May 1st 2020

Alessandro Deljavan: Recovering ‘brain and soul’ during the covid-19 crisis

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”



A new talent from Italy, Alessandro Deljavan, made his U.S. East Coast debut in 2019 with a reading of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 under conductor Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Zander told the audience, gathered for a pre-concert talk, that they were in for one of the ‘greatest piano performances you will hear in your life’. Deljavan delivered. A Pescara native only 32 years old at the time, he gave the concerto a masterly treatment and the critics agreed. Deljavan displays his European musical style openly, injecting a personal air into his performance, an emotion visible in his swaying frame and his flying hands. He came to Boston with impressive credentials, considering his age. He has recorded about 50 CDs in solo and ensemble music and was a semifinalist at the Cliburn Piano Competition. His performance there created an international wave of “Deljamania” that continued for several days after his elimination. He told us he is now finished with competitions – too much preparation for too little gain. Among his recent projects is the creation of his own label, the Aeras Music Group, that will launch later this year with five CDs. And his trio, with Amedeo Cicchese on cello and Daniela Cammarano on violin, has recorded Tchaikovsky and Debussy on CD for the Italian music magazine Suonare. Meanwhile, his habits have been forced change during the corona virus crisis, a lockdown in Europe that has cost him nine cancellations. He has moved his teaching online and spends more time just thinking. As he put it in our interview, “Thinking is the best way to recover our brain and soul.”


Interview by Michael Johnson


Question. You had a triumph in Boston, with the audience cheering and stomping and demanding encores. Yet I believe you felt you could have done better. In what way?

Answer. It's always possible to play better. And while this is true, I would not change any of my performances, not even the ones I did not feel were my best. Everyone is always looking for perfection instead of enjoying the imperfection of life. There is so much joy in embracing the moment.

Q. Your Boston experience was unusual. What specifically was conductor Benjamin Zander trying to extract from you?

A. Maestro Zander and I had several conversations on the phone before we met. It was clear from the very beginning that we were of the same mind. That is not always the case between a soloist and conductor. Usually there is not enough time to rehearse in order to find each other. With the Boston Philharmonic and Maestro Zander it was different. This was the first time that I was able to rehearse the piece three times with orchestra and live it every day for a week. It was a great experience all the way around.

Alessandro Deljavan

Q. How do you see yourself? Primarily as a soloist, an ensemble player, a pedagogue?

A. I see myself as a musician, as a person who spends his life devoted to music, completely under the control of music. It enables me to be present as a whole musician no matter the situation.

Q. Could you name some of your most influential teachers?

A. All of my teachers have been extremely important in my development.

Valentina Chiola was the first real teacher I had, from the age of 4. She was extremely patient and gave me an ideal method. Piotr Lachert, a brilliant man with the mind of a composer, he probably gave me the first splashes of madness, in the good sense. He was the first teacher who helped me see music with different eyes. Then Riccardo Risaliti, a maestro in a very traditional way. I was extremely careful with each word, and very, very respectful. He gave me the immense culture and love for the old tradition of pianism and was also the person who introduced me to chamber music. When I was 11 years old he gave me the score of the Brahms Sonatas op. 120 for clarinet or viola with piano and that was the beginning of a truly intense new world.

Q. Where did Enrico Belli rank in your learning experience?

A. I had two intense years of lessons with him. I was only 15 and 16 years old and for the first time I faced the big repertoire -- Beethoven op. 110, the Liszt B Minor Sonata, and my first shocking introduction to the classical repertoire: Schubert and Mozart. Maestro Belli tried to calm my enthusiasm and to give me a different approach to exploit the score to its full potential. He wanted to make me more professional, to start having more control over my body and my instincts. His approach was like a series of master classes. Then came my audition at Como Academy, at a moment when I was feeling somewhat negative about my future in music—at that time I was trying to be the opposite of every pianist I was hearing.

Q. How much of your Como Academy study do you rely on today? What did you learn there? How important is William Grant Naboré in your development?

A. My first contact with the Academy was when I was 18 years old. I was probably not ready to be in such an institution, but Maestro Naboré believed in me from the very first moment. He heard something in me and he followed his heart and experience. And everything I have done in my music life since 2005 was because of him. What he did was to build a unique music school. The connection between students and teachers, the relationship between musicians was vital for us. Being at Como meant stopping the study of piano and starting to learn how to live. Maestro Naboré is still and always will remain my teacher for everything. ‘Piano professor’ is such a limited term for him. Spending time with him, cooking, talking, listening to music -- it's an experience that I would wish for any pianist.

Q. Were you immediately accepted as a student?

Not exactly. I played a Schubert Sonata, the Debussy Images Book I, and the complete Chopin Etudes op. 25. Maestro Naboré’s first reaction was, ‘you are not ready to be part of this Academy. Here the level is extremely high and we already have mature musicians.’ One month later he invited me to a master class and I began as an official student: I played the A minor Schubert Sonata for Fou Ts'ong, and after that lesson so many things that I had experienced before fell into place. It was a revelatory experience.

Q. How might your musicianship evolve over the next decades? Do you have ambitions to compose? To conduct? To leave Pescara?

A. I bought a former convent 40 kilometers from Pescara, in Villamagna. It's very important for me to breathe clean air and live as simply as possible. Life in a giant city full of cars and smog is hard for me to imagine. My perspective is always to live fully. My aspirations for the best musical experiences guides my decisions and over the past several years I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some wonderful musicians—these experiences have brought me a sense of optimism for what might lie ahead.


Q. Conducting seems a natural way forward for you.

A. It is true that I have conducted a few times from the keyboard but I believe that having an intense connection with each member of an orchestra is difficult to achieve in the way that chamber music can bring people together—it is something that I continue to work towards when I am given the opportunity.


Q. What are your career ambitions?

A. My goal has always been to connect deeply with the music. This is my greatest ambition. If I am able to fulfill this then I feel I am doing my best work.


Q. What is your view of young piano talent, including your students at the conservatory?

What can I say? This is not an easy question. We are living a world where the result is everything. And passion does not count for much any more. Why is a young student with talent studying more than eight hours a day? To win a competition. Not to become a real musician, not to live his life with intensity and using heart and head with honesty. Education is so important now. The new generation of parents most of the time think of the amount of money their son will make in ten years.


Q. How important is the influx of Asian piano talent from China, Korea and Japan? Is the piano world becoming overcrowded and destined to become more so?

A. I'm enjoying the amazing growth of Chinese culture for music in general.

Asian culture is historic in every sense, thousands of years of culture and history.

I normally visit China every year and what I see is people who really enjoy learning. It’s such a joy for me. I strongly believe in an amazing evolution of music in China.


Q. In what direction is your repertoire growing? Do you have a preference for Italian style? German? Russian? French? And what era – classical, Romantic, Contemporary?

A. Through the years, my connection with certain styles has shown me what I have a true affinity for. I love every period of music for what and how the emotions are expressed. The great variety of colors and feelings are part of what makes a life in music interesting. I can't say who are my favorite composers, Many have said I have a strong feeling for Chopin. These days I feel a natural connection with Schubert and Bach.


Q. Do you ever work with living composers? What do you learn from this experience?

A. I'm actually very, very involved with the young generation of composers.

I'm extremely interested in what they have in their mind and how they can somehow 

evolve” all the music they studied. I play contemporary pieces by young composers every opportunity that I can. I like strong personalities, I like people who really know what they want from their own compositions. Last year I performed a short piece by the young Italian composer Antonello Tosto Nocturne in the Daylight. I really appreciated his influences and his ideas from the very first moment. I hope we can continue our cooperation. I also had the chance to work with the late Piotr Lachert. He wrote one of his sonatas for me. Piotr was a fundamental personality in my musical life. He is somebody I really miss!


Q. How busy were you with public engagements before the coronavirus crisis? How many in a typical year?

A. After my solo recital in Paris, I lost nine concerts due to the virus crisis.? It was an extremely stressful period but somehow I'm glad that it also gave me some time for myself. Thinking is the best way to recover our brain and soul. I normally have between 30 and 40 concerts per year. No one knows how this will evolve for public performances in the near term.


Q. How has the coronavirus crisis affected your piano life? How will it change your life in the mid-term and long term?

A. Like everyone, I have moved to online teaching which I have enjoyed. It creates new challenges but also new perspectives and ways of working. The lessons have become interactive in new ways. I am very proud of my students and how positive they are during this time.


Q. What is your feeling when you listen to your recordings? Pleasure? Pain?

A. I have made 51 recordings, not including Vexations by Satie. That was eleven and a half hours of music produced as a digital album for Aevea. One of my craziest projects ever.

After so many recordings I am accustomed to focusing on the process. I actually love the experience of recording. This past summer and fall I mades several recordings, both solo and with my violin duo partner Daniela Cammarano. These recordings will be released on a new label I am founding, Aeras Music. It’s an exciting prospect for me to have the opportunity to bring my vision forward. My engineer for these projects is Michael Seberich who has been working extensively with Sokolov. I can’t wait to share the first release which will be the Bach Goldberg Variations.


The list of upcoming releases include:


Bach: Goldberg Variations

Mozart: Sonata KV 284, Sonata KV 309, Rondo KV 511, Variations KV 455

Schubert: Sonata D 959, Allegretto D 915, Two Scherzi D 593, Piece in A Major D 604

Beethoven: Sonata op. 96 and op. 30 n. 2 (First cd of the complete cycle)


Q. Why do you wear woolen gloves when you play in public?

A. For years I have suffered from Raynaud Syndrome (numbness in the fingers). Under stressful conditions, I feel my hands completely freezing up and for the past four years I have been wearing special gloves help me at the beginning of a performance.


Q. What is your view of the flamboyant performers, mainly from Asia? Don’t they detract from the actual music being played?

A. The real question for me is where are we going if the young generation is looking for fame, money, and publicity instead of striving to become a real musician with something important to say. In a world where everybody is talking about a sexy dress, or even quantity of notes, I am different. I still want to feel like an artist from the 19th century -- looking for beauty and telling stories through my music.





This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.



Browse articles by author

More Music Reviews

Aug 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "For 60 minutes, my mind was clear, the air was clean and the sound heavenly. It was my honor and privilege to have been there."
Jul 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "Scarlatti sonatas are enjoying a popular surge in recent years, tempting pianists –Europeans, Americans, Asians -- to try to master their broad range. Margherita has some advice: “Don’t be afraid to slow down, to speed up, to play the truly singable melodies with a quasi-Romantic feeling.” "
Jul 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "The dizzying output of John Cage the musician, the poet, the writer, the thinker, the artist, was so prolific that one of his sidelines – his interests in wild mushrooms -- has been almost overlooked. A new a two-volume set of books, beautifully designed by Capucine Labarthe, packaged in an elegant slipcover, seeks to fill this gap."
Jul 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "In our chat by telephone, Paley spoke from his Paris apartment and asserted his belief that Rameau was “the greatest French composer ever. Pure genius and very special colors.” He acknowledges his extensive research into the period of Rameau’s life (1683-1764) in order to recreate the spirit of the time."
Jul 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "In A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and subsequent films, Morricone opted for an unprecedented fusion of archaic-sounding lines in the melody, reminiscent of medieval modal music. He intermixed this sound with contemporary pop touches (the Fender electric guitar), wordless choirs, unusual instruments (Jew’s harp, ocarinas, mariachi trumpets…) and ambient sounds (whip cracks, whistles, gunshot, coyote’s howls). He also infused scores with his trademark humour. This can be heard in the comedy western Il Mio Nome è Nessuno (My Name is Nobody, Tonino Valerii, 1973) where a toy trumpet toots bits of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries."
Jul 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Question: Are you collaborating with living composers? Answer: Yes, Scott Wollschleger sends me unfinished new works every month. Keeril Makan is working on a piano concerto. Melaine Dalibert has dedicated several recent works to me. There are more names on the horizon. But these are the three where I feel I can have a big impact on their careers, and all three write music that I feel born to play. That combination of things is important to me."
Jun 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Question: How do you see your musical mission today? Answer: My real passion in music is to resist popularity rankings and market forces. In my view, these currents impoverish our cultural richness........."
May 1st 2020
EXTRACT: Alessandro Deljavan: "I bought a former convent 40 kilometers from Pescara, in Villamagna. It's very important for me to breathe clean air and live as simply as possible. Life in a giant city full of cars and smog is hard for me to imagine. My perspective is always to live fully. My aspirations for the best musical experiences guides my decisions and over the past several years I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some wonderful musicians—these experiences have brought me a sense of optimism for what might lie ahead.”
Apr 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Federico Mompou, the reclusive Catalonian composer whose calm, spare piano writing is currently enjoying a rebirth, might well look askance at any effort to pull him forward into modern mode. Such was never his genre but that’s precisely what one of his ardent admirers, pianist Maria Canyigueral, proposed to do. The result is her intriguing new CD, Avant-guarding Mompou."
Mar 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "In our interview, Prof. Réach says he cautions his students in Barcelona to approach the Variations with care, warning them “the path will be long and will require great patience”. He has personally overcome his fear of this “masterpiece of masterpieces”, having recorded them three times and performed them in about 15 countries a total of about 150 times."
Mar 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "The 88-key piano looks headed for a major transformation in the coming decades. The mechanism under the lid is based on a 130-year-old design and many specialists believe it is time to dispense with those delicate moving parts.  As innovative Australian piano builder Wayne Stuart says, “The piano has been crying out for a rethink for over a hundred years.” "
Mar 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "Question: You have a Paris background. What do you bring to Granados to ensure Spanish flavor? Delicacy? Momentum? Singing and dancing undertones? Rubato?........Answer: First, I am profoundly European........."
Feb 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Question: You have said that you are plagued by doubts. Is this true?.........Answer: Of course I am plagued by doubts. This is part of the artist’s life. But I continue to work and perform. I have moments of depression but I try to transform these doubts into positives. Many artists have these doubts. Some don’t talk about it. But doubt is always there."
Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "QUESTION: Wouldn’t young composers of today benefit from aligning themselves with a philosophical ethos in order to find their musical voice -- as opposed to trying merely to find their own voice by drawing on imagination or personal experience?.......... ANSWER: It’s an interesting question, but open to interpretation. My impulse is to answer yes. When young I did a tremendous amount of reading in the history of aesthetics, and as a result my sense of artist -- ethos, necessity, whatever -- is not limited to post-WWII influences. One result is that I’ve never had any patience for the late-20th-century idea that art is about “personal expression.” The ancient and more enduring view is that the artist expresses what is out there to be expressed. As T.S. Eliot admirably wrote, art is an escape from personality, not an expression of it. Likewise I’ve never warmed to the idea of “finding one’s voice,” which sounds to me too much like creating an instantly recognizable trademark style that will make your music easier to market commercially."
Jan 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "It has been a long journey I enjoy re-living as I take note this year of the great Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday. As a practicing music critic and journalist from American corn country, I call myself a hick hack but I experience meltdown at almost everything the great man wrote. How can one not love Beethoven?"
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Judith Juaregui, based in Madrid but peripatetic in her concertizing around Europe, is gaining an international audience of admirers, boosted by the brilliant pianistic colors of her Debussy, Liszt, Falla, Chopin and Mompou in her fifth CD, “Pour le Tombeau de Claude Debussy”, just out. This album was recorded at a recital in Vienna last year, her first foray into live recording, and she is  rather pleased with the result, which, she says in our interview (below), captured a “moment of honesty”. She left everything in, including the vigorous applause from the audience."
Dec 11th 2019
EXTRACTS: "The young tousle-haired pianist from the distant Minnesota, Reed Tetzloff, is building a performance career in the U.S. and Europe by steering a course through rare repertoire that is both challenging and attractive for the listener........In our email question-and-answer discussion he explains his priorities as a musician and his attraction to a wide range of repertoire."
Dec 9th 2019
Extract: "Then the house lights came up and the rest of us rushed out, relieved that it was all over."
Nov 15th 2019
Extract: "Question: Mompou was modest, yet one of his famous comments is similar to Handel’s remark that he was writing down what God dictated. Mompou said he did not think up music, he simply transmitted it. Answer: The Mompou’s idea about God was interesting. God was a great force that also could destroy his own creation, like a child who in a moment of joy treads on an ant without noticing. Mompou explained that, in his case, the music was not coming from inside to outside, but the opposite way, from outside to the inside, with him being the intermediary of this flow, as a kind of medium. Mompou felt embarrassed to be called on stage after a performance of his music. He was convinced that if the work was really good, it was not entirely created by himself. 
Oct 27th 2019
Composer Kyle Gann’s new book ‘The Arithmetic of Listening’ analyzes microtonality and makes a plea for the music fraternity to open its ears to the new directions possible. After 22 years of teaching at Bard College in the eastern United States, Gann has become a guru or godfather of new music, and continues to produce captivating compositions, as in his new two-CD album ‘Hyperchromatica’. His latest book analyzes and explains tuning theory. In this interview he asserts that new music that gets the attention of publishers and producers today is mostly “derivative crap”. The golden age of “downtown” music from 1960 to 2000 assembled “a bunch of escapees from the twin hells of academia and corporate commercialism”.