Copyright © 2002 - 2020 Chopin Society of Atlanta
“My Chopin Is a Secret”

Interview with Alberto Nosè, winner of the First Prize, Gold Medal, and Sony Audience Prize of the 2005 “Paloma O'Shea” International Piano Competition of Santander, Spain

By Bożena U. Zaremba

Verona, a small town in the middle of northern Italy, is mostly associated with the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, but visitors making a “pilgrimage” to the famous balcony will be amazed by the beauty of the town’s ancient and medieval architecture, the richness of its history, and the depth of its cultural life. It was the hometown of the famous (or infamous) composer Antonio Salieri and a lesser-known contemporary composer, Franco Donaton. It is the home of a renowned summer opera festival that takes place in a Roman amphitheater, the Arena, and a winter concert series for young musicians. The town is also a celebrated center for chamber music and hosts both outstanding chamber music ensembles and orchestral concerts.
This noble music tradition is carried on by another Veronese, pianist Alberto Nosè. The program of his Carnegie Hall debut in October 2006 included—naturally—Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, a series of ten beautiful pieces extracted by the composer himself from his ballet score.

Bożena U. Zaremba: What did it feel like to perform at this most prestigious concert hall?

Alberto Nosè: Carnegie Hall is a big temple of music because the most important artists have played there for many years. I was very satisfied to be a part of this tradition; it was a great privilege. And I admit I like playing for American audiences. They are so warm that I always get a feeling of being among friends and music lovers.

After winning a major prize at a high-status competition, most pianists stop participating in competitions, but you kept on participating—and winning.

When I was seven, I started learning music, and shortly afterwards I began to take part in piano competitions because my former teachers believed that a contest offers the best chance to overcome shyness and fear of playing in front of people. In fact, competitions are very stimulating for young musicians. The last competition in Santander, in 2005, was a turning point for me. I got access to the most important festivals and concert seasons.

Do you feel any difference between performing at a competition and a concert?

Every competition requires considerable physical and mental training—apart from being a stressful situation—because you find yourself competing with musicians coming from all over the world and worrying if you will meet the jury’s tastes. I must say it’s not a natural condition for a performer, and it’s often difficult to be yourself in the interpretation. On the other hand, when I play a concert, I do it for the public, totally. I enter a different atmosphere, as it is the audience that gives me the power to fully express myself. It’s a sensation as if the music comes out from myself in a completely free way.

In the course of your musical education you have participated in master classes conducted by such grand pianists as Maurizio Pollini and Murray Perahia. Can you tell something about them?

I know Mr. Pollini thanks to the Piano Academy of Imola, where his son and I were students. We also played Mozart’s double piano concerto together some years ago. All his family is very close to me. I believe that Pollini teaches very differently from the way he plays: His style is somehow majestic, even in Chopin, but very noble. He’s a great person, though a strong personality. I met Murray Perahia in Paris, where I played for him at Salle Gaveau in a very prestigious public master class. He’s a real gentleman, nice, and extremely careful of phrasing and the quality of the sound.

Now you hold master classes yourself. Do you enjoy teaching?

I don’t enjoy teaching beginner pianists, but master classes are different because you work with pianists who already play well and show interesting personalities. We discuss musical ideas, and it’s very inspiring. You can even learn something new from their good and bad habits. The exploration in music is endless.

Let’s talk about the music you play. This year you released a recording of the Six Keyboard Sonatas, Op. 17 by Johann Christian Bach, which is a world premiere on a modern piano. Isn’t it amazing that they had not been recorded in this version before?

It is! These pieces are very interesting. They embrace the style of his father, Johann Sebastian, and that of the early Mozart. I’m very curious as to what the critics will say about this unusual repertoire on a modern piano.

Why did you decide to record them?

It was a proposal from recording label Naxos. I got the score, and then I listened to a CD by a harpsichordist. I was very inspired, but I felt that something was missing in his performance: that sense of untouched beauty in the melodic line, typical of J. C. Bach’s “singing style,” “galante,” an extremely important feature that can only be expressed on a richer instrument like the piano.

Were they initially written for the piano or harpsichord?

At the time of Bach, it was typical to give a double “destination” of the music, for harpsichord and fortepiano. But the phrasing and shy dynamics (very few piano’s and forte’s) suggest that Bach could have in mind the hammerklavier, the only instrument able to give voice to this fluent, balanced, and light music.

Do you feel that Johann Christian Bach is underestimated?

Of course, his father’s work is better known, and Johann Christian lived in the shadow of Mozart, a rising star at that time. Johann Christian wrote very little for the keyboard, just two series of sonatas, and he devoted himself mostly to orchestral pieces. In fact, he’s recognized especially for his symphonies.

You have a lot of music by Chopin in your repertoire. What are the challenges of playing his music?

Chopin’s music is hard to interpret at a high level because it’s very difficult and requires a particular sensibility to the Polish traditions, as well as a fine education and the culture of sound technique, and this is not for everybody. Moreover, there are hundreds of recordings of Chopin’s music by the greatest pianists of the past, and pianists have a substantial and distinguished tradition to follow.

What is your key to interpreting Chopin’s music?

It’s a secret, and secrets must remain unrevealed [smiles]. My interpretation of Chopin’s music is very personal.

Your impressive repertoire also encompasses less familiar compositions.

I like to discover the unknown pieces of the greatest composers, and it’s interesting when sometimes I can find in these works the ideas for a major work, like a preparatory study for something bigger or the other side of the composer’s soul. I also love playing music by Berio, Stockhausen, or Szymanowski, whose names appear very rarely in concert programs.

You play a lot of chamber music, too.

Sure. I think it is important to play chamber music. Sometimes it is more difficult than playing solo. When you play with other instruments, especially with very good musicians, it becomes so inspiring. My favorite formation is a quintet. I especially like Brahms’s Quintet, Op. 34 in F minor, probably the best chamber work ever written.

When I listened to your recordings, I was impressed by the quality of sound. It’s crisp and clean. Obviously, this is something that you pay particular attention to. I assume that the quality of the concert instrument must be relevant to you.

Oh, yes, absolutely, and I get upset when I find a bad piano for a concert [laughs]. I believe that the sound is the quality that makes the difference between one pianist and another. Anyway, let’s assume we have a good piano at our disposal. If the musician is not too good, the sound is that of the instrument. If he’s good, the sound comes out from his hands. If he’s exceptional, the sound arises from the heart and the soul and gets to the instrument through both hands and mind. All this is a mystery.

You are a Steinway Artist. What does this title entail?

Steinway Artists are chosen on the basis of their international careers and prominence in the field of piano performance. To qualify, a pianist must own a Steinway piano and also promote the instrument. The Steinway Artist honor has been awarded to many great classical artists, such as Arthur Rubinstein, as well as jazz stars and pop icons. Admittance to the roster is not a monetary, but rather an honorary distinction. It entitles artists to the free use of a Steinway concert-grand instrument for concerts at any location around the world and also guarantees the free use of Steinway practice facilities.

Most pianists prefer German Steinways to the American Steinways. Do you?

I generally prefer the German ones, but I have to admit that I have often played on American Steinways that sounded beautiful, and I was very pleased. In my opinion, everything depends on how accurate the maintenance of the instrument and the tuning are.

Do you often perform in Verona?

Not really. I truly believe in the saying, “Nemo propheta in patria. 1

December 17, 2007

The concert took place on March 16, 2008, at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center in Roswell, Georgia. To learn more about the pianist, visit

1 From the Latin: No one is a prophet in his homeland.