World-famous pianist Christian Leotta not only wowed a highly discriminating audience during his Manila debut; he also went out of his way to hold a master class for music students and professors from the University of the Philippines College of Music, University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music and Philippine High School for the Arts despite his hectic schedule which has taken him on a whirlwind tour of China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea before coming to the country.
John Paul de la Vega, director of the Philippine Italian Association (PIA), said Leotta, whose talent as a virtuoso pianist was already evident at age seven, remained “very modest and very kind,” given his accomplishments.
Born in Catania, Italy, Leotta is recognized as the youngest pianist since Daniel Barenboim to perform and record all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas. He was trained by musical legends, including Karl Ulrich Schnabel, who come from a line that can be traced directly to Beethoven himself.
Fans note that Leotta began performing the complete Beethoven sonatas at 22, a task he completed in less than a month.
Very rare thing
Last Tuesday, Leotta performed Bach’s “Capriccio sopra la Lontananza del Suo Fratello Dilettismo BWV 992 (Capriccio on the Departure of His Most Beloved Brother)”; Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Minor, Opus Posth. 143, 0784; Rossini’s “Memento Homo” and “Une Caresse a Ma Femme” and Beethoven’s celebrated and very challenging “Appassionata” or Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor opus 57.
“We’re very honored,” De la Vega said of Leotta’s visit.
While watching the virtuoso was already a learning experience by itself, De la Vega said five students were given the privilege to perform with him at the Abelardo Hall in UP Diliman Wednesday afternoon after the CCP concert.
“A master class is a very rare thing… and very few people can actually instruct the way he does, if at all,” De la Vega said.
Leotta came to Manila upon the PIA’s invitation. His concert “An Evening With Christian Leotta: From Bach to the Romantic Piano of Schubert, Rossini and Beethoven,” was a joint effort of the Italian embassy, PIA and CCP.
De la Vega, who was also project director of the CCP-PIA-
Italian embassy consortium, said Leotta’s performance here could be considered “a gift to the Philippines.”
“No one has played Schubert and Rossini at his level,” he said. “And for us to have him here is really amazing.”
Leotta’s concert was held for the benefit of the PIA’s endowment fund whose beneficiaries include the Sisters Handmaids of Charity, Servants of Charity, and Canossian Sons of Charity— all headed by Italian missionaries based in the Philippines.
The Rustan’s Group of Companies was a major concert sponsor.
Promoting classical music
Asked about the seeming indifference of most people to classical music, Leotta suggested that there should be an effort to play classical music “in all shops and restaurants, train stations, television (programs), gradually. Then in a few years (those who listen) will go to classical music concerts.”
The pianist noted that most people were probably intimidated by classical music because it was “nowhere” in the current environment.
Leotta added that while he took pride in his exposure and training under classical greats such as Mario Patuzzi and Rosalyn Tureck, he still made an effort to make each performance a unique expression of his talent.
“When you have performed so many times, it’s kind of like (a) routine on the day of the concert. When you are on the stage, must make the public be with you through the whole recital. This is the most difficult part. It’s about creating an event which is different (from previous performances).”
Leotta said the composers whose works he performed in Manila had produced the most difficult pieces since these were multi-layered and that each second of playing would require “the highest level of concentration, passion and knowledge.”
The pianist lamented that younger performers beginning in the 1970s had become “more and more focused on perfection, so everything became much more mechanical.”
Even the pianos nowadays, he complained, “may be more powerful but less sensitive” due to what he perceived as the “race between pianist and piano factories. Pianists were asking: ‘give me more power,’” and manufacturers have to oblige them.
Another issue with younger pianists, he added, is changing the original score of the compositions.
“We (pianists) are the interpreter: We don’t have to add anything. To play forte instead of piano, this is a crime! They will send you to hell,” he warned half-jokingly.
Leotta’s concert was presented with Furnitalia and with the support of the Trevi Foundations Phils Inc., Sta. Elena Gold and Country Estate, Stores Specialists Inc. group, Diamond Hotel, Shopwise, Global Executive Solutions Group and Lombardi’s Authentic Italian Restaurant.