You toured in Italy in February. How was it playing with Bill Frisell?
I loved playing with Bill. Actually we started in Houston playing for the wonderful da Camera Society at the end of January and then went overseas meeting up in Pescara, Italy, a few days later. We always put the programs together in a spontaneous way, often changing things in the dress rehearsal/sound check on concert day and then changing things yet again on stage. If we want to do some parts in a different key, it is enough to chat about it on the way to the concert and then we just do it on stage.
Bill is lightening quick to react to anything, and every night we do things differently. There is a lot of room for improvising especially in Bill’s pieces. For me this is natural too as I am used to improvising basso continuo accompaniments for my students in lessons.
Eliot Fisk and Bill Frisell performing at the legendary Teatro Petruzelli in Bari, South Italy.
What were the highlights of the Italy tour?
The concerts were all fun, and the reaction of the audiences was heartwarming, but in Bari we had the best hall. The wonderful Petruzzelli theatre had burned down and remained a blackened shell for nearly 20 years. Finally a couple of years ago it was restored to its former baroque glory, and it is now one of the most beautiful halls in the entire world. Playing in this gorgeous, great sounding hall made the Bari concert especially wonderful. But the most exciting thing of all was the improvisatory nature of the concerts, how we could play off of each other and keep finding new ways to reinvent the music.
What is the cultural difference between the audience in Italy and the US? How do you feel it as a musician? You covered a lot of ground geographically, I guess there are differences even between the audience in Ancona and Bari?
It is hard to generalize about audiences. I always just try to do my best no matter who I am playing for, whether it is a bunch of elementary school students or in some big concert hall in a big city. I remember that in the 80’s and 90’s the audiences in Italy seemed more demonstrative. I used to play lots of encores, sometimes as many as 8 or 9. Then I would go to a friend’s house and play some more. Perhaps these days the public in Italy is a bit more restrained. Still we could feel them listening, participating. We were told that the concerts on this tour left a very deep impression.
What is the hardest thing being on tour? What keeps you on the ground when traveling so much?
Touring is actually easier than being home. On tour really all you have to do is play the music and get to the hall on time. It is much less problematic than being home where you have to deal with all the infinite problems of daily life. On tour you don’t have to take your kid to school, gas up your car, teach your students, or negotiate the duties of keeping a household going with your spouse. In fact, doing all of that well is much more of an all-around challenge than playing music and trying to communicate all the sublime messages that are in the music.
When I am on the road playing concerts I am always conscious of huge responsibility to the art of music. What I want to do is always so much greater than what I can achieve that there is no danger of the applause turning my head.
For communication to take place, at least two must participate. Even the best playing must be completed by the listener. The performer gives all he can, but only a listener with an open heart and mind can complete the experience. Even the best playing cannot penetrate the consciousness of someone who does not want to listen or who does not have an open heart.
We know that you are a food lover and Italians are crazy about mangiar bene (good food). Did you make some culinary discoveries during the tour?
Every time I go to Italy I know there is a significant danger that I am going to come home heavier, especially because what I really love in Italian food is all the great variety of the primi (the pasta dishes)! This time Bill was on his high protein diet so that made me feel like even more of a pig. Fortunately the hotel in L’Aquila was also a spa with some good exercise equipment so I was able to work off some of the pasta right there!
I understand that it wasn’t so easy getting home!
In fact, I got stuck in Rome for 3 days due to the great blizzard that took out the whole Northeast. I had to keep going back to the airport to try to find a flight. First they put me on a flight for the next day. But of course the Boston airport was closed on day 2 as well. Then they wanted to fly me back 5 days later. Finally I got someone at the airport to fly me back through Madrid. Those flights worked perfectly, but when I got to Boston we waited 2 hours for our bags.
However, while in Rome I was taken care of with loving care by two dear colleagues, Leonardo de Angelis, and Senio Diaz (son of Alirio). Their incredible kindness made the misery bearable.
In fact, it is impossible to make a career in music without such friends, and it is amazing how generous some people can be, particularly in a country where life can be so chaotic as it often is in Italy. These two were just as good as gold to me.
Friends in need are friends indeed.
In Rome with Senio Diaz, son of the great Alirio Leonardo de Angelis Diaz, who was also briefly my teacher.We are holding a foto of Alirio as a young man holding Senio as a baby!
Leonardo de Angelis
Reactions to the concert tour:
I’m delighted to see that everyone enjoyed the touring and that everything went well. I was told by the Promoters that these were some of the most beautiful concerts ever heard.
– Member of the Italian organizing team
Thank you SO SO much for those inspiring few days together. Wow…it was so great. Lookforward to the next time.
– Bill Frisell