A. My brother and I were interested in music and a relative introduced us to a Spoleto music teacher, Renzo Tomassetti, with whom we began accordion lessons. I was 12 years old and my brother 11.
Q. Which model do you play and why?
A. Currently I use a 45 key piano accordion with convertor (chromatic free bass, international system). I have reached this model after a long history. I began with a traditional accordion and when I changed to the free bass, I used the quint free bass system (Gallarini). I played this up until I was 20 years of age. I then had an accordion with eight bass rows and a quint treble voice (2 2/3). With this instrument I won the major Italian and international competitions.
For a few years, I did little playing. After a period in the army, I enrolled in university as I did not believe in a future as an accordion concert artist. In that period, the call arrived from the FARFISA company to be a demonstrator for them and I started playing again, transforming radically my approach to the instrument. For some months, I devoted myself to the button accordion, C system, preparing for a whole concert. I became aware however, that the feelings that I had while playing, were not the same: the connection between mind and expressiveness was not direct but passed through a series of "calculations" on the correct playing positions. I preferred therefore to return to the piano system and after various experiences I decided upon a 4 voice free bass instrument:16+16 (8+8)
Q. Can you give us more details about your studies
A. In the years when I was student of the accordion, it was in full evolution and I found many people unprepared; the teachers learnt together with the students with attempts on suitable music and recordings. Moreover in the school where I studied, I was the most elderly student and I helped the teacher in the lessons, especially for the free bass system.
There was one period in our school, when many students changed system; for example I remember Luciano Biondini who in that period played the piano accordion. My good luck was participating in the World Championships at only 15 years of age. It was the 1981 Castefidardo Competition, that I had the opportunity to meet with many other musicians, teachers and students from different schools, who helped me find music, recordings and music books.
Q. During that period, I remember the accordion in Italy did not have any government recognition and competitions were the only way to emerge. Which were your more important competition successes?
A. My didactic adventure (lessons and contests) has been very brief . In fact I began learning at 12 years and at 18 years of age, I won the World Trophy. After only 6-7 years of lessons and competitions; I began university and collaboration with accordion manufacturers.
Q. The tours in collaboration with firms and the consequent entrepreneurial activity: how did it happen and had you forseen it?
A. When the largest Italian firm of musical instruments, Farfisa, was acquired by Bontempi, the union of the brands Farfisa, Scandalli and Paolo Soprani, with Bontempi, Furstein, etc. created a big musical group. This new company looked for a young musician for demonstrations at fairs and for musical consultations, and after having tried different known characters they chose me, probably because, I was the last Italian winner of the World trophy, also had experience in electronics, some knowledge of foreign languages and the correct age to guarantee continuity in the job of development of the products. I was working full time, but maintained the possibility of continuing studies and also the objective of become a manager of the firm.
A separate firm, managed by Farfisa together with Leonardo and Luciano Menghini, two artisans, already by then with great experience - built the Paolo Soprani and Scandalli accordions. I was amusician first and then the Product Manager. Subsequently it was decided to separate completely these two entities and I decided to enter into partnership with the Menghinis with the aim of widening the range produced, which today consists of all types of accordions that are exported worldwide.
Q. In your industrial role you are working with the prestigious brands of Scandalli and Paolo Soprani. Which approach have you had in the quality control and design of these products, and particularly, what approach have you followed for reproducing the famous Super VI Scandalli?
A. Our clients have been pleased at the possibility of interface with a musician. I am naturally prone to match the quality to the necessities of production, but I always have in my mind, the essential attribute of saleability. The fame of the Paolo Soprani brand was due above all to the voices, that were produced in house. Today no firm internally produces its own voices, but we have kept the original Soprani plates, with a firm that produces them exclusively for us. In the approach to the Super VI Scandalli we have opted for pure quality.
We own two accordions from the golden era of Farfisa (a Super VI Scandalli and an ARTIST VI Settimio Soprani, that are the same thing) they are still extraordinary accordions of an unsurpassed quality and what we do, with today's means (in some ways also today's limits), is to continuously improve on every aspect of those products.
For the case we have practically reached the same object because we have a very capable internal carpentry shop and exactly the same, with the Super VI which is hand made. For the mechanical aspects, technically it is possible to improve today. As regards the voices, the discussion is more debatable: today it is almost impossible to find artisans able to maintain that quality in a production.
The principal problem is that sets of reeds of high quality can be gotten only for few accordions every year; and admitted, that such quality is constant, the costs are enormous. If we made the exact calculation of the cost of a sets of reeds in the way of 60 years ago, the final price of the accordions would be unaffordable.
We are always however in evolution and we slowly approach the faithful reproduction of the original Super VI. Aesthetically we have sought the same look, same form and dimensions; as far as possible we have used old moulds and, where not available, identical new moulds to those original. For instance, the characteristic shape of some registers has been lost and we have reconstructed new moulds, exactly the same.
Q. What are the motives for the recent fusion with another firm (SEM) and what are your objectives?
A. This is a question that has its roots in truth, with the great problem of the Italian accordion today. Qualified workers are less and less available and is difficult to produce great volumes of products to a constant high standard. Moreover, many types and models of accordions exist, because of the fame of the brands and the consequent presence in all the markets of the world, we have to please everybody.
Beyond the good personal relationships, with SEM we verified that the productive departments were very complimentary. On one side, a carpentry with good possibilities to increase the production, from the other one a chromatic keyboards department completely absent before - in short for a whole series of considerations, we have decided to first of all unite the strengths to increase the production and then to also complete the respective catalogs while still preserving the different constructive characteristics of the 3 brands of SEM, Paolo Soprani and Scandalli.
Q. How do you reconcile your entrepreneurial activity with that of a concert artist?
A. In fact it is difficult and I don't define myself "concertista" (concert artist) in the sense that this is not my work, in as much, that I do not prepare concerts of an hour or longer. I confine myself to maintain a repertoire for demonstrations at international festival, competitions, demonstrations organized by our clients; or I try to work on new things such as a project with symphony orchestra which was recently realized.
Q. Do you use a purpose built accordion or is it possible to purchase your instrument from the catalog? Why you have chosen this model?
A. My accordion is a Scandalli Conservatorio mod. P462 - it is a model that we have in the catalog with some small personalizations that any client can request such as the tuning to 442 Hz or the layout of the registers.
Obviously the accordion has been realized to my specifications, but practically all our clients accept the model as standard. As I said earlier, I have had different models and systems for the right hand and I have reached the conclusion that the best relationship of quality, tonal possibility and weight for me is an accordion with 45 piano keys and with 4 sets of reeds in the treble.
Tuning without any tremolo, with the A note 442Hz. I have hesitated for a long time about the left side between the Italian system and the Russian. I have chosen the Italian, but I don't believe it can be said, that the one is better or the other. I have had accordions with 3 reeds on the free bass (16+16+4). I have ascertained that the tonal possibilities allowed by the piccolo reed are not worth the increase of weight and dimensions. I have only now 2 reeds (16+16), with 4/6 reeds for the standard bass.
Q. Chromatic vs Piano?
A. I have chosen the piano accordion because I began with this, but for a student who wants to undertake classical studies I would recommend the chromatic (the Russian system over the international C system), however from a tonal and sonoric point of view, thanks to so many tests that I have made, I say that a piano accordion plays better than the chromatic, especially in concert.
For instance the disposition of the reeds in the piano accordion allows more uniform and a more direct sound and a more precise mechanical movement in comparison to the system of imposed levers in the chromatic accordion; in performance it also succeeds in having a custom designed relationship with the key in as much as the weight varies according to where you put your finger, same as the pianoforte, where also the material and the dimensions of the key influence the final sound.
Always with regard to performance, the piano accordionist has control over the sense of the tonalities very much more than the button player where the positions from a technical point of view tend to be always the same.
Q. Do you have particular preferences in the choice of your concert repertoire, in solo and in ensemble?
A. For that which concerns repertoire I am some sorry because what was the Italian repertoire has been neglected: Pozzoli, Fugazza, Fancelli, Ferrari Trecate and so many others, who had written some very interesting things. In substance they are not forgotten but the most known accordionists skip them completely and in the programs of conservatory (also foreign) it is not normal to have a close examination of the Italian composers of that period.
I believe, that more attention should be paid to them. I also believe, that some of the composers exalted today, are in my opinion, rather poor of talent. In fact, I always play something of Fancelli or Fugazza; I also draw from the Russian repertoire choosing with attention among the various available composers. What I don't play, is the contemporary repertoire, both because I don't love it particularly, and because it would displease too much of my public. However, I am clearly not against the contemporary works and I believe that there needs to be a look out for the ideas of accordion composers, above all, experimental ideas.
Concerning the ensemble. I believe that all the schools and the conservatories should push in this direction, because this is one of the principal gaps of the accordion. Few examples exist of written music, still less well written, and the accordionist is always in difficulty when he/she plays with other instruments.
Q. What do you think of the actual direction of the accordion?
A. Different countries respond in very different ways. For instance, in the North of the United Kingdom and in Ireland, the rediscovery of the Celtic music has brought to the forefront the sound of the accordion with benefits for all of us; while in Brazil, the accordion is very appreciated, but there are economic problems that limit the market. In the east of Europe there is a very interesting classical discourse while in Italy there is no true innovation and despite a general improvement, no one is exploring new types of music.
On a world level, we have had Piazzolla that has re-introduced people to the sound of the reed (the bandoneon practically works in the same way as an accordion) and we hope to have more and more artists and composers of talent that appreciate our tonal and expressive possibilities.
Q. A definition of art?
A. According to me, the artist is one who succeeds in transmitting to the others the emotional heights to which his/her talent raises him/her. In this sense, I believe that music is above the other arts, because it is the only one that unites the artist and the listener in a transient and unrepeatable emotional communication that lasts for the duration of the concert. For this reason, I don't like to record discs or videos. I consider them documents but not works from where one can really appreciate the talent of an artist.