Interview with Donato D’Antonio (April 2010)

The first question is always the classic one: how did start your love and interest for the guitar?

I come from a family of amateur musicians from three generations, my father made me listen to Mario Del Monaco’s records as a kid and the music was always present in my childhood, I always thought I would have played guitar and one day in fifth Elementary my father and my uncle gave me a surprise, an Eko Model L … …

What instruments do you play?

My first professional instrument was a Ramirez classical guitar concert, after some years, no longer satisfied, I followed my own needs for research and sound control and I looked for “new” guitars , now I play with a fantastic guitar made by Gernot Wagner, a German luthier, it’s a bomb with an impressive sound, Wagner uses the same construction techniques by Mattias Dammann, I also have a Kohno of ’98, one of the last made by the Master Masaru Kohno, it is the Model 50 Special in spruce, it is very balanced with a very full sound and gave me much satisfaction especially playing Bach; with Tango Tres I use a Takamine 132SC with an amplifier AER Compact 60 that in this case makes a difference, and with Grupo Candombe addition to the Takamine + AER I use a Tres bought in Cuba during the tour of 2003, with Open Quartet in addition to Wagner’s I use an electric guitar Hohner G3T (Steinberger mod) with pedal Roland D50.
How did start your interest about the contemporary repertoire and what are the current styles in which you recognizes the most?

I’ve always had a propensity towards certain repertoire s, when I was studying architecture I listened almost exclusively to Xenakis and Talking Heads, in 1987 I had the opportunity to hear Stockausen in Ravenna, it was a thrilling concert performance, he was at the mixer and at the end of the concert I went to meet him to get an autograph, I have not forgotten his eyes so full of humanity, in those years I played bass in a band that made neo-psychedelic and punk rock music (cover and original songs) I lived these so different between them requests, naturally, I was impressed some years ago by a concert by the Balanescu Quartet and the Kronos Quartet, I adore John Zorn … Chick Corea, Robert Fripp, Teleonius Monk, Garbarek, Feldman, Cage, Satie, Berio, Sciarrino, Scelsi; surely I have a penchant for the “so-called weak thought” current that in music can be described as Minimalist, perhaps because in contemporary languages it was easier to use it for mixing different areas, I had several opportunities to perform In C by Terry Riley and it was almost a mystical experience, I love Reich and Glass especially “Lighting”.

You are the guitarrist of the trio Tango Tres with which you have pubblished the excellent “Guardia Vieja” dedicated to pre-Piazzolla tango, how this musical project was born and why the choice of this particular repertoire?

I met Silvio Zalambani in 1996 (we were colleagues at Civic School of Music G. Sarti in Faenza) and quickly established a strong will to cooperate, he impressed me his remarkable musicianship and his interest about tango (it was not yet a trend like today) and Latin American culture in general, I remember that we talked a lot about Villa-Lobos, we involved Victor Veroli in the project, an expert violinist about this repertoire (he had worked a lot with Hugo Aisemberg in Argentina) and assisted by Ruben Andres Costanzo (collector and historian of tango) we have begun an investigation about the initial repertoire, the so-called “Guardia Vieja” the typical instruments of that time were trios with one bass, a guitar and a string, the novelty was to use the sax soprano. We have worked very closely on the whole. For about six months we reharsed regularly to refine the repertoire that has always arranged by Silvio Zalambani. Our debut was in Valencia at the Palau of music in 1997 during the Cannes International saxophone festival and since then apart from a break of almost two years we took great satisfactions.

In History of the Tango on Evaristo Carriego Borges talks about the quarrelsome nature of the tango with the words “.. I would say that the tango and milonga express something in an immediate way that poets have often wanted to say with words: the belief that fighting can be a party … “beyond the game of poetry hidden in the words of Borges how do you feel Tango?

Borges said that the tango is a sad thought that you dance, I think the tango is a sad thought that I play.

Having worked on several projects: a solo artist, storyteller, guitar, Tango Tres Grupo Candombe the flute and guitar duo and guitar and violin duo, quartet, the Ondes Martenot … why so many interests and how does your way of playing change in these different contexts ?

I’ve always been curious and I always tried musically artistic relations with interesting musicians often not guitarists. It’s always important to know what you do, the approach must take into account the musical context and therefore you need to know what is the best delivery and style and to do that consciously, you need to investigate further. The origins of tango requires a rural engraving sound almost similar to a 78 record. With Grupo Candombe is important a preliminary rhythmic remarkable, with classical players you have to play thinking that they should not listen to you with fatigue but rather almost should not think that you’re a guitarist, the ondes Martenot is very much suited to the sound of the guitar and has a very interesting contemporary repertoire mainly French, with Open Quartet (guitar, flute, cello, violin) we are dedicated to contemporary music, Riley, Maderna and composers who have wrote for us and remakes of songs by Fripp, Korea, Zappa.

You have studied architecture, then without graduating and then choosing another path you have “.. hijacked my desire to diatonic projects, a venture with Matteo Zauli and Luigi Cicognani, as a concrete laboratory of our artistic follies.. “and also about being the musical curator of Zauli Museum in Faenza, do you want to talk us about these” deviations ?

I had the good fortune of meeting two wonderful people Luigi (architect and designer) and Matteo (director of the Museo Zauli and cultural manager) with whom I share more than 10 years from now the urge to try out ideas, we established years ago Diatonia that has contributed to help the city of Faenza to approach contemporary art, then Matteo created the Museo Carlo Zauli where we have continued to propose and promote our idea of mixing languages, always keeping the bar straight to the contemporary. The Nocturnals is a music festival at the sixth edition in 2009, is the musical soul of the museum, I will not say too much rather than through the website and through Facebook we can give an account of works done in recent years in the museum:

What did it mean to you to play a piece like Takemitsu Toward the Sea in the nice cd “Fremito Naturale” dedicated to Carlo Zauli?

I had the opportunity to study and perform various pieces by Takemitsu (Valeria, Folios, In the Woods) who helped me to get closer to the poetic of the composer. Zauli and Takemitsu had similar artistic events, but I prefer to respond through the words that Franco Masotti has used in the introduction of the CD Fremito Naturale: ” Zauli and Takemitsu (almost of the same age) follow opposite and convergent artistic itineraries: the former inevitably lands in the Far East, home of the major ceramic masters, the latter initially traces the great Maestros Debussy, Stravinsky and Messiaen in the West and then returns to his origins, to the deeply rooted traditions he had originally denied. In fact, while the Italian artist is virtually ‘adopted’ and celebrated by the country of the rising sun, the most prominent Japanese composer is celebrated in Europe and in the United States, his music is played by the main soloists and orchestras “

Let’s talk about marketing. How much do you think is important for a modern musician? I mean, how much is crucial to be good promoters of themselves and their work in today music world?

It’ s hard to divide working time between promotion, increasing contacts, relationships and propose original projects, cultivating relationships with serious artistic etc etc and the time we need to mature the musicis we play living with serenity our role with the music and with ourselves, it’s important to have a strict organization and realize that you can not do everything, but you have to make choices. I try to live a balanced, through music, the musician friends that I admire and try to have a farther dimention through the Zauli’s Museum that allows me to have a more broad and complete view about the role of music toward art and to my role as interpreter and cultural manager.

I have noticed in recent years, a gradual rapprochement between the two aspects of avant-garde music, the most academic’s one and the other side the one brought forward by musicians far away from the classical canon and from areas such as jazz, electronics and extreme rock like Fred Frith, John Zorn, the New York downtown scene and some electronic music labels such as Sub Rosa and the Mille Plateux influenced by the thought of Deleuze and Guattari. What do you think about these possible interactions and do you think that there is some place for them in Italy too?

There must be a place for these musicians and these labels, I would also mention, Andy Mckee, Eyvind Gang, Yuval Avital. In my area thanks to Angelica and Aterforum, many projects have passed and it was possible to hear them and see them, I do not want the usual Italian lament but certainly in Italy you should be a little crazy for bringing not expected or common artists and projects and therefore I make my compliments to all those little realities (because they are the ones who make doing research) that with great efforts present us the new scenes and musics.
It seems to me that there is a small music scene about classical guitarists dedicated to an innovative and contemporary repertoire, as well as you come to my mind the names of Marco Cappelli, David Tanenbaum, David Starobin, Elena Casoli, Seth Josel, Marc Ribot who played John Zorn music … shall I speak about a music scene? Are you in contact with these musicians? Are there other guitarists you know and that you can suggest us that they move on these innovative musical routes? Do you want to talks us about the “Notturni” concerts that have seen some of these musicians playing in Faenza?

Thanks for placing me closet to these great performers, but I only have to learn, I wish there were still many more musicians like you mentioned ….. I’m in contact with Marco Cappelli, Walter Zanetti and Marko Feri, “Notturni” concerts offer a place for musicians involved in research on contemporary and intends to pursue a new way of doing concerts bringing different musical repertoires and combinations with the aim of showing the “new things”. We had nice results in the last editions in terms of feedback by the public and by the artists and we are increasingly geared to continue on this road.

What does improvisation mean for your music research? Do you think it’s possibile to talk about improvisation for classical music or we have to turn to other repertories like jazz, contemporary music, etc.?


I have always greatly admired the improvvisors, both coming from jazz, which those with great skill play baroque music, not to mention the Eastern musical cultures, I have made some ideas and I believe that in contemporary music is very important to improvise, taking care about the musicians or the composer with whom you are playing especially when, as in recent years, all is deliberately mixed (complete improvisation) as in a shaker, I mean that it’s very important the aspect of the sound that you want to have precisely in an instant in relation to what is happening and that you want or you can change through your musical personality.

Listening to his music, I noticed the quiet serenity with which you approach your instrument regardless of repertoire, from who you’re playing, the composer, the instrument that you use always showing a full control both technical and emotional, how important is working on technique to achieve this level of “security”?

Thanks for the compliment, I appreciate it! It’s important to be able to study dividine the problems but it is essential to concentrate on work without the instrument, I have acquired a kind of positive emotion that allows me to react even with a high control over what happens, it is like I’m a battery which is charged positively before the event, so I always arrive very serene at the concert, however, this thing still amazes me every time.

Luciano Berio writes “the preservation of the past has a negative sense, as it becomes a way of forgetting music. The listener will get an illusion of continuity that allows you to select what seems to confirm that same continuity and censor everything that seems disturbino”, What role can take music and contemporary composers in this context?

I am a strong supporter for artistic experimentation, the role of artists is fundamental to our society as anticipating the future sensitivities of the community, it helps move forward the limit …. the listener must also hear compositions that made him uncomfortable it is right that he also has a negative perception, but it is interesting that thanks to this push he could say, “I heard that song and I did not like,” the difficulty lies the failure to not comply with the proposals, it’s better to develop a critical sense to appreciate the great works.

What do you think about the discographic market crisis, with the transition to digital downloading in mp3 and all this new scenario?

It’s amazing how you can now buy music on internet, I’m sorry to see that the majors are collapsing, but insane policies made in these years are bearing fruit, unfortunately, of course I feel sorry for those who work in the field of discography, in pop music one can talk about aggressive marketing and communication’s quality, but with all respect, not even about musical quality though many arrangers are well-trained musicians able to write in many styles.
A particular case is jazz, ethnic, classical and contemporary / experimental where the cd has a value as historical documents (the vision of an interpreter) and also an artistic instrument to promote their artistic skills

Please tell us five essential records, to have always with you .. the classic five discs for the desert island …

Don Giovanni by Mozart, Goldberg’s Variations Bach/Gould, Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads, Giant Steps by John Coltrane, Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich

What are your five favorite scores?

The suites for lute/guitar by Bach, Hika by Brouwer, the suite populaire brasilienne by Villa-Lobos, the Nocturnal by Britten, In the woods by Takemitsu

The blog is read also by young graduates and graduates, what advice can you give to those who, after years of study, decided to start a career as a musician?

Being a musician is tough but it permits to satisfie a need for a strong internal communication, you must be prepared, not technically where now it seems there are no limits, the real preparation is human, the watchword is seriousness and respect always for those who dedicade to stay away from the pack

With whom would you like to play?

Steve Swallow, Pat Metheny, Mischa Maisky, Stefano Scodanibbio, Terry Riley, Ravi Shankar, David Byrne, Elvis Costello, Brian Eno

Thank you very much Donato!