Piano Music – An Interview With Alessandro Sgobbio

Composer, pianist and producer Alessandro Sgobbio

“Fireflies” is dedicated to his beloved parents, Iolanda and Stefano. “Atma Mater” celebrates the genius of his mentor, Misha Alperin. “Third Ward” commemorates the legacy of George Floyd.

Musical artist Alessandro Sgobbio is reinventing himself in a spectacular new solo recording of intimate piano epistles and dedications.

Driven by some internal flywheel of restlessness while performing on a dazzling Fazioli F278 Grand Piano at the Artesuono Studios in Italy, Sgobbio lets his keen eye for tenderness run wild again. Et voilà! The new stunningly beautiful “Piano Music” album is born.

Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background? What led you to pursue a career as a composer and pianist?

I was introduced to music at an early age, as my father plays the electric bass and Italian folk music guitar. At school (at the Parma Conservatory of Music and the Oslo Norges Musikkhøgskole), I met inspiring music teachers who helped me build my inner confidence. I have received (and still receive) many encouragements and feedback from my parents, music colleagues, closest friends, and people who come to my concerts and share their feelings and thoughts about my music and performances. If I have enough confidence in my artistic skills and I am pursuing my music career in the way I am doing today, it is thanks to the lovable support of all these people I have crossed on my path.

When did the piano first become important to you?

I remember I was five. I was having dinner with my family when I suddenly watched on TV a classical pianist playing this incredible instrument with multiple keys and pedals… that vision literally enchanted me, and that was the beginning of long-lasting love. Since then, the piano has had an important place in my heart and daily routine; it is like a second skin.

How does playing the piano make you feel?

It feels like entering a timeless space where I can focus, absorb the vibrations of each sound, and enjoy every movement of my fingers on the keyboard: it is a brilliant form of self (or group) meditation.

Alessandro Sgobbio has earned Master’s Degrees at the Norwegian Academy of Music (Oslo, Norway) & the Parma Conservatory of Music (Parma, Italy)

Who is your favorite pianist (living or deceased), and why?

I actually think that I can have multiple favorite pianists at the same time. There are some specific aspects of each artist’s music and aesthetic that intrigue me, so I often listen intensively to some pianists for an extended period of time and then focus on others, which makes my top list very ephemeral. With that being said, I have been undoubtedly influenced by Glenn Gould, my mentor Misha Alperin, Robert Glasper, Keith Jarrett, John Taylor, Christian Wallumrød, Kaja Draksler, François Couturier, Vijay Iyer, and Samora Pinderhughes. The list can be much longer. Pianists aside, I am recently diving into the music of singer Oum Kalthoum – definitively one of my most recent astonishing discoveries.

Can you walk us through your daily practice routine? How much practice do you need to maintain your technique?

There is no day looking like another, as I often have to achieve several tasks on the same day (practicing, composing, traveling, studying, recording, sending/reading emails), which makes “creative multitasking” quite frequent. Regarding the piano practice, I like to warm up with music from Bach, Scarlatti, Ligeti, Chopin, and some Fats Waller, Misha Alperin, Keith Jarrett, and Chick Corea solo transcriptions. After that, I focus on playing my entire current concert track list (with no interruption). But there are also some days when I sit on the piano, press the Rec button on my phone, and play around with one idea or short melody that comes to my mind at that precise moment – then I save the recording for later (I may listen to it after two weeks or five years).

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

Take risks, make mistakes and always trust your musical intuitions, as they are the genuine result of your unique talent.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?

I see that many classical music institutions and outlets are constantly trying to merge the huge heritage of the past with the creative languages of today’s music scene – to maintain their established audiences and, at the same time, grab the attention of the younger generations. I think that we need to create more and more exciting, diverse, democratic, and inclusive experiences, so any new unconventional or unusual direction is highly welcomed.

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest solo album, Piano Music? What’s the meaning behind the album, and what do you want people to take from it as a complete work?

“Piano Music” is my latest solo collection of nine compositions written in recent years. I hope my listeners will enjoy these piano pieces while chilling at home, walking in the park, or taking a train or bus ride. I dedicate each piece of this album to a beloved person or a place and topic that are important to me – yet every listener is invited to join, enjoy and re-imagine these shared spaces of sound.

The opening song, Fireflies, will strike people for its vulnerability and openness. What is this music piece about?

The “Fireflies” piece is dedicated to my beloved parents, Iolanda and Stefano – for their love, support, and sacrifices that allowed me to become the musician and the human being I am today. I get very emotional when I play this piece, as I always wanted to write and dedicate a song to my parents: finally, here it is!

What was the inspiration behind “Atma Mater” and “Third Ward?”

“Atma Mater” celebrates the genius and legacy of my mentor, composer, and pianist Misha Alperin – I have learned a lot from his music, his lessons, and our multiple walks around the Norwegian fjords. I will always be grateful for his dedication to supporting my musical and spiritual journey.

“Third Ward” is my homage to the heritage of George Floyd. The song title refers to the homonym district in Minneapolis where George Floyd lived his childhood and was able to build his persona, despite daily discrimination and injustices based on his skin color. His departure from this earth is a strong inspiration for new generations and everyone caring and advocating for equal human rights.

What is your favorite concert venue and why?

I love a Parisian jazz club called “La Gare” (The Station). Contemporary musicians can perform in front of a huge and fantastically attentive, multi-generational, diverse, and curious audience at this astonishing old French station. The program direction is courageously independent, as the artists are selected for the quality of their music, regardless if they are well-known or unknown. Also, I like that there is no background music besides the actual concert, and all the shows are economically accessible to everyone. La Gare is one of the most brilliant examples of how we can re-imagine and create new passion-driven art spaces.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Alessandro Sgobbio has released 13 albums as a leader / co-leader with his Scandinavian ensembles Silent Fires & Hitra, and the bands Pericopes, Debra’s Dream and Charm. He has received several awards, including the Umbria Jazz Contest and the Padova Carrarese Prize

I like reading books about religion, spirituality, geopolitics, architecture, history, and other topics that are not formally related to music. I like watching artists’ interviews, and I get lots of inspiration from the way they talk about their artistic processes. I am also inspired by the story or history that leans behind a specific building, boutique, or street I cross while walking or traveling: I then search about it, and very often, that little story will take me to another story, and so on…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One of my recent memorable concert experiences has been at the iconic Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene in Oslo, where I had the joy to initiate my Scandinavian project, “Silent Fires.” I also remember some legendary shows in Harlem (NYC), at the Deer Head Inn (Pennsylvania), the Jazz Café (London), and the Goethe-Institut (Beijing). In the future, I would like to perform at the Blue Note, the Carnegie Hall, and the Bimhuis in Amsterdam; that would be magical!

What is your definition of “success” in the world of music?

Success in music is to override personal fears, insecurities, and outside interferences to achieve a fruitful and honest creative flow where art is its purest core. The more capitalistic meanings of success – popularity, money, public recognition, influence – would then come afterwards as somehow justified and well-deserved rewards. On a micro-scale, I think that success for a musician is also being able to constantly give birth to meaningful and inspiring sounds, compositions, and harmonic body movements.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness can be achieved only when it is reachable and available for everyone. To me, it is more a collective than an individual good. Indeed, we can learn how to build our happiness throughout our whole existence – constantly making the “right” steps forward. Many of us already live some quasi-perfect happiness right now, as we don’t have to face poverty, discrimination, health issues, or mental and physical abuses daily. We should always remind each other how blessed we are.

What’s next for you? Where would you like to be in ten years?

I just released “Piano Music,” and I am currently finalizing “Piano Music 2”, featuring music for piano and live electronics, coming next year. In ten years, I would like to look back and feel grateful for all the music, love, friendships, lessons learned, sunsets, goodbyes, smiles… the precious gift of Life that has been given to me.