Yoshi Nagai on the Unique Amalfi Festival Experience
How do you think the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts differs from other programs?
The obvious thing is that it is on the Amalfi Coast, in a beautiful resort town with so many Italians and not a bunch of tourists. There are a lot of festivals in Italy and throughout Europe, but often times there you will have so many tourists from America. If you’re studying in America and you see and hear fellow countrymen, I mean that’s okay, but at this festival we have a lot of international students and I think that it is very important for them to be really immersed in the culture of Italy and especially the Amalfi Coast. I think that sets it apart, just the location. I also think the non-competitive environment is a huge plus factor, as students are here to learn from each other. I think that students get a great balance between private lessons, master class opportunities, and performance opportunities. Other festivals may have one or two of these opportunities, but not all of them. The faculty are not just here interacting with each other, but also with the students at dinners and other social events like excursions. And this year you have faculty from China, Korea, and Sweden. That fact alone is very exciting for my students who study in the states!
What do you hope students get out of attending the festival?
I think that it is a great opportunity to hear a wide variety of different musical interpretations and share music together. Basically that could either be by having lessons with different faculty or hearing colleagues of theirs play, all balanced with being in the midst of beautiful surroundings for two weeks. Likewise, what do you think the faculty gain out of attending the festival? In a way it is similar to what the students enjoy: the surroundings and each other’s company. I love learning from my colleagues. I still go to their classes, and I’m proud to say that I’ve sat in on every teacher’s master class. I got small insights into how they think and that for me is one of the reasons I really enjoy the festival. Also, I think it’s the atmosphere. It’s structure, but it’s not so structured that you lose your freedom. You can choose to be really busy, or you can choose to be working on your tan, but there is enough structure there so that there is a nice balance.
If you could give a new student advice about how to best utilize their time here, what would you tell them?
I would say come prepared with repertoire that is at a performance level already. Certainly you can come with new pieces, but if you come prepared in advance you will be able to fully take advantage of what the environment has to offer. You will be able to practice when you need to, and then when it comes time to enjoy your surroundings you won’t feel like you’re scrambling to find a piano. You can go to the beach, go to master classes, go to excursions. It is an experience that you’re getting here, you’re not spending 8 hours a day in a building. The town is their campus. Just absorbing the sights and the sounds, and hearing how this music is not just coming from the instrument but the sounds of the bells, the sounds of the children, all of that is part of the atmosphere that makes this experience come alive. It gives students an idea of what might have been from this composer’s perspective.
Can you expand on how students can get an idea of composers’ perspectives by coming here?
Well for example, you go to Naples and see these amazing works of art, or you go to Ravello and sit by the fountain that inspired Wagner to write Parsifal, or the vista in Ana Capri and you think of the Debussy Prelude. It all comes together. Something as simple as you’re playing a Chopin nocturne and there’s this bell in the nocturne, and you’re trying to describe it to a student in the studio, and they don’t quite get it. But then, you’re here, and you perform the nocturne in the Palazzo and the bells go off when you’re playing! And then your students are like “now I get it!”
What is your process for selecting performance pieces while you’re here?
We are asked to submit repertoire that we would like to play for various occasions. One of the first recitals we have is the opening piano gala, and it has to have a certain time limit, and it basically has to been something I call a “jetlag” piece. You have just come off of the plane, you’re exhausted, and you haven’t had time to practice, and so it’s a piece that you feel represents you and something that you can just sit down and play. In the case of this year, Jim Giles asked me to play Scarlotti to open the concert, and I was open to different ideas, so I just let him choose the program. So you’re trying to choose a piece that fits within the context of the recital. You also take into consideration the audience for whom you’re playing for. I wouldn’t play overly intellectual or intense piano programs here. It’s the summertime. It’s the feeling of sharing music in the outdoors, and not in a concert hall where even the smallest cough is heard. Here, you are expected to experience a little bit of a more festive atmosphere. It is a summer repertoire. You also want to find a balance with what other performers have selected. Jim and I played Porgy and Bess, for example, and it was on a program with Schumer Fantasy which is very serious. Bottom line is, I pick repertoire that I feel comfortable with and that I have fun with.
What do you find is the most challenging thing about teaching lessons while you’re at the festival?
You have to get to know someone very quickly, and you only get to teach them once. Whether it be for 30 or 40 minutes in the master class, or one hour in a private lesson. You have to very quickly assess where they’ve come from, where they are now, and even where they are going and what their goals are.
How do you overcome this challenge?
Before I even hear my students play, I always have a little chat with them. I take two minutes, ask them “how are you enjoying the festival?” Right away that breaks the ice. It is a challenge to figure out exactly what they need, because you’re trying to give them something that will last beyond this one hour or that master class. Something that they can take with them when they leave, and something that will grow. Whether it’s unlocking a technical problem, or introducing a new musical idea. Everybody is different. So it is a lot of psychology, sometimes even more so than it is teaching the piano. All of the teachers are sensitive to the students’ needs, and try to figure out how to best address those needs and challenge them at the same time.
Thank you Professor Nagai for your many contributions to making our 2016 festival season a success!!!
For more information about Yoshikazu Nagai, visit his website at yoshinagai.com