Two days with Zeno Gabaglio

Musician, performer, cellist (also electroacoustic), music critic, freelance teacher, professor at the Conservatorio della Svizzera italiana, collaborator of Rsi Rete Due and Radio Gwendalyn, records, about twenty soundtracks for cinema and theatre, many concerts and a degree in philosophy. This explains why it takes at least two days to talk about Zeno Gabaglio. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad. In today’s world we would like everything to be explained in three words, maybe I did something wrong…».

On Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 November, the Ticino musician will monopolize the San Materno Theater for ‘The cosmos of Zeno Gabaglio’, a series of three meetings divided between ‘Music that serves’ (Saturday at 3 pm), a round table around musical creation applied in other disciplines (together with Cristina Galbiati, theater creator, and Erik Bernasconi, film director), ‘The foolish virgin’, a tribute show to Charlotte Bara, dancer and theater creator, with texts specially composed by the writer Giuliana Altamura and read by the actress Marta Malvestiti (again on Saturday, at 20.30) and, finally, the intriguing ‘Cello vs cello’, concert with counterpart Mattia Zappa, a union between the music of Bach and that of Gabaglio.

‘The cosmos of Zeno Gabaglio’ also seems like a meeting between friends and collaborators, an almost mutual tribute…

Yes, I would say inevitably, because speaking of my activity linked to applied music, to understand what lies behind it, the challenges and critical issues, it would be limiting to listen only to my bell. The idea of ​​inviting Cristina Galbiati and Erik Bernasconi, two theater and cinema directors, was born to also have their point of view. It is a meeting between friends and collaborators, of course, but without wanting to hide the dialectic of those works, therefore the creative needs that at a certain point must meet and, if necessary, collide. The title of the event, ‘Music that serves’, plays on the service that music must be able to render, we ask ourselves to what extent music must be of service, to what extent it must safeguard its own identity, and how much the musician must get involved to create a soundtrack for cinema or theatre. We will give specific examples, trying to get to the bottom of them. Obviously without getting to the bottom of it, because these are questions that the world has been asking for centuries and we don’t have the illusion of being able to answer definitively. However, presenting experiences for what they are can be interesting.

This ‘Music that serves’, this placing oneself at the service of the image, what sensations does it cause? Engagement, pain, stimulation, frustration, joy?

I state. With silent films I started for fun. At the base there is an interest in encountering other disciplines, it happens to me with literature, with the plastic arts. For me, music is also a means of getting closer to other expressions, but above all to other people. And like anything that involves a meeting between people – even if it were a holiday, often the object of mediation on what was initially planned – the interesting aspect of co-creation is getting involved. And over the years, although there may be habits, repeated and already resolved challenges, the challenges are always renewed, because each film is different, because the stories and times are different. Even the director himself, after some time, is a different person. It is a ‘neverending story’, one might say.

In the relationship between music and image, what was your most demanding job?

Some parts of the soundtrack of the film ‘La buca’ by Daniele Ciprì, with Sergio Castellitto. I found myself in an international co-production dynamic, which included Imagofilm from Lugano. The difficulty was on the one hand technical, because Ciprì had a taste oriented towards George Gershwin, which is not exactly my daily bread. On the other hand, it was complex to interface with that type of production, which included the bulk of the soundtrack written by Pino Donaggio with Stefano Bollani, a situation that included big names, yes, but fragmented. I asked myself: “What do I do? How can I stay in line with what other musicians are doing?”.

What, on the other hand, is the most representative work of your music?

I was not sorry for the documentary ‘Lassù’ by Bartolomeo Pampaloni, winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Trento Film Festival. I love it because it’s an atypical soundtrack, built only partially on the images. For the rest, it was the director who wanted pieces of my music, taken for what they are. ‘Up there’ connects the two poles, music composed specifically for images and musical creation tout court.

Pop, improvised, classical, experimental, no foreclosure: is this liquidity the identity of the modern musician?

Yes, even if sometimes you risk schizophrenia. And it is also true that certain genres have such technical requirements that it is then difficult to explore others. It’s why I don’t play classical music anymore. Mattia, paradoxically, who is a classically trained musician, occasionally delights in opening up to other genres. On Sunday the classical part will be his, I will do the contemporary one, a leap of three centuries which will eventually find its synthesis.

Yo-Yo But with James Taylor, who studied the cello in his youth and then left it in place of the more ductile guitar, is one of the most successful unions between cello and song: is this type of mingling to your liking?

Of course yes, I like them. In this regard, there is a curious fact, perhaps surprising: of all the instruments, the cello is the only one that can be learned only starting from the classical. The violin also exists in traditional music, in jazz schools, even more the double bass, you can learn all the wind instruments both in traditional music and in band. The cello, on the contrary, presupposes classical studies. So all the experiences external to classical music depended solely on the will of the individual cellists, who at a certain point set about doing something different, but without adhering to a pre-existing school, as it does not exist, without returning to a specific program training that would lead them to their destination. Although today cellists abound in other fields, it is curious to know how they had to arrange themselves, and invent their own path.

And how did your journey start?

When I was eight I wanted to study the violin. At the time those schools for stringed instruments were very popular in which they tried to form small orchestras of children. The maestro I turned to had many violins but not a cello, and he saw fit to invent that my fingers were too big. At eight years of age, a child has fingers like all other children’s. He advised my mother to let me study the cello, which I did elsewhere. A somewhat fraudulent stratagem which, in the end, brought him no advantage…

To conclude: how much does a degree in philosophy help in music?

It would be easy to answer “to take everything philosophically”. I studied it with the illusion that it would give me answers and at the end of the study I understood that philosophy serves to ask questions better. In a musical activity, in such a fragmented present in which there seems to be no certainty, in the world of music in particular, questioning oneself about what one does can help, and philosophy provides the tools to not preclude any kind of answer.

Two days with Zeno Gabaglio