, which is dedicating a long series of recordings to the unexpectedly alive Icelandic contemporary music scene. I'm particularly affectionate to this concerto, for its super-human beauty and also because Thuridur is a flutist herself, she knows the instrument perfectly, and we studied together for a while in Italy.
I'm planning a baroque recording. This repertoire is my favorite, even more than modern. But it so happens that, apart from a pair of pieces, I never dedicated a CD to it. It's time to do that!
What does your schedule look like for the next 6 months?
It looks outrageously full, also because of the European lockdown the last springtime, everything was either canceled or postponed. So now, the agenda is fuller than usual (which is already ultra full), because some events have been reorganized from fall 2020, in addition to what was already scheduled from months or even years. I am very grateful for this because the experience of the lockdown was terrible for all musicians and I hope that we will never experience that again.
Unfortunately, I will not visit America in the near future. My last visit to North America was in June 2019 when I was invited to Canada, to teach at the hauntingly beautiful Domaine Forget. I hope to be back very soon in the USA. In the meantime, I will be visiting Hong Kong (for the first time), Turkey, Mexico, Japan, and, of course, a bit everywhere in Europe.
What are your goals personally?
Music gives me the daily opportunity to grow up as a human being. Today, aged 46, I have the feeling that the work of interpretation that I have done in the years has deeply changed me as a person. Maybe only if one keeps a distance from the music (by taking care only of technique, sound quality, etc, showing off always a nice surface but without reaching the core of the music) can one see his/her life not influenced by the effect of the music.
Do you remember what Baudelaire said? "La musique souvent me prend comme une mer" ("Often, music does take me away, like a sea"). The same happens very often to me. Personally, I am very grateful of it and I love tremendously being a musician. Even if one can reach such a high degree of sensibility that even a ray of light can produce an injury. But this is not so important. The music has taught me that listening to music is more important than speaking like giving is more important than talking.
I want still to meet a lot of extraordinary people in my life, plenty of secret souls, on their way on secret paths. I'm hungry to explore new human adventures. So many people have so much to teach me! I want to meet humanity which is still unknown to me, in Africa for instance. I've been traveling very extensively, but only for my concerts. I need to balance the relationship between me as a musician and me as a person, even though these two personalities stay very tight together. But it's time to balance them better. So, you see? I have still a lot to do as a person!
What are your goals Professionally?
I have never been an ambitious person, I didn't really care about building and/or managing a 'career'. Everything happened in my life; happened because it should, or somehow, happen. I'm not responsible for it, even for an absolutely minimal part. I don't know how to explain it in other words. I live my life as a present, and I am the most fatalistic person in the word. I think that what must happen, happens, and what must not happen, doesn't.
So for the future: I do hope it will keep bringing me a lot of nice things and presents that I can share with my public, my students, and the people I love. If life should suddenly stop bringing me all these things, I would just look back with gratitude for all I have had and would keep going on. Always with the same unconditional love for music and my flute in my heart.
What inspires you the most in life?
Love! I couldn't live without love. Love means to share, to understand, to suffer, to look inside, to go outside him/herself. Very few other experiences in life (maybe no one other experience) pushes us to 'forget' our small necessities to understand those of someone else. It's a miracle, a wonder and it has an incredible variety of colors. To love a particular person, to love the parents, to love friends, to love the family... It's an endless discovery, which I cherish every single day of my life and try to inject into music.... which is merely another form of love!
Every one of my interpretations is colored by a very special form of love. I put in my music all the love that I received and I gave in my life. Very early, I learned that love was the main source of my music-making. To let this experience penetrate into my sounds is what brings me closer to the audience which is my main goal of playing.
What has been your greatest challenge?
For many years I have been an ardent advocate of contemporary music. It has been not an easy thing! I don't know if it has been my greatest challenge, but it has been a challenge for sure! One must have a lot of courage to go beyond prejudices (= "you play contemporary music because you are not good enough for classical ".... ), beyond the fear of the audience (= "I don't love it because I don't understand it"), beyond the lack of sense of the reality of some (even very big) composers, beyond the resistance of some producers, and so on. It's a very very hard path. I didn't give up this passion for the new and of the discovery, but today I'm way more reluctant to promote something if it doesn't meet, not only my taste but my own parameters, which makes me willing to promote with enthusiasm something new! Creating a new repertoire is a huge challenge, although I think that I give the audience fresh and new renditions of very well known pieces from the repertoire is also a big challenge, in fact, one of my preferred!
Who were your music mentors? and what did you learn from them?
As I said before, as a student I didn't spend my time looking for mentors. Actually, my only real mentor was my teacher, Annamaria Morini, while my absolute and favorite flute hero ever was Manuela Wiesler. When I studied at the Conservatoire in Italy (which was, fortunately, a very short lapse of time), she was at the top of her career, which was mainly developed in Scandinavia, in the north, so a bit away from the rest of Europe.
I bought all of her wondering recordings for the Swedish CD label BIS. It cost me a lot of sacrifices, because at that time we had no internet, and from a small village in southern Italy, it was almost impossible to keep updated on artists' releases or tours, but I managed to have them. I have listened to her recordings for hours. I could even see her playing with my eyes just by listening to her CDs! Some YEARS later, we became friends, very close friends, and she made my life better than ever with her presence, until she died, happy and smiling.
What did she teach me? To be different from anyone else, to not necessarily obey the models imposed by the market, to stay away from the flute world business, to which I'm proudly not part of, but just take part sometimes.
She taught me that love has nothing to do with geographical distances, that we experience things just once in life, and we should take the maximum advantage of every tiny experience.
She developed a complex and deep consciousness of life's possible meanings and gave proof of having a lot of courage. Many invaluable things, which are sculpted forever in my mind and heart. About flute playing, she was, for me, a sort of living perfection. Even her way of holding the instrument was exemplary as well as her breathing technique. She was capable of playing huge phrases, although she was pretty small! I'll never forget her playing the Perpetuum Mobile of Jean Françaix' Divertimento with only four breathings and no circular breathing!! She was often alone on stage, playing by heart, as usual, solo flute recitals, dressed in white and submerged in the darkness, streaming endless poetry and vital energy. She had this rare quality called charisma. Jer playing was warm and intense and she would look deep into your eyes while playing. She left the flute world and the real world in the silence in which she has always been living, as she brought with her the secret of this silence, which was in her words 'the perfect sound' she has been looking all her life.
Can you give us 5 quirky, secret, fun, (don't think too much about this) hobbies or passions?
I love spending time without doing literally NOTHING. I feel guilty about it, but I love it! No music, no books, no telephone. Just nothing. I adore it!
I love being in the water, but very warm (even hot), so every time it is possible, I go to a spa or, when I'm in Japan, to Onsen. Maybe the reason is that I'm a Pisces? But I don't like so much to go to the sea.....
I hate cooking, I almost never do that and go to my preferred restaurants in Strasbourg (where, sometimes, they don't even let me pay) , but I love washing dishes, so I'm a perfect husband.
When I see a light through a window, I can't resist looking inside. It is not an insane or voyeur curiosity, not at all! I suddenly think of the life inside, the history of the people inside, and I am invaded by a feeling of warmth. I don't know how to explain it. It's like when one is outside, in a stormy night, and suddenly sees a light hanging on a door of a lonely house... It's the same feeling I have every time I land in a new town with the plane. I see all these cars under me going everywhere and I think "where are they going? Why? Which are their necessity?". And the less I know the place I'm landing, the most I feel this curiosity because it seems a miracle that other people know so well a place I've never been before!
I hate fruits, I find them disgusting. My mother told me, that when I was a child, I cried every time I saw her eating fruits.
What 3 things would you offer as advice for a young flutist?
Be curious, passionate and, most of all, stay humble! The more you grow up, the more you will realize that the music is more full of secrets than when you expected at the beginning...