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Fabio Vacchi studied at the Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini of Bologna with Giacomo Manzoni and Tito Gotti. In 1974 he participated in the courses of the Tanglewood Festival in the United States, where he was awarded the Koussevitzky Prize in Composition. In 1976 he won first prize at the Gaudeamus Composition Competition in the Netherlands, with the work Les soupirs de Geneviève for 11 string soloists, and in the same year he wrote Sinfonia in quattro tempi, conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli for the Venice Biennale Festival, which thereafter dedicated to him two monographic concerts in 1979 and 1981. In Venice, where he lived from 1984 to 1992, he met and was supported by Luigi Nono.
He made his debut at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival in 1982 with Girotondo, an opera whose libretto was adapted from Arthur Schnitzler. Following this opera came Il Viaggio (Teatro Comunale di Bologna, text by Tonino Guerra), - in the same year, 1990, when he attended the New York Festival of Contemporary Music with L'usgnol in vatta a un fil - then La station thermale, with a libretto by Myriam Tanant from Goldoni - produced at Opéra de Lyon (1993), afterwards at La Scala and Opéra Comique de Paris (1995). He also wrote Sacer Sanctus (1997) for chorus and instruments, text by Giuseppe Pontiggia, "a work commissioned by La Scala (1997) and repeated at the Festival of Ravenna (1998), the Festival Présence 2002 in Paris and S. Cecilia in Rome in 2003".
For the musical theatre he has subsequently written Les oiseaux de passage (Opéra de Lyon, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, 1998-2001) and, in 2003, Il letto della Storia, with a libretto by Franco Marcoaldi and stage direction by Giorgio Barberio Corsetti. For this opera he received the Abbiati Prize from the National Association of Italian Critics for the best new work of the year. The partnership with Marcoaldi has continued, bringing about such works as Terra comune (which, at the request of Luciano Berio, inaugurated Rome's Auditorium Parco della Musica in 2002),Tre Veglie commissioned by the Salzburg Festival (conducted in 2000 by Ivan Fischer, with Anna Caterina Antonacci), and the second opera for the Teatro alla Scala, Teneke (2007, chosen for the That's Opera event, on the occasion of the bicentennial of Ricordi, curated by Jean-Jacques Nattiez) conducted by Roberto Abbado, stage direction by Ermanno Olmi, with set design by Arnaldo Pomodoro.
Vacchi's music was again heard at the Salzburg Festival in 2006, during the celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, with a performance by Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Riccardo Muti of La giusta armonia, a melologue with narrator and orchestra based on a text by the proto-socialist Franz Heinrich Ziegenhagen, who was a friend of Mozart. Worthy of mention is Voci di notte (2006), commissioned by the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, on the occasion of the 70th birthday of their conductor Zubin Mehta. Mehta is one of many conductors, such as Berio, Chung, Harding, Marriner, Pappano, and, as already mentioned Muti and Abbado, who have conducted Vacchi's music a number of times.
In 2009 Riccardo Chailly conducted the symphonic melologue Prospero o dell'Armonia (by Shakespeare, Filarmonica della Scala) and in 2011 Tagebuch der Empörung (Leipzig, Gewandhaus Orchestra). Both the symphonic Mare che fiumi accoglie, conducted by Antonio Pappano at the Parco della Musica in Rome, and the opera La madre del mostro, based on a libretto by Michele Serra, date back to 2007.Amos Oz wrote the libretto of the opera The Same Sea for Vacchi, from the novel of the same name, staged at Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari, with scenery by Gae Aulenti, in 2011. Again in collaboration with Amos Oz, he composed the melologue D'un tratto nel folto del bosco, based on a text by Michele Serra from the novel of the same name (Nestled deep in a thick forest) by the Israeli writer, for the Festival Mito (which dedicated a monograph - the first Italian - to Vacchi, in 2014) of 2010. The melologue also travelled to Paris, in 2014 and in a French version (Soudain dans la forêt profonde, Comédie française, Salle Pleyel), with a CD by the Ministère de l'Éducation Nationale, designed for schools in France. In 2015, he composed a symphonic poem, Der Walddämon, again inspired by Nestled Deep in a Thick Forest by Amos Oz and commissioned by Riccardo Chailly, who conducted it at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. In the same year, Vacchi directed the Atelier Opéra en création at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, where his works were performed between 2014 and 2015. In 2016 his ninth opera came out, Lo specchio magico, based on a text by Aldo Nove (staged at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, conducted by John Axelroad) and Vencidos for voice and orchestra commissioned by the Festival Internacional Cervantino, in Mexico, for the Cervantes celebrations. In 2018 the Teatro San Carlo put on Eternapoli, at the request of Toni Servillo. Again in 2018 the Concerto for violin Natura naturans had its European première at the Opera of Budapest and its American première at the Carnegie Hall in New York, (conductor Balázs Kocsár, soloist Haruka Nagao). In February 2019 the Orchestra laVerdi of Milan devoted four monographic concerts to him, including the Italian première of Natura naturans.
Riccardo Muti conducted Diario dello Sdegno (Teatro alla Scala, 2003), written by Vacchi in the emotional aftermath of September 11, 2001 and the international conflicts that followed. After its première in Milan (2002), this piece was performed in Paris (2003) and Bruxellels, during Italy's turn of holding the presidency of the European Union. Ethical themes have great significance for Vacchi and they are evident in other compositions of his, such as Irini, Esselam, Shalom (2004) for voice, violin and orchestra, which deals with the theme of peace, reflecting upon sagacious texts from the monotheistic religions. Another similar piece was Dai calanchi di Sabbiuno for chamber ensemble, which was composed for the Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Italian Resistance (Teatro alla Scala, 1995) and which has been performed more than 100 times around the world, also in the version for full orchestra requested by Claudio Abbado. Ethical themes are central in three recent works. The Teatro alla Scala will, on 22nd March 2020, be staging the premiere of Madina, Theater-Dance (whose text of Emmanuelle de Villepin focuses on the theme of terrorism), for actor, soprano, tenor, choir, orchestra and dance troupe with Roberto Bolle étoile,Was Beethoven African?, inspired by Nadine Gardimer's anti-racism novel and commissioned by the Philharmonie de Paris and the Paris Mozart Orchestra - with the commission chaired by Deborah Borda of the New York Philharmonic - will be performed at the Philharmonie, Paris, on 19th March 2020. The mock-heroic opera Jeanne Dark, from Voltaire's Pucelle d'Orléans, that will be staged at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, 22nd May 2020, reflects his rebellion against dogmatic thinking.
On a commission from Abbado, Vacchi composed Briefe Büchners, a Lieder cycle which was performed by the Berliner Philharmonie in 1998. These Lieder works are fruits of the period in which he focused his attention on chamber music. Other such works include, among others, the Third String Quartet (2002) written for the Tokyo String Quartet, which was awarded the Annual Lully Award in 2003 for the best new work of the year performed in the United States, and the Fourth Quartet (2004), commissioned by RAI Radio for the 80th anniversary of Italian radio. For the Hilliard Ensemble and the Barrow River Art Festival, he composed Memoria italiana in 2013. Part of Luoghi immaginari, which was composed between 1987 and 1992 and consists of various pieces for various instrumental formations - performed many times, conducted also by Daniel Harding in Salzburg Mozarteum or in the Festival of Italian Contemporary Music in Beijing - and was included, along with other works by Vacchi, in the soundtrack to The Profession of Arms by Ermanno Olmi. For this film, which marked the beginning of his collaboration with the world of film, Vacchi was awarded the David di Donatello prize for Best Score of the year. 2005 saw him honoured again, this time at the RDC Awards, for his music in Patrice Chéreau's film Gabrielle. Also by Vacchi is the soundtrack to Olmi's latest works One Hundred Nails (2007), and Vedete, sono uno di voi (2017). The Quartetto di Cremona has performed his four String Quartets many times and commissioned him to write the sixth, which will be performed at Società del Quartetto di Milano, 9th February 2021.
Worthy of mention is the recent Voci di notte (2006), commissioned and performed by the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, on occasion of the 70th birthday of their conductor Zubin Mehta. Mehta is one of many conductors, such as Berio, Chung, Fischer, Harding, Marriner, Pappano and, as already mentioned Muti and Abbado, who have conducted Vacchi's music various times.
Since his early compositions, Fabio Vacchi has taken on the challenge of reaching beyond the closed and inside circle of connoisseurs, maintaining the objective of writing music for those who do not habitually listen to contemporary music (adapting to music the ideas of Hans Magnus Enzensberger). His creative process, rather than radically rejecting traditional codes, seeks to privilege a focus on the material, understood as an attention given to sound and to the human body that is that sound's very destination. Vacchi, thus, believes that it is indispensable not to overlook the psycho-acoustic parameters that allow music to reach the listener and stimulate his or her senses. Such techniques include the repetition of certain elements as the work unfolds and the insertion of continuous but recognizable sonorous material, so as to keep the listener attentive and alert.
In Vacchi's conception of music, the sonorous material that a composer chooses to utilize is less important than the way in which it is presented: the work's form must communicate a sense of itself and must establish a system in which there is expectation and surprise, surprise having always been an expressive, communicative, and dramatic device used by many composers, even if unconsciously so.
As Peter Korfmacher wrote in the Lepiziger Volkszeitung about his Tagebuch at Gewandhaus, focusing on the events of September 11, 2001, "Vacchi does not describe any attack, nor war. His metaphysical approach is certainly comparable to that of Gustav Mahler: very diverse material is inserted into a broad range, so that meanings which may be felt on an emotional level but not expressible with words are revealed".
In the Vacchi's own words,
only music that is capable of setting in motion the listener's senses and emotional perception can aspire to beauty; as such music is an asset that concerns us all, because then it allows us to live. The inhabitants of a world that is disenchanted, as ours is, still need fables. Granted these fables are no longer tales of fairies and witches, they still, however, need to arouse wonder. Thus, we must both take beauty back and follow the new roads created by the Avant-Garde without allowing, however, that the new expressive freedom therein be self-gratifying, that is, being transgression for transgression's sake. It is important to aim instead towards a gradual transformation that is incessant and substantial.
This, believes Vacchi, is the road to take, a road he sees leading to an identity in which esthetics and ethics, and beauty and social commitment all come together, an identity in line with the important classical-Greek concept of kalòs, such that music becomes
a point of contact between the power of amazing us and the need for us to see ourselves in the Other, leaving behind the feverish egotism of a power that, like a cancerous growth, erects insuperable walls between people of different sexes, races, and social classes.
Fabio Vacchi's music shows an extremely personal and recognizable style resulting from a particular interaction of harmonic, structural, and timbral preferences.
Behind a "siren-like lyricism"ENZO RESTAGNO in GIORGIO PESTELLI, FRANCO PULCINI, Le ragioni del canto, Torino: 1996</ref> in his works, one finds a rigorous structure which stems from the selection, within the sphere of total chromaticism, of an elaborated harmonic plane, according to the criteria of circularity, transposition, and simultaneity, so as to generate a network of contrapuntal thematic lines: therefore Claudio Abbado defines his writing as "complex and not derivative, and capable of reaching the listener" and Jean Jacques Natties is explicit in declaring that his music "can furnish a sense of direction for composers in this new century. Thanks to Fabio Vacchi for having known how to chart - for the music enthusiast and the composer alike - an innovative course».
This expressive material constitutes the breeding ground for the ideas that provoke the work's development. Herein an important role is played also by particular timbral combinations, resulting not only from the use of innovative techniques of sound production, but also from his experience in the field of electro-acoustic analysis and in the field of the physics of sound, experience acquired during his studies in electro-acoustics in Fribourg, where he was invited by Luigi Nono. So, "Vacchi's music is characterized in particular by its quality of sound; fluid, refined and shimmering, subtly nuanced and suggestive of echoes and reverberations. The rigour of compositional procedures is tied to a concern to create a communicative idiom which takes into consideration the listener's perceptive ability".
|Title||Soloists||Orchestra / Ensemble||Conductors||Release||Label|
|Luoghi immaginari||Marco Lazzara||EnsembleMusica20||Guido Guida, Mauro Bonifacio||1996||BMG Ricordi CRMCD 1043|
|Suite in "2xMöller"||Duo2xM||-||-||1996||nosag CD 054|
|La station thermale||Cécile Besnard, Christophe Lacassagne, Pomone Epoméo, Catherine Renerte||Orchestre de l'Opéra de Lyon||Claire Gibault||1998||BMG Ricordi 74321356142 (2 CDs)|
|Wanderer Oktett - Dionysos||-||Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana, Contempoartensemble, Agon Acustica Informatica Musica||Emilio Pomarico, Mauro Ceccanti||2000||Stradivarius STR 33597|
|Movimento di quartetto in "Quartetti per archi: Schubert, Vacchi, Ligeti"||-||Quartetto Savinio||-||2004||Paragon, CD supplement for Amadeus magazine, June 2004 SMF 001-2|
|Gabrielle||Raina Kabaivanska, Pavel Vernikov||Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano "G.Verdi"||Claire Gibault||2005||Sony BMG 82876730902|
|Quintetto in "Rotte sonore"||-||Dedalo Ensemble||Vittorio Parisi||2007||Stradivarius STR 33747|
|Mignon (Über die Sehnsucht) in "La voce contemporanea in Italia vol.3"||Tiziana Scandaletti, Riccardo Piacentini||-||-||2007||Stradivarius STR 33769|
|Luoghi immaginari||Marco Lazzara||EnsembleMusica20, Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana||Guido Guida, Mauro Bonifacio||2007||Stradivarius STR 57005|