Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Acclaimed as one of the most gifted musicians of her generation, Italian-born pianist Cristiana Pegoraro has consistently entertained and enlightened audiences with her inspired performances and original programming. Her skills display great technical and interpretative abilities.
She began her career in music as a piano prodigy receiving countless national and international awards, including the 1989 Prague Best of the Year for Classical Music Award “for her great personality, strong musical temperament, mastery of phrasing and expressive artistry.”
The New York Times called her “an artist of the highest caliber” following her stunning 1996 debut at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.
Ms. Pegoraro has performed in some of the major venues in Europe, the United States, South America, Asia, and Australia.
Her piano artistry can be heard on 28 compact discs.
In collaboration with Italian Embassies and Cultural Institutes, she is regularly invited by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to represent Italy and promote Italian music in the world.
Ms. Pegoraro graduated with the highest honors from the Conservatory of Terni, Italy, at the age of sixteen. She continued her studies with Jörg Demus in Vienna and Hans Leygraf at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin. She later studied with Nina Svetlanova at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Besides being an awesome pianist, you have some world records to your name. One of them is that you were the first Italian female pianist performing in Bahrain, Yemen, and Oman. What brought you to those countries? How did the public respond?
Cristiana Pegoraro: I was invited by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They had a program to promote Italian music specifically in those countries. I went on two different tours and performed in Bahrein, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, The Emirates, Yemen. It was an incredible experience. The audience responded very well. I believe music is the universal language that transcends all barriers. It goes straight to people’s hearts, and that’s a winning point.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You performed in many countries and locales. Which venues impressed you the most and which ones were the most emotional performances for you?
Cristiana Pegoraro: Every concert is very emotional for me, because I give all myself, and it doesn’t really matter where I perform. Of course, there are some venues and concerts which have a special place in my heart. I remember my debut at Lincoln Center and at Carnegie Hall in New York City, two of the “meccas” of the concert venues in the world.
I will never forget my performance in front of the pyramids in Egypt and some concerts in front of 3.000 people at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. But sometimes concerts in smaller venues, especially in candlelight, make me feel particularly close to my audience. It can be very emotional.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You have been hailed by the critics as “among the best interpreters of Cuban and South American music.” What triggered your interest in that type of music and which composers do you perform the most?
Cristiana Pegoraro: By moving to New York City, I was exposed to a different array of cultures. There was a time when I had several Cuban and South American friends who inspired me to get closer to their musical cultures. I became very interested in the music of Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona. Already many years ago, I “dared” to introduce it in my concert programs next to classical composers such as Beethoven and Chopin. That was still a time in which a classical artist would play mainly a classical repertoire without incursions in other musical styles. I like the challenge. I remember playing a concert at the United Nations in New York featuring Lecuona together with classical composers. The audience reacted enthusiastically. That encouraged me to enrich my repertoire with “not so classical acquisitions”. That lead to another great composer from Argentina, Astor Piazzolla and his tango nuevo. In order to understand tango better, I even started dancing it. I was amazed by the movements and magic of tango, and learning how to dance gave me the key to Piazzolla’s music. That was my tango full-immersion time. Since Piazzolla didn’t compose his tangos for piano, there was no piano score available of his tangos, so I decided to start creating my own arrangements. That ended up being a winning move for me. People loved to hear Cuban and tango music at my concerts, together with the masterworks of classical composers.
Besides Tango transcriptions, I started transcribing Italian repertoire, especially opera. I love to play Italian repertoire around the world. As a pianist, there is not much Italian repertoire to play in concert halls, so I started transcribing what is the most impressive heritage Italy has to offer: opera! I made transcriptions of Rossini’s Overtures, Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni’s arias and intermezzi, I also transcribed for piano The Four Seasons by Vivaldi.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Can you talk a bit about your recorded material?
Cristiana Pegoraro: So far, I have recorded 28 CDs. They include numerous recordings of classical composers, five albums with my original compositions, my own piano arrangements of Astor Piazzolla’s tangos (this CD won the gold medal at the 2016 Global Music Awards), and performances of Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona. My latest album includes my own piano transcriptions of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville recorded with the Rome Chamber Ensemble.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What television shows have you been on and what did you perform?
Cristiana Pegoraro: I’ve been on a number of TV shows. The ones that come to my mind are: on RAI 1 receiving the Premio Bellisario (I played my own transcription of Carmen by Bizet), on RAI 5 performing my own music and classical pieces in a show on Oriana Fallaci with famous Italian actress Maria Rosaria Omaggio. I’ve been also on shows like “Porta a Porta” with Bruno Vespa, and “Sottovoce” with Gigi Marzullo, both on RAI 1.
Beside RAI, I’ve been a featured artist on radio and television, on WQXR New York (USA), Mediaset, Radio Vaticana, Discoteca di Stato (Italy), BBC (Scotland), ARD (Germany), RTP (Portugal), Nine Network (Australia) and CBC (Japan), just to mention a few.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are very involved with your region of origin, Umbria…
Cristiana Pegoraro: I love my region of origin. I feel a very special bond to the beauty, history, and culture of this small region in the center of Italy, the so-called “green heart of Italy”, due to its luxurious vegetation.
I am a testimonial of Umbria’s tourism campaign throughout the world. I take great pride in promoting Umbria through my concerts and music activities. I like people to discover this corner of paradise in Italy, so authentic and mystical. That is the land of St. Francis of Assisi, and you can breathe this magic atmosphere in many places in Umbria.
Due to my interest in promoting my region, I was honored by many awards related to Umbria. Just to mention a few: I was honored with the Rotary Umbria Prize “for her professionalism, social commitment and her constant promotion of Umbria throughout the world”. I also received the Messenger of the Territory Award from the Chamber of Commerce of Terni. I received an inaugural “Premio Umbria in Rosa” award given to women “operating in the fields of knowledge and who are models for exemplary professional skills and positivity” by her home Italian region of Umbria, and the “Donne ad alta quota” Award with the support of Regione Umbria and Fondazione Marisa Bellisario, dedicated to “women-testimonial that with their active commitment promote the image of Umbria and Italy”.
My four-page article on Umbria is featured on Guide di Repubblica, published recently and on sale worldwide at https://ilmioabbonamento.gedi.it/iniziative/guide
I also dedicated a CD of my original compositions to Umbria, “La Mia Umbria”, available on my website www.cristianapegoraro.com
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are also an award-winning composer. What type of music do you compose?
Cristiana Pegoraro: Over the last years, I have taken up the challenge of composition, releasing five highly acclaimed albums “A Musical Journey”, “Ithaka”, “La mia Umbria”, “Volo di note” and “Piano di volo”.
My style is that of neo-romantic music. My music is very melodic, in the style of romances without words. I want to talk to the heart of people in a very simple and direct way. Very often I get inspired by nature, especially by the sea, which I love very much. Also, by feelings. When I compose, I feel like telling a story in music.
My compositions have been used for films and documentaries. I composed the soundtrack to the video “For Whom The Sirens Toll” produced by the United Nations Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and presented at the United Nations on September 11th, 2004, in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack.
I also composed the soundtrack of the short movie “La casa dell’orologio” by Italian director Gianni Torres.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Let’s talk about your poetry book, “Ithaka”…
Cristiana Pegoraro: My book of poems “Ithaka” is the journey of a modern Ulysses through life. The idea was born from the need to unite people belonging to diverse cultures, regions, and traditions from the Mediterranean; the Mediterranean as a place with a potential to express solidarity, welcome, and friendship, and as a warrant for peace among the people; a sea which unifies instead of dividing, and a symbol of dialogue and understanding in histories which are different, but which are all about the same universal subject: Mankind.
Like Ulysses voyage, so man’s voyage is rich in discoveries and adventures, goals to reach, and lessons to learn. The most important thing is not to reach the goal, but everything we learn along the way.
My Ithaka is not only a book of poems. It includes the CD Ithaka with my own compositions played by me, which accompany the poems.
Each chapter of the book represents an important step of our life, and so does the music. We have the departure, the expectation, the passion, the choice, the discovery, the sensuality, the knowledge, the destiny, the understanding, the journey, the wisdom. The poems are in Italian with side-by-side English translations.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You wrote a series of books for children based on Italian operas. It sounds like a great idea, but how did you structure the books to make them palatable for children and avoid the often-appearing violent situation of the opera themes?
Cristiana Pegoraro: My new series “Opera in fiaba” is kicking off. It is a project born with the aim to excite children – but not only them – to the magical world of opera. What better tool than images and sounds to achieve this goal? The books are accurate fairytale transpositions of “opera buffa” by Rossini (above all, the famous Barber of Seville), Donizetti, Paisiello, Pergolesi, with splendid drawings and a CD attached with the story narrated by the voice of professional actors and with the piano performance of the main arias, transcribed and played by me. For now, I concentrate on operas with a positive finale, I will approach the others at a later time.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Cristiana, you also teach. Could you tell us more about that? Do you feel teaching as a learning experience too? Do you also use your own music in the teaching process?
Cristiana Pegoraro: I like to teach. Teaching is a great learning experience also for the teacher. I’ve learned so much, so far!
I have students at different levels and different ages. I believe anyone can improve. When you are a teacher you have to be a psychologist as well, to get the key to the heart and brain of that specific student. Every student is different and reacts differently to the teaching methods.
I teach at the Narnia Festival – International Summer Training Program in Narni, Umbria, during the month of July.
I give masterclasses around the world geared towards high-level students, at The Juilliard School in New York and across the U.S., Canada, Europe, The Middle East, Asia and Australia.
I also teach at my private studios in Manhattan and Rome. Recently I started teaching online as well. Sometimes I use my own music with my students.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: International charity organizations are always looking for your collaboration because of your kind availability to humanitarian programs. What organizations are you involved with?
Cristiana Pegoraro: I support various international organizations such as UNICEF, Amnesty International, World Food Programme, Emergency, Lions Clubs International, and Rotary International in their humanitarian efforts. I believe it is an artist’s duty to speak up for important causes.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: The Narnia Arts Academy has you as their President for the past ten years. What made you get involved with the Academy? What exactly are your duties and goals for this Academy?
Cristiana Pegoraro: I founded the Narnia Arts Academy ten years ago with the goal of mixing music, art, education and tourism, by uniting culture and geography in an innovative interdisciplinary initiative. A new vision aimed at the comprehension of the arts and understanding of the cultural, architectural, and historical heritage of the Umbrian region.
Narnia Arts Academy runs a very intense activity in the schools, embracing from the elementary to the high schools.
The various outreach programs take place directly in the schools and include active student participation at the different projects, aimed to increase their comprehension and appreciation of classical music.
Narnia Arts Academy school projects take place during the school year, generally from February to May. In July, in collaboration with the City of Narni, Narnia Arts Academy presents the Narnia Festival, a big celebration of arts, music, and culture offering performances by world-renowned artists and the best of educational programs on an international level.
Narnia Festival’s performances combine tradition and innovation in a balanced harmony between music, dance, and theater, exhibitions, conferences, cultural activities, and excursions.
Regular participants are world-renowned artists, seen in performances ranging from classical music to opera, from sacred music to jazz, from ballet to tango and flamenco.
The Narnia Festival training embraces a great variety of opportunities of the highest quality, featuring teachers from the most important international schools and universities (including The Juilliard School and Mannes College in New York City, Mozarteum – Salzburg, Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst – Vienna, University of Miami, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia) and participation of over 300 students each season.
The programs include:
- International Summer Training Program for instrumentalists
- International Vocal Arts Program – Intensive courses for singers and debut in operas
- Junior Masterclasses – Innovative play-educational initiative dedicated to children six years and up
- Linguistic and Cultural Training in the Italian Language – Italian language and culture courses in collaboration with the Italian American Committee on Education, which – on behalf of the Italian Foreign Ministry – is responsible for promoting Italian language and culture in the United States
- Narnia Culture&Leisure – Cultural courses and guided tours dedicated to tourists and family members of participants in the campus.
- Acting Workshop – Program of acting and masterclasses with internationally renowned actors and agents
- Narnia Dance – International Workshop of Dance and Choreography
- Narnia Flamenco – Workshop of Spanish Dance and Flamenco
- Narnia Tango – Workshop for all levels, practica, milongas.
- Musical Theater – Voice Course with Matthew Surapine – Musical Theater – Voice Course with teachers directly from Broadway.
- Painting Workshop – Technic of painting in water (Ebru) and drawing with acrilic colors.
During the past ten years, Narnia Arts Academy saw the participation of over 9.000 students at its yearly activities.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Among the innumerable awards and accolades you received, which ones are the most memorable in your mind?
Cristiana Pegoraro: Among all the awards I have received, there are a couple that have a very special place in my heart. One belongs to the past. In 2005, at my 10th concert at Lincoln Center, I received the World Peace Award from the Circolo Culturale Italiano of the United Nations. The mention was “for her effort in advancing peace in the world”. I have been extremely honored to receive this award. I still remember it. I was in front of 1,000 people, among which Ambassadors, Diplomats and Representatives of over 40 countries from the United Nations. That has been an unforgettable moment.
The second one is more recent, I received it in 2019. It is the “Mela d’Oro” – Marisa Bellisario Award. I remember being a very special day, a whole day of exciting happenings. First, I had a private visit with the President of the Republic of Italy, Sergio Mattarella. Then a live ceremony on RAI1 broadcasted worldwide, during which I performed my arrangement of Carmen by Bizet.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: I can see that between performances, writing, composing, practicing, teaching, and traveling you don’t have much free time for yourself. When that occasional opportunity transpires, what do you like to do that is not connected to these activities?
Cristiana Pegoraro: I like to spend quality time with my parents, friends, and play with my dog Ettore and cats Nico and Rosso.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Are you working on any new projects at this time?
Cristiana Pegoraro: 2021 is the 700th anniversary of Dante. I’m working on a very exciting project: writing the music for Dante’s Canto XXVI of Inferno from Divina Commedia, the one of Ulysses. By now you may see I’m fascinated with the myth of Ulysses!
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you could meet any historical character and talk to them, anyone, who would that person be and what would you like to ask them?
Cristiana Pegoraro: Oh, I would like to go back to the 1800s and meet Chopin. More than talking to him, I would love to sit next to him and listen to him play!
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Any dreams or secret wish?
Cristiana Pegoraro: If I didn’t become an artist, I would have become a vet or an airline pilot. When I get old and will probably stop traveling around the world, my dream is to create a shelter for animals. To learn how to fly, I’m afraid it will be too late!
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: A message for our readers?
Cristiana Pegoraro: A message in four sentences. Live every second of your life. Never lose your smile. Open your heart to music, art, beauty. Love, fully and unconditionally, as it is the most important thing in life!