Saturday, July 24, 2010

Carlo Aonzo - Bridging the Musical Past Into the Future

Carolyn: Carlo Aonzo is one of the finest classical mandolinists in the world. From his home in Savona, Italy, Carlo continues to perfect his mastery of the Italian classical mandolin. Over the years, he has received numerous awards for his musical ability, including winning the 27th annual Walnut Valley Mandolin Contest in Winfield, Kansas and the Vivaldi Prize at the 6th Annual Vittorio Pitzianti National Mandolin Competition in Venice.

He created and directed the winter Festival Internazionale di Mandolino in Varazze, Italy and in 2006 he founded the International Academy of Italian Mandolin. He directs the Orchestra a Pizzico Ligure and has collaborated with the La Scala Philharmonic in Milan.

His passion for this music extends to the research, preservation and dissemination of its history, and he is a contributor to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Carlo has recorded numerous CDs over the years and was featured in the book and CD, Mandolin 2000. He also recorded an in-studio video concert of solo mandolin repertoire for Mel Bay, called Carlo Aonzo: Classical Mandolin Virtuoso.

Carolyn: I understand that the person who first taught you mandolin was your father, right?

Carlo: That’s right. My father is the ….from the old and fashionable past of Italian string virtuoso and brought all this culture to me in the family.

Carolyn: So you were brought up surrounded by mandolin music?

Carlo: Yes of course. My father used to play every night with friends as soon as he could get his mandolin. Actually he’s still doing that today.

Carolyn: what kind of a mandolin does he play?

Carlo: Well, the only kind of mandolin that we knew, the Italian classical mandolin.

Carolyn: OK, so the bowl back?

Carlo: Right. The true mandolin.

Carolyn: The true mandolin, OK. Now we know what you think. (Laughter) Ok. So when you started I suppose it was the influence of your family and hearing this in your home that first drew you to the mandolin, but then what keeps drawing you, even now?

Carlo: This instrument is part of our genetics. Because almost everybody was playing this instrument especially at the end of the 1800’s and on. When also our queen, the first queen of Italy, Queen Margarita, was herself a mandolin player. So of course this tradition, this history is still inside of us and it is what draws me to keep playing the mandolin discovering its history.

Carolyn: Carlo studied at Padova’s Cesare Pollini Conservatory and was taught by the virtuoso Ugo Orlandi. Orlandi not only taught Carlo the music of the mandolin, but also inspired a continuing fascination with its history.

Carlo: Ugo Orlandi, for sure the best scientist of the mandolin in the world. By myself I did a lot of research, especially on the paintings, studying the use, trying to find all the sources on paintings about the mandolin.

It was very interesting research and I do the presentation often about it. People like it very much because it is an instrument that everybody knows but nobody knows really because they know only as the media show to us. So we have an idea of the Italian mandolin as this instrument for Neapolitan songs and that is only a little part of the identity of the instrument.

For example, the great Niccolo’ Paganini is very well known as a violin player, he was the best virtuoso of the history of the violin. But he started to play on the mandolin. His father taught to him the mandolin before any other instrument.

So for example this is something that I like to tell. It is something that nobody knows. Well, actually I invented a little joke about this. We mandolin players say that he first learned the mandolin and as soon as he realized that the mandolin was too difficult, he passed it to play the violin and became a great virtuoso on the violin.

Actually, our instrument has this characteristic. That is the first approach is pretty easy and it is very useful instrument to have ensemble music. So we have a lot of amateur that like to hear the mandolin and play together with other people in mandolin orchestras.

But to play it as a concert player is really hard. You have to work a lot before you can get a good result.

Carolyn: Carlo recorded Paganini’s work on the CD entitled Paganini: The Complete Works For Mandolin and French Guitar. This CD marks the first time that Paganini’s mandolin music was recorded on period instruments, including the mandolino Genovese, dating back to the second half of the 18th century, which Paganini himself used. The pieces presented on this CD are taken from the only manuscripts for this instrument available today.

Carolyn: what’s different about the mandolino Genovese?

Carlo: The difference is mainly in the tuning. The mandolino Genovese has 6 double strings and the tune is like the guitar but one octave higher. They call it also guitarino because it was like a little guitar, with the same tuning.

Carolyn: For the past 10 years Carlo has presented a mandolin workshop in Manhattan. This highly anticipated workshop takes place over a long weekend and is attended by students throughout the United States and Canada. Together, they work on pieces by classical and contemporary composers, culminating in a public recital.

Carolyn: Sitting in a room with about 25 mandolin players; you close your eyes and you’re transported to another century, completely. It’s a beautiful effect. It has a beautiful resonance not only in the ear but also in the soul. There’s something about the mandolin that connects with almost everyone.

Carlo: That’s true. Because this sound, this invention of the tremolo is something that goes directly to your heart.

Carolyn: Every August Carlo organizes a workshop in Europe called the International Italian Mandolin Academy. This year, 2010, the workshop will be in Savona, Italy from the 22nd – 29th. Students of all levels are invited to this event and the musical offerings will be varied and challenging.

Carlo: The Accademia will be much focused on the Italian classical mandolin but we will have also examples of jazz mandolin by Don Stiernberg from Chicago and some blues mandolin from Richard DelGrosso from Houston and some South American mandolin by Dudu Maia. And we will have also a special course for orchestral directors made by Stefano Squarsina that is a professional conductor, great musician that will show us all the tricks to conduct a mandolin orchestra.

The city is waiting for that event very much because we will have evening concerts and always it’s a very intense week. What is so remarkable is that we have special courses for newbie, for people that never played the mandolin before, and also for kids. So it’s a very complex but easy week. It can be intended as a vacation with the mandolin in Italy also.

Carolyn: Carlo tours extensively throughout Europe and North America and directs a professional, international mandolin orchestra. He also plays with Mandolin Cocktail, a project that features not only classical pieces but South American, North American swing, bluegrass, blues, Italian folk music and new compositions. But no matter what type of music he’s playing, Carlo only plays one type of mandolin.

Carlo: So this is to tell you that I am around a lot during the year.

Carolyn: so when you’re playing these more modern pieces are you playing them on your bowl backed mandolin?

Carlo: I play only my Pandini mandolin. It’s like the Cannone for Paganini.

Carolyn: (Laughter) OK. So I won’t be seeing you with a flat back mandolin anytime soon.

Carlo: There are a lot of really good instruments but the only point is that I play Italian classical mandolin so it is good to bring our culture around and show that we have a big past and a very nice present and also a big future that is waiting for us. That is the instrument that brought the Italian culture all around the world so it’s right to honor it.

Carolyn: To learn more about Carlo, visit

No comments: