Andrea Oliva is one of the most admired flutists in Europe. Since 2003 he has been the First flute soloist of the “Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di S. Cecilia” in Rome. The winner of the Kobe competition (2005), he teaches flute at the Academy S. Cecilia in Rome and is the flute professor at the Conservatory of Lugano (CSI Lugano) in Switzerland. Additionally, Andrea Oliva has one of the best collections of videos on youtube: studio and concert recordings as well as very useful teaching tips for aspiring students with weekly updates.
We met him at the beginning of February in Riga during his masterclasses at the Latvian Academy of Music. He kindly accepted to answer some questions we specifically prepared for him for our new source for flutists: “Mastering the Flute”.
You have a very vivid imagination. How do you come up with all these associations and allegories during your masterclasses? Do you read a lot or is there something else?
I read quite a lot, also some humoristic texts: theatrical comics, like the famous Italian comic character Bergonzoni (Alessandro Bergonzoni is known for his ability to play with language to create surrealistic paradoxical situations sometimes called the absurd comic). He is famous for coming up with phrases with double meanings. And I spend a lot of time in opera: watching and listening, getting some inspiration from many characters there as well.
Besides, I’ve always been very curious about other art forms, and I find this entertainment: this comic theater, a nonsense theater in a way not just very funny but even gymnastic for my brain. One sentence can transform into another phrase with a different meaning. I like these plays and jokes of words. This certainly helps to boost my imagination.
I’ve always had a sense of humor, I like being not so serious, and I don’t want to be considered too serious either. I always joke – with my friends, colleagues, or students.
Well, perhaps it comes from my father and mother who was a folk actress, playing in popular Teatro, mixing words from different dialects, playing different characters during the carnival, for example. So, a lot of these things together shaped my imagination and I try to transmit some of it to my students. And, also, when I play, I try to create my story in my mind because we are storytellers deep down there. I try to imagine a story with sounds and articulation, and I tell this story to the audience. So, I like to inspire students this way.
What inspires you personally?
Mainly the canto, the singers. I started to study music because I wanted to become a tenor. I always wanted to be a tenor. Because I’m from Modena, the city of Pavarotti. So, it’s a lot of influence on me. I always listened to many good recordings at home: opera singers and folk songs as well. As a young boy, I sang “voci bianche” (white voices or children’s choir) in two operas: “Werther” and “Tosca”. So, I was fascinated by the opera world, and for me, it was natural to want to become a singer, simply because singing is a maximal expression of yourself, without an instrument in the middle. The voice is the first natural instrument.
Then turned out that my voice wasn’t as good as I hoped for, and I started to play flute and I tried to transform the sound of the flute into my voice. Nevertheless, I always try to sing. Like I always tell my students that I never blow in a tube, but I always sing something for the people. That’s probably the Italian DNA that is really connected with the opera. So, opera and singing still is my main inspiration for me.
Then, the flutist inspiration came at a young age, listening to recordings of Galway, and Rampal. I was amazed – how is it possible to play like that? And, if it’s possible, at least I want to try to imitate and come close to that ideal. Even though I knew I was so far away from them but their recordings inspired me to grow a lot to try to achieve that kind of level of perfection.
And then, of course – what you read, what you see, what you eat, what life you live, how full is it, and so on. So, you can bring all of this into music. The inspiration comes from living your life as intensely as possible and translate it into music.
Can you name some turning points in your life or your career that happened by meeting someone or experiencing something special?
When I hear a question like this, I can immediately name “the meeting with Abbado”. The first time I played in Mahler Jugendorchester and then in the Berliner Philharmoniker orchestra. Those several moments were really amazing in my life. Abbado was such a great musician: with charisma, and personality he was able to transmit his will, and the idea to the orchestra without words. That was a time when I understood that some conductors could be different from others. Then you realize how the same orchestra and the same piece can sound so different. Without words, just moving his body and hands, he transformed the sound of the orchestra – this was a truly shocking experience. So, I started my flutist career in Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and then later at Karajan Academy when I was an academist in Berlin. Playing in Berlin was a life-changing experience as well. These 100 people react as one soloist! A truly unique body of music. That sound! So, this was a corner point of serious work ahead of me. And the joy you can have working with that kind of atmosphere – sounds and great colleagues around you where everyone is so good. It is very inspiring!
Can you name three flutists you admire the most?
My first mentor was Sir James Galway when I was impressed by his recordings and later I was lucky to have a lesson with him. And now I’m happy to say that we are friends. Then Claudio Montafia – who was his student, he translated for me the way to practice, the way to create technical stuff in Italian. Together with Raffaele Trevisani, they both brought Galway’s school to Italy. And, of course, Emmanuel Pahud. He is a great inspiration as well: music, colors, with whole his personality. Every time I see him on stage, I want to imitate his self-control on that stage. He looks never worried about what happens, so he is a very good example.
But there are many, Andreas Blau as the orchestra musician and my teacher at the Karajan Academy. Jean Claude Gerard taught me to work very attentive and concentrate on every sound I make, and how to improve my daily exercises. Glauco Cambursano, principal flute at La Scala di Milano was an incredible motivation and inspiration when I studied at the Imola International Academy: especially about the orchestra repertoire and musical excerpts studies. So, there are many to whom I can say: Thank you!
Can you name some of the recordings you feel the most proud of?
I’m the most proud of Bach’s sonatas we made with Angela Hewitt for Hyperion label. She is a very good Canadian pianist. She asked me to play these sonatas because Angela had already recorded everything possible of Bach on the pianoforte, except the flute sonatas. So, we met at her festival in Trasimeno for one or two summers and she asked me to play and record these sonatas because it is one point that I miss in my recordings – complete Bach with modern piano and I was honored that she asked me to do it. So, this was a great experience and I think that is one of my best CDs.
Some years ago I recorded a Handel sonata with cembalo. Modern flute, cembalo, and cello. I’m also proud that we did this recording in big takes, making that sound more alive. Of course, each CD you do is like your soul, so you love each one of them. For example, in my recent collaboration with Italian guitar player Giampaolo Bandini, we recorded Sonatina by Castelnuovo-Tedesco which received an award.
What advice would you give to younger yourself if you’d meet him when he is 16 or 20?
Hmm, I can say – practice without wasting the time. I was practicing but perhaps not as much as I could. Because sometimes, when you are gifted you may feel that it’s enough for you. So, I would suggest an extra practicing hour each day and to be more confident, to trust yourself more.
For example, I didn’t participate in many competitions because I thought it was impossible to win. Trust more in yourself because you can do better than you think. And keep up your curiosity, because interest in other, non-musical stuff helps you to keep an open mind and grow a lot. And, don’t eat or drink too much or you might gain some extra weight :)