Keeping it in the family

Raised Catholic, Italian pianist Luca Buratto talks about how he is influenced by his Jewish great-grandfather’s legacy.

Italian pianist Luca Buratto  (photo credit: COLIN WAY)
Italian pianist Luca Buratto
(photo credit: COLIN WAY)
The Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv will host a piano marathon tomorrow (December 21, 6 p.m.). The event, which is taking place for the 13th year, is being held under the auspices of the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition and features three prize-winning artists, including American pianist Sara Daneshpour who placed third at this year’s competition, and Romanian counterpart Daniel Petrica Ciobanu. Ciobanu took second place in the competition and also landed the Audience Favorite prize. Daneshpour will play works by Rameau, Chopin and Bach, while Cioban will perform pieces by Brahms, Prokofiev, Ravel and 20th century Russian composer Nikolai Medtner.
While Luca Buratto is not a Rubinstein Piano Competition medalist, the 25-year-old Italian pianist has a pretty impressive kudos collection of his own, including winning the 2015 Honens International Piano Competition, which is held in Calgary, Canada, every three years. Buratto’s Tel Aviv repertoire includes Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Janacek’s Sonata no.1 and Out of Doors by Bartok, as well as three mazurkas by 46-year-old British composer Thomas Adès.
Not only is Buratto a talented pianist, it transpires he has a Jewish genetic backdrop. He first came to public notice in 2003 when, at the age of only nine, he appeared at the Milan Conservatory’s Sala Verdi, at an International Holocaust Remembrance Day event.
The works he performed for the occasion were written by his Jewish great-grandfather, Renzo Massarani, a promising composer whose career was interrupted by the imposition of racial laws in Italy, in 1938, by the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. Massarani fled to Brazil and, disgusted by the political turn of events in Italy, vowed never to create music again. Thereafter he made a living as a music critic.
Buratto was raised as a Catholic but was aware of his antecedent’s artistic gifts and why he stopped writing music.
“My mum always told me stories about him,” he says.
“My grandfather, my mum’s dad, used to go with his father to concerts in Brazil, when my great-grandfather was a music reviewer.”
That grandparent was also the reason Buratto was born in Italy, not Brazil.
“He was a mechanical engineer and he came to Italy to do a job. He was only supposed to be here six months but he never left. He never went back to Brazil.
I don’t know why.”
Although Buratto is the first of his family to take up music as a profession since Massarani, the youngster received more than a gentle parental push in the desired instrumental direction.
“When I was very small we lived in America for a year, and when we came back my father bought a baby grand.
He plays piano too, although he is not a professional.”
By the time he was four, Buratto started piano lessons himself, although he says he was no Mozart.
“I also liked school. I was not one of those child prodigies dreaming of being a musician.”
That may have been the case but, following graduation from high school, he took his piano teacher’s advice and decided to try his luck as a professional musician. He says he drifted into it.
“Music is not something you choose. I suppose you could say music chose me,” he posits, adding that there are easier ways of earning a living. “You have to spend your six hours a day at your desk, which is your piano.
That is very necessary. I try to do six hours every day, although that is difficult when I travel.”
Today, Buratto travels the globe, playing compositions by the icons of the classical world, but also more contemporary works, including works written by Adès, and by his great-grandfather.
Massarani stopped writing music and, in fact, wanted his works to be destroyed, as a protest against fascism, but Buratto has no qualms about performing his pieces.
“I know it is a bit controversial but it is my way to tell my heritage, coming from my great-grandfather, by playing his music. I don’t know how he would feel about that. But there were a lot of people from that generation who suffered from destiny, and I think it is part of our job to bring those stories to life.”
Besides lauding his ancestor’s scores, Buratto has a penchant for the work of Robert Schumann.
“I think he was very genuine and fruitful in his expression,” he notes. “He is very direct, and he was a visionary in his time, in his piano works. As a pianist I try to find the same extreme or radical approach, in a good way of course.”
Adès also appeals to Buratto’s artistic and personal leanings.
“I have played a lot of his works recently,” he says. He feels the inclusion of the British composer’s mazurkas will shed a little seasonal light on his slot at the conservatory in Tel Aviv.
“My program, somehow, is based on night music, the dark side of music. The mazurkas will be the light side of the program.”
In addition to the music, Buratto says he is looking forward to coming to Israel for the first time.
“With my Jewish and Catholic background, of course coming to Israel will be very special for me. I will stay on for a couple of days after the concert and I will go to Jerusalem too.”
Although Buratto says he is not interested in commercial pop and rock, and says “I have enough music in my life,” he does not rule out getting into some Middle Eastern sounds while he is here.
“I am always curious about other music. We’ll see.”

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