Mario Caroli is one of the most remarkable flutists of our time. He started a successful solo career after only six years of training. Winning the Kranichsteiner International Prize in Darmstadt led to acclaimed performances with leading orchestras throughout the world and conductors like Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, Heinz Holliger, etc. Besides active concert activities, Mario has recorded more than 40 recordings. The recent one of Jolivet's works was highly praised by the American Record Guide.
Additionally, Mario Caroli is a flute professor at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany.
We met with Mario after his masterclass during the 16th Adams International Flute Festival in the Netherlands and wanted to know more about his preferences, philosophy studies, and sources of inspiration.
In your masterclass, you mentioned the importance of the right repertoire for the performer. Which repertoire do you feel the most comfortable with?
The French one, for sure, as well as the baroque and the contemporary repertoire. But not all the contemporary repertoire. Mostly pieces with colors and timbers, not so much "structuralistic" or other things like the "Darmstadt School" or the repertoire of the 1960s - 1970s, which I don't like at all. From the standard repertoire, I like the most French music from Debussy/Ravel/Fauré and after: Roussel, Ibert, Jolivet...
Let's imagine you've been granted a wish to perform any piece with any conductor and orchestra of your choice. What would you choose?
That would be the 2nd piano concerto by Chopin. Well, if this is a dream, I'd prefer that! So, it would be this piano concerto with Georges Prêtre as a conductor and maybe with a French orchestra.
What if you couldn't choose the instrument of your choice but had to stick to the flute?
I would play the Jolivet concerto for flute and strings, without a conductor and for sure with a German orchestra, perhaps the Berliner Philharmoniker, why not?!
You have studied philosophy. Do you think that these studies have helped you in some way to play flute?
No, it "just" broadened my perspectives. There's no real connection, you know? But, for sure, philosophy helps to open your mind, it stimulates you in asking "why" for everything, it proposes you multiple choices of answer and gives a wider perspective of what is the position of music in my life, and what music means for me. So, for the flute playing itself not, but for all the rest, including making music, yes. You know more things that are out there. Philosophy is really everything, even this discussion we are having could become a subject of philosophical questions. So, the good thing is that it pushes you to ask many things about everything, like "why do you play like that?", "why do you like this piece?" and so on. It stimulates your brain... and your imagination. So, when you approach a new piece, perhaps you might see it slightly different from others and maybe bringing something different and unique in your interpretation.
Well, actually when I play, I'm very instinctive. Then, gradually I get deeper into the different sides of the piece. But I must confess that, sometimes, the need to get deeper into the knowledge related to a certain piece comes from the teaching. You have to explain things that are evident for you but not so much for the student. What's important for me is to let understand the relationship between the composer and the composer's esthetic, the "meaning" of the piece in its historical and poetical context. It is in this perspective when the philosophy can help. You question yourself more. Sometimes it's helpful, sometimes it's useless because you ask too many things...
Which situation is better – if you know what you want to say but can't do it technically or you can play everything, but you don't know what to really say?
The first situation, of course! If you have a musical nature, you know exactly what to do and if your technique doesn't follow, you can always develop it.
You can't develop musicality if you don't have it already inside you.
It's not because you have a strong technique that you are able to do music: this is absolutely not possible. Otherwise, every philologist would be a poet, simply because a philologist knows all secrets and functions of the language! But a philologist is a philologist, and a poet is a poet. A poet could be someone who can make grammatical mistakes or use grammatically inappropriate structures, but what he says will always be unique because comes out from the deepest part of his being, even without being "perfect" on a technical side. So the musicians. If you don't have music inside, if you don't have poetry inside, you will never be a totally accomplished musician, because I don't think you can develop this. You must have it, always, prior to everything.
And it's useless to possess phenomenal technical skills if you don't have anything to say. Why should you listen to a technical performance? Well, sometimes you can admire an artisan's skills, but you can't be emotionally attracted to it, can't be inspired.
There are people who can touch you only by the way how they speak, how they move, how they look at. There's something touching inside. That's why I don't take a student who is not musical. I prefer to work with someone who needs help as long as he/she has a true personality. In this case, you succeed because you can learn the technique. You just need to understand things, and how they work. If someone has something to say, the level will become higher and higher. The more you live, the more you become sensitive – you experience love, you experience death and so many other things that will change your sensibility. If you don't have this sensibility on your skin, and if you play slow movement by Mozart by searching for something outside of this music, you are on the wrong way, you have to look inside because you won't find the magic of his music outside...
Where does inspiration fall into this?
It's everything! Even the most trivial things in your life. Look, the person you are today is the result of all your experiences. And if you are an artistic person you are able to translate these emotions into music.
Here we go back to the topic of philosophy. Many times I have asked myself: why do people thank me after the concert? It happens so often. People come to me and say, "Thank you so much!", and sometimes I wonder – "For what?, I'm just doing my job!". But then I thought a lot about that and came up with the following explanation: it's not much about what you give them. I think that this feeling of gratitude that people show off after a concert is more linked to the fact that you are able to bring out these emotions that also they feel exactly like you. But you are able to bring these emotions out through the music, while they aren't, and their emotions stay stuck in their souls because they can't play or don't have any artistic skills. And then they find someone who can release these feelings and emotions for them! That's why people are often very grateful to artists because you can translate the same feelings that also they have! It happened also to me to feel a deep gratitude to a writer or a poet for being able in using the perfect words for describing some feelings, which I felt but would never be able to describe with words! Same thing with the musicians!
What inspires you?
I'm very much inspired by the love because I'm a very empathic person. This side of my personality completely changed my approach to everything, music included. But being empathic means also suffering a lot, because people don't hesitate to take all you have to offer them and then abandon you. Through the years, I very often thought that music was my last hope. In these precise moments, I have realized how lucky I am to have music in my life. In a moment when you lose someone you love or when you know that your own life is going to expire as well, the music is the only thing that brings you again to life, like a tiny, fragile yet powerful ray of light penetrating in the mysterious and mystical zone between death and life. But still: love is the most precious thing I have in my life and it continues bringing light and motivation on this existential path that was given to me.
I know that you know six languages. I can guess five: Italian, French, Germain, English, and Spanish. What's the sixth one?
Portuguese. I can understand Dutch, and Romanian because of some similarities with German and Italian, I also studied a bit Swedish. And at school, I studied old Greek and Latin!
What language do you think in?
In French. For instance, I always loved in French and never in Italian! And I live in France, in Strasbourg. Well, I'm Italian, of course, and I also think in Italian, but mostly in French because I use French in my daily life more than Italian. In fact, if I don't speak with my sister back home or with some of my students, I can spend days without using Italian. So, my brain adapts accordingly.
Still, how can you manage to keep up with the other languages? They also need some practice.
As part of being an Italian living in France and working in Germany, I do travel really a lot, and I have a very international class with students coming from all over the world: this general situation helps already a lot. With my students, I do speak different languages. Generally, it's important to have a reason to learn a new language.
The best reason is always love, the second is work! I remember when I started to teach in Germany, I decided to use the German language to teach since the very first day of teaching, although my German was very poor and it's a very difficult language, as everyone knows! But I was determined to learn German: it was a unique opportunity. And I knew that if I would have used English, it wouldn't have been a good thing. But knowing different languages allows me to switch to another language to better explain something very special to a non-German speaking student, in order to make sure that the student really understands what I need to explain. So, that's how I keep up with practicing my language skills!