Interview : Leonardo Barilaro
When perusing Instagram before going to bed each night, I enjoy checking the latest posts by artists and musicians who I follow. One night, I happened to notice the names of persons who also follow one of my favorite musicians. I decided to click on their names to learn about them. One of them happened to be a gentleman by the name of Leonardo Barilaro.
Upon reviewing his IG page, I was astounded to learn he is a pianist, composer and an aerospace engineer who practices Chinese martial arts and in his “free time” enjoys free-diving and photography. A true renaissance man! I had to learn more about him.
When I reached out to Mr. Barilaro about doing an interview for the school’s blog, he graciously accepted my invitation. I hope you enjoy the interview and are inspired.
Q1. According to your bio, your music combines grand piano with the synthesizer. What is your style of composition referred to? For my piano students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?
A1. Hello Everybody, and thank you, Linda, for this interview!
Every time people ask me this question I find it really difficult to give a precise answer since is hard for me to find a “label” to describe my music. For sure in these years my project Nullo Die Sine Nota went through different phases, absorbing different inputs and music flows. Is much easier to say what not it is, for example: is not jazz, is not neo-contemporary music, is not minimal music.
At the same time, this sentence is not due to ‘arrogance’, I do not consider my new music as groundbreaking: I believe that this is a gift privilege of very few Composer in the world.
The music that I am proposing nowadays is a hybrid in continuous evolution. Following a concept by Hegel that I really like, the concept of ‘Aufhebung’ where thesis and antithesis merge in the synthesis, in my compositions flow my studies of classical and contemporary music, my experience with synthesizers for progressive metal music and with the creation of music for the world of neoclassical and contemporary dance.
We can create only what we listen-study-breath, filter and process in the music world. I am aware that it can sound a little bit weird but it is exactly what our body does processing the food that we eat, art is the final product. Like for air, water, sunlight and food it is energy that we just Need and this happens also with sounds, or better, vibrations.
Q2. Your audio recordings on your website are your own compositions, can you tell us more about the works you have done till now? Have you recorded piano solos by other composers?
A2. In my personal little music journey, the full picture of these years is quite extended, so I will describe an abstract through the milestones:
- Nugae: It was a first small demo album created during the very first steps of Nullo die sine nota. The term refers to small and somehow ‘light’ compositions.
- Hagakure: In this second demo album I started to use and explore some compositions only for piano and some only for synth.
- Shu: It is an experimental album, where contemporary music techniques are used intensively, with a lot of electronic sounds and where the acoustic piano has a limited presence and is very often prepared or filtered electronically. Also the support was experimental, instead of the traditional CD I decided to use a micro-usb connected with a handcrafted bracelet.
- Pouring Notes on Troubled Vibrations: This album was recorded on a beautiful Broadwood 1893 grandpiano. In the process the compositions here are at the opposite side of the music spectrum in comparison with Shu, some of the pieces are also in duet with a flutist.
- Pas de Deux dance and piano duo: This project was completely different from my previous works and very experimental, since is not so common to see a full length conceptual live show, “Haiku Jewel Box”, developed only for piano music and neoclassical and contemporary dance merged together.
Currently I am working on “SeaSharp”, where piano and synth unite.
The identity of this new project is deeply linked with my hybrid nature of musician, aerospace engineer, Chinese martial arts instructor, photographer and free-diver. Every note is embedded in the concept of the Sea.
The innovation, and so its diversity, is in the new type of union between the traditional acoustic piano and the electronic synth. The project describes the Sea, metaphor and symbol of our Life path. The pieces in the track list explore at different levels the cycles and dynamics that the human being experiences.
Piano and synth are both played live and together, sometimes also with the use of a prepared piano.
From this show I will also realize an album, most probably next year.
Regarding recordings by other composers, I never did it. Online there are some videos where I play music by great Composers, like Bach and Brahms, but I did them only due to the great love I have for their Music.
Is more than a century that there are incredible recordings by real Interpreters, and there are also nowadays some great pianists, also young, that are able to explore deeper and showing something new about the music of the past.
I personally feel, no one really needs the covers or remixes of Beethoven’ songs by Leonardo Barilaro! (I really love his last albums.) Maybe one day I will do a tribute to J.S. Bach, but just because I also consider him the Immortal God of Harmony.
Q3. My students are interested in the latest rehearsal trends, tips and techniques. For example, how do you prefer to mentally and physically prepare for a rehearsal? Do you have a set routine (best days/times)? How long do you usually rehearse to prepare repertoire? How do you prepare before a concert or recording session? Or are your performances more improvisational?
A3. Usually, I have a set routine that is embedded in my discipline. Every day I start my mornings playing some pieces of J.S. Bach (the advice of Schumann is still effective nowadays!) and I dedicate always some time on different technique and interpretation issues, that can be found spanning from Scarlatti and Mozart to Chopin, Brahms, arriving till Ligeti. After this and according to the necessities of the moment I decide if to do a session to study some new repertoire (as pianist and composer) or if to focus on the composition of my music.
Regarding the preparation for a concert, not considering possible side effects like delays, long travels, last minute problems to solve, I set to be ready two weeks before the event, keeping one week for refinements and one week for ‘cooling down’ the music-engine and to avoid unnecessary stress.
When I am preparing a recording session usually I prefer to keep a tighter schedule, pushing the refinement work and sometimes overloading the process on purpose until 2-3 days before of the planned session.
A good average in busy periods is of 4 hours of effective piano playing.
In parallel, I always pay attention to keep a good level of physical activity and am always looking to get inspired by different things.
Another very good thing for my mind is trying to foresee the conditions in which the event will happen, usually, the difference with the real conditions is quite perceivable, but it helps!
Moreover, I really love to improvise, sometimes I still keep in my show’s set list some sections properly structured in my pieces to allow me to improvise live.
Q4. At what age did you realize you were a musical spirit?
A4. The very first memory I have is of myself at 3 years old with a yellow toy-piano. I liked to improvise (clearly!) with it and sometimes to disassemble (maybe an early sign of engineering). Besides this I realized that I wanted to become a pianist when I was 6 years old, I remember there was another kid playing an old upright piano at school. When he finished I have vivid in my mind that I played my first real piano key, thinking: Wow! So a few months later, thanks to the support of my family, I started my musical journey.
Q5. Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your dream as a musician? If so, how did you handle it?
A5. It happens from when I was 13! Also because I don’t have ‘only’ one dream, or better, my Dream is quite extended.
People that we meet along our path saying things like “Is impossible / you have to choose / why you want more / what you want to do is so strange / is full of artists-scientists with a lot of talent” are precious, because if in a first moment (above all when you are very young) they can put you down, absorbing precious energies, later they allow you to really understand what you want to protect and to pursue, focusing on your path.
Nowadays when it happens (yes, still happens!) I just smile, thinking to the previous milestones I reached and to the next ones I am working on. Basically, after these years now I don’t care and I focus on what I really love.
Q6. How old were you when you performed your first professional concert? How did you get the gig? Was it through teacher connections or via a professional manager?
A6. When I was 16 years old, I did a concert thanks to a person working at the scientific high school I was attending, that proposed my name to the event organizer.
Q7. Do you currently have a manager? If so, what tasks does a manager handle on your behalf?
A7. Nowadays a musician has to be able to manage all his activity and not ‘only’ being able to play professionally, by the way in the long term is always the teamwork that wins and I am lucky having such a person expert in business administration supporting the management of Nullo die sine nota on many levels, for example taking care of the social media accounts (that require a lot of behind the scenes work), making contacts with events organizers and concerts venues, extending the network and helping in the organization and logistic.
Besides this, I have a group of professionals in audio engineering, video production and web design supporting the project for many years.
Q8. I understand you have a PhD in Sciences, Technologies and Measurements for Space (STMS) from the University of Padua. What event motivated you to embark on that path of study? How are you applying your degree today? What projects have you worked on that you would like my readers to know about?
A8. I remember that when I was 9 years old I was in the South of Italy, shocked by the Beauty of a very dark summer night sky, full of stars and with the Milky Way clearly visible. In that moment my passion for astronomy began. One year later I began to read Isaac Asimov’s books. When I was 12 years old I understood that just observing the stars was not enough for me, so I decided to become an Aerospace engineer, finding much more attractive to design and build spaceships to travel between stars!
Currently, I am working as a researcher for the Institute of Aerospace Technologies at the University of Malta.
Up until now the dearest project I took part in was the S.C.R.A.T. Experiment, where with a team of other 9 people from the University of Padova (Italy), a cold gas thruster was developed in the framework of a program managed by the European Space Agency (ESA). The experiment was launched in the stratosphere from the ESRANGE Space Center, located in Kiruna, north of Sweden. It was a life-changing experience and not only I saw our experiment touching the space, but the team became very quickly a group of friends with a strong relationship, still going on and growing after years. Above all: we can dance!
Q9. Your website mentions a passion for Chinese martial arts. At what age did you develop this passion? Which forms do you follow? Who were your master teachers? How has this influenced you as a musician?
A9. I started to practice them relatively late when I was 22. I practice Shaolin Wushu and Taiji Yang style. My first Master was Pietro Biasucci. His school is near Venice. From him, I also learned the first basis of traditional Chinese medicine. In those same years, I spent intense periods of study and training with other Chinese Masters from the Song Yang Shaolin Wushu School of Dengfeng until I achieved the first duan Shaolin Wushu qualification in 2012. I broadened further my knowledge by practicing with Alessio Casarotto, a pupil of the Shaolin Gongfu Master Wu NanFang.
In 2015, I was so lucky to meet Grand Master Daniele Zanni, one of the most respected and experienced Masters in Italy. Thanks to his mentoring, I obtained the qualification of second duan Instructor. Now, I am going deeper into the study of Inner disciplines while teaching Chinese Martial Arts in Malta, as a branch of the White Tiger Shaolin Wushu Association of Modena in Italy.
The practice of martial arts enlightens my life on many levels and this is reflected also in my music, of course, starting from the inputs linked with the philosophical tradition of Taoism and going through the improvement of breathing techniques, relaxation, focus and helping new musical ideas to grow thanks to the crossover between the arts.
Q10. What drew you to photography? Is it a hobby or a profession?
Q10. Since I was 10 years old, I have enjoyed shooting with my dad’s reflex camera, but I started to go into more detail and proper practice only since 2011.
I do not differentiate between hobbies or professions. I have passions.
Some of them became also a profession, both for the level of skills acquired and for the fact of getting paid for your work.
I am not able to explain exactly why I do photography. It is just one of the things that I really love. Besides this, I have still a long way to go. I do not consider myself a real pro. Learning properly how to paint with light requires years of practice and study. Also, photography is an Art!
In the last year, I am discovering a deep love for underwater photography which matches perfectly with my passion for the Sea.
Q11. Your website mentions an interest in free-diving. I’m not familiar with it. Can you tell us more?
Q11. Free-diving is a term referring to the Universe that opens his doors when you go underwater with just one breath, without any external supports, like the traditional tanks used by scuba divers.
My passion and link with the Sea started so early that I don’t remember the exact moment. In recent years I develop it practicing free-diving. Living in Malta helps a lot!
As with playing the piano and practicing Taiji, I see free-diving as a meditative Art. If it is true that you need a body in good condition to go underwater in that way, it is also true that 90% of exploring this dimension is in the mind.
The Water has a gift, you have in return exactly what you give, amplified thousands and thousands of times: deep thoughts, fear, joy, love…everything.
Q12. Music can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my piano school partners with CoachArt to provide free piano lessons for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
A12. I support the LAPIS Onlus Association, located in Arezzo (Tuscany, Italy). Since 1997, the founder Marilena Farrugia has been dedicating her work to fight for the rights of minors that come from difficult contests, like violent families or micro-criminality environments. Some years ago I had also the honor to play at a concert organized by LAPIS in the framework of an international congress and dedicated to the abolition of prisons for minors, replacing them with centers properly structured to host these young people.
In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block, that you would like to share with my readers?
Nullo Die Sine Nota: No day without a note.
This concept originated from a filtered sentence that Roman natural philosopher Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder) wrote for the Greek painter Ἀπελλῆς (Apelles). My thoughts are are follows:
I stick to the Discipline, having understood that on the long term is a systematic and persistent approach in our activities tmakeakes a real difference. A creative block is never nice to accept and carries with it a lot of thoughts and fears but at the end of the story we are humans with our limits and for our Ego is nice to understand that a block is very healthy, since creating art is just a very privileged game we can play.
Indeed! Thank you, Leonardo, for this inspiring interview. We wish you all the best and look forward to hearing about your projects.
. . . . . . . . .
Were you inspired? Please share your inspiration in the comment section below.
Did you enjoy the interview? Please consider sharing with those who would.
Thank you for your interest and support!