Official release: May 2021
by Giacomo Fronzi
Étienne de Silhouette was the finance minister of King Louis XV in 1759, and the inventor of a kind of property tax. Probably, he could not imagine that his name would have been preserved from the ravages of time. His fiscal reform, which taxed the wealthiest, made him unpopular with the high-income classes, but also rather famous: indeed, the tight and pocketless trousers in vogue at the time were called à la Silhouette, since there was no use for pockets when the money to store inside them was missing… The word “silhouette”, however, soon transitioned from indicating the trousers to denoting the typically aristocratic pastime (practised by the Minister himself) of cutting the figures’ profiles. That pastime become the black art of silhouette, an artistic practice which, on the wave of the eighteenth-century Neoclassical taste, took inspiration also from the Greek and Southern-Italian ancient vascular paintings.
Beyond this, how could we interpret the black figure of the silhouette? Firstly, it leads us to the dialectics between light and shadow, between visible and invisible. The black figure stands out against a luminous background, from which it takes meaning and definition; it exists only as a space stolen to light. It has well-defined contours, but, at its interior, it is mysterious and undecipherable. Can we speak of an “aural silhouette”, however? Since silhouettes naturally belong in the world of vision, this formula could seem to be rather absurd. However, music does have its own “profile”, it has “contours”, and it shows itself in the form of a dialectics between background and foreground. What is it, then, if not a constant dialectics between presence and absence, sound and silence, and, indeed, light and shadow?
In this album, with its very diversified contents, Michele Bianco proposes his demonstration of a thesis which we could formulate as follows. The musical discourse is a gallery of “silhouetten” which assumes its global meaning by subtracting itself from silence, just as a “silhouette” withdraws itself from light. As happens with the famous “figure of Rubin”, which is at the same time a vase and two faces, music moves on diverse perceptive, cognitive and emotional planes. Bianco, by mastering his bayan, succeeds in eliciting them all.
We were speaking of diversified contents. Indeed, the parable designed by Bianco ranges from Bach to Hermosa, i.e. from the seventeenth/eighteenth century to our times. This choice responds to one need among others: to demonstrate how extremely versatile an instrument the bayan (patented in 1907) is. It is capable to offer very interesting timbral solutions in its relationship with works written centuries earlier. The origins of the name “bayan”, an instrument which can be defined as a “chromatic accordion” (Germano Scurti), have something emphatical and pretentious. They seem to refer to Bojan, a figure which (in the famous Russian poem Tale of Igor’s Campaign, written by an anonymous author around 1185) is presented as a poet, as the singer of past times. This reference is interesting, because Bojan is not the poet of present times, but rather the singer of what has been. In the bayan’s sound these traits penetrate deeply, having an ancient and nostalgic colour, while expressing a liveliness and dynamism which are in full syntony with today’s sensitivity. It is as if this instrument possessed the past’s symbolic and touching energy, and, at the same time, the brilliancy and energy of what is projected towards the future.
Be it as it may, from Russian culture this instrument moved to Western Europe, thanks to the Dane Mogens Ellegaard. This transition, however, would not guarantee to the bayan an adequate placement within the Western instrumental and musical panorama. This would only arrive in the second half of the twentieth century (for example with Sofia Gubajdulina’s De profundis of 1978). Probably, one of the reasons for its escape from isolation is bound to the ancipital character to which we were alluding, as well as to the timbral fascination it manages to perform, to its particularly evocative tone and, last but not least, to its extraordinary technical and expressive potential.
This album, therefore, constitutes not only a proof of high instrumental and interpretive accomplishment for young and gifted Michele Bianco, but it also represents a further demonstration of the bayan’s exceptional characteristics.
The album opens with J. S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue BWV 543 of 1708-17, performed by Bianco following the original score (i.e. without transcribing it for the bayan). Since this work was originally written for the organ, it appears more immediately enjoyable to the ear. However, the effective result should be highlighted: Bianco reaches it by always maintaining a noteworthy balance among the parts, the voices and the registers.
After this first “proof of maturity” in the interpretive field, the Capriccio n. 1 (2006) by bayan-player and composer V. Semionov follows. He is considered as one of the fathers of the modern bayan school. With the pages of his Capriccio, the composer not only demonstrates to be one of the most important bayan players of the twentieth and twenty-first century, but also someone who knows the instrument deeply. The piece’s technical difficulty puts into light the instrument’s technical specificities, but also opens the way for using it in “speaking” a fully contemporaneous musical idiom.
The nostalgic piece Our Evenings by L. Janáček is the opening piece of a famous cycle of short piano works by the title of On an Overgrown Path [Po zarostlém chodníčku], written between 1900 and 1912. In its general atmosphere, it reveals the composer’s deep sadness after the death of his daughter Olga, in 1903. The particular poetic mood of Our Evenings, however, moves not only within an impalpable aura of melancholy. It also testifies both the composer’s connection with the Moravian musical tradition, and the instrument for which these pieces were originally composed, i.e. the harmonium. In this piece, of such intensity, voice and breathing merge with each other in a lonely remembrance of moments when an affectionate communion happened, against the nuanced horizon of the evening.
Janáček’s piece is followed by the one lending its title to the album, i.e. J. Ganzer’s Silhouetten (1988). Bianco performs here the third of the three movement in which the work is articulated, bringing the listener back to a frankly contemporaneous musical world. Over a repeated ostinato and a constant rhythm, the performer moves with skill among different registers, rapidly displacing himself over different aural planes. The alternating rhythmical and dynamic game created by Ganzer builds its efficaciousness over the impending chase of the two manuals, thus giving to Michele Bianco the possibility of demonstrating his technical skill and his full mastery of the instrument.
The album’s second part opens with A. Kusyakov’s Sonata No. 1 (1979), which is a true classic of the bayan repertoire. This Sonata displays the typically Soviet tendency to let diverse styles and creative orientations cohabit. It fully belongs to the experimentalism of the second half of the twentieth century, demonstrating how the quest for novel compositional solutions could move in the most unexpected directions.
Discontinuo non lineare by C. Saldicco (2020), a work begun in 2019 and finished when the pandemic was at its height, proposes a very interesting dialogue between the instrumental and the electronic levels. This work’s thick scoring is perfectly positioned within a sophisticated game of perceptive illusions. Here, the stereophonic continuum generated by the two manuals is constantly interrupted by clusters and digital interferences. In the concluding part of this process, the initial, refined electronic abstraction transforms itself, thanks to the bayan’s ever-increasing presence, into a solid instrumental “materiality”.
Finale op. 35 (1878) is a transcription of the third movement of P. I. Čajkovskij’s Violin Concerto in D major, realized by the Ukrainian composer and accordionist V. Zubitsky. The passage from the original ensemble to the bayan does not detract from the elan characterizing the piece, which is interspersed with popular rhythms, surrounded by a texture full of liveliness and virtuosity, although not devoid of moments of an intense lyricism.
The last piece, Pater noster (2012) by G. Hermosa, written on the text of the Lutheran chorale “Vater unser im Himmelreich” is a work which seemingly indulges to a certain immediacy, without however crossing the border with triviality. This pressing prayer in music, whose rhythmical pace is interrupted by a more meditative parenthesis halfway-through its itinerary, bears witness to how the bayan’s voice is a bridge capable of crossing the centuries, and of putting in dialogue past, present and future.
Displaying a controlled virtuosity, Michele Bianco self-assuredly walks on the various itineraries of this multifaceted landscape, ranging from Bach to present-day. He exalts the bayan’s exceptional versatility, and, on the other hand, displays his own full maturity in being able to use every possibility this instrument offers, in both technical and poetic terms.
Michele Bianco: Michele Bianco graduated with honors and special mention in accordion at the Conservatory “T. Schipa” in Lecce, under the guidance of Germano Scurti. He is the recipient of numerous national and international classical music awards. In 2013 he participated, along with the “Terminal Quartet” ensemble, in a competition between conservatories which took place in the “UNO MATTINA IN FAMIGLIA” TV show on Rai 1. He regularly performs with various orchestras (Ico T. Schipa of Lecce, National Orchestra of Italian Conservatories) and ensembles. In 2014 he collaborated with Katia Ricciarelli (soprano) and Francesco Zingariello (tenor) in a biographical play written by Maurizio Costanzo and based on the life of the soprano. He has attended advanced courses with teachers F. Lips, V. Vasovic, F. Deschamps, Y. Shishkin, F. Angelis, T. Anzellotti, P. Makkonen, P. Maric, M. Pitocco, G. Scigliano, D. Flammini, A. Ranieri, A. Pignatelli, C. Chiacchiaretta.
Michele Bianco is a laureate of several international competitions. In 2016 he earned the first prize at the prestigious international competition “Città di Castelfidardo” in the chamber music category and the third prize in the classical soloists section “without limits of age”. In 2017 he received the first prize of the 20th edition of the prestigious Val Tidone International Prize. In the same year he was selected to represent Italy both at the 67th Trophée Mondial de l'Accordéon held in France and at the CIA “Coupe Mondiale” held in Osimo (AN).
He won the second prize at the 70th Accordion World Cup in Osimo (AN) with the “Lecce Accordion Project” accordion trio and the second L.A.P. price at the XII edition of National Arts Award (promoted by the Ministry of Education, University and Research) at the Aligheri Theatre in Ravenna in the chamber music section.
He has won the XII edition of the National Prize for Arts in solo accordion at the “L. D’Annunzio” Conservatory in Pescara, and earned two very important awards (both as a soloist and as a member of a trio) for the accordion class of Germano Scurti within the prestigious T. Schipa Conservatory of Lecce. In 2017 he received the “Don Sandro Dell’Era” award as the best student of the “T. Schipa” Conservatory in Lecce during the awards ceremony held in Vernole (LE).
In June 2018 he was asked to work with composers from all over the world within the “ComposersPlus” course held in Lithuania under the patronage of the Lithuanian Council for Culture and of the Ministry of Culture of the Lithuanian Republic, in order to create a new repertoire for the Bayan.
He has performed at the Contemporary Accordion Festival at the “S. Cecilia” Conservatory in Rome, “Fadiesis Accordion Festival” in Matera, “Composers+” Festival in Lithuania, “Ascoli Piceno Festival”, “Balkan Contemporary Music Festival” in Valona (Albania), “Camerata Musicale Salentina”, “Festival Tra due Mari” in Gallipoli, and at the French TV show “Bonheur de Nacre”.
In July 2018 he was selected by the Coupe Mondiale to represent Italy at the world accordion competition; in September he took 4th place at the prestigious Pif 2018 competition “43rd International Accordion Prize” in Castelfidardo (AN) in the chief category for soloists; in the same month he took 3rd place and received the audience prize at the 23rd edition of the “Gaetano Zinetti” International Music Award in Sanguinetto (Verona).
In May 2019 he ranked first in the Coupe Mondiale selection and as a result he played with the accordion orchestra in Shenzhen (China), an orchestra made up of 50 musicians from all over the world, thus representing Italy in the most important classical accordion competition.
In 2019, with the accordion trio “Lecce Accordion Project”, he recorded for the Maffucci Music label the album Gogol, featuring works specifically written for Bayan by acclaimed Eastern European composers such as J. Tiensuu, A. Kusiakov, V. Zolotarev, B. Precz, A. Schnittke, V. Zubitsky, and B. Precz.
The Italian composer Cesare Saldicco starts to play the piano during his childhood and receives the superior diploma at Perugia’s Conservatorio in 1999. He achieves the Electronic Music diploma with Luigi Ceccarelli in 2004. Under the expertise of Fabio Cifariello Ciardi, he graduates in Composition, Counterpoint and Fugue in 2007. For his artistic development have been very important his encounters between 2005 and 2006 with Anders Hultqvist and Ole Lützow-Holm during the Erasmus scholarship in Sweden. Soon afterward he attends lessons and master classes with Philippe Hurel, Unsuk Chin, Oscar Strasnoy, Helmut Lachenmann, Gavin Bryars, Salvatore Sciarrino and Ivan Fedele, with whom he obtains the Ph.D. in Composition at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Between 2000 and 2003 he also attended several master classes as a pianist with the jazz musician Stefano Bollani, which, in 2002, writes the liner notes for his first CD “Atlantide”. In 2002 the Italian National RadioRAI invites him as a pianist to the most important radiophonic jazz broadcast: Invenzioni a 2 voci. Winner of several scholarships (Erasmus, Acanthes, EdisonStudio etc.), he has been awarded in 2001, at the International Composition Competition “Città di Casarza Ligure”. In 2003 he is a finalist at the 2nd International Competition for Composers in Lamia (Greece). In 2006 Centro Tempo Reale, founded by Luciano Berio, selects him to form the Soundex project in Florence. In this project, he realizes the sound design for the exhibition “Radio FM 1976-2006” in the following cities Bologna, Modena, Padova, Bari, Livorno, Milano, Udine and Roma. In the same year he obtains the 2nd prize at the International Composition Competition “Sassi vivaci”. In 2007 he wins the 2nd prize at the International Composition Competition “Musici Mojanesi” and, always in the same year, he has been selected from CECh – Comunidad Electroacùstica de Chile during the VII International Festival of Electroacoustic Music. In 2009, the multimedia work “Cut up & Grain, Chapter 1: Life” conceived and created together with Antonino Chiaramonte, won a mention in the “36th International Competition of Electroacoustic Music and Sonic Art / Bourges 2009”. EmuFest in Rome selects his electroacoustic works in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013. CEMAT Federation includes his work “Naissances Latentes” scored for amplified cello, pre-recorded sounds and live electronics in a CD series named “Punti di Ascolto”, while, in 2012, the work “Digressione Ipertestuali N.10” has been selected by Musica Viva Portugal for the installation “Sound Walk 2012” at the Goethe Institut in Lisbon. In the same year “La Biennale di Venezia” invites him to produce a new electroacoustic work – “Still Life”- staged during the 56th edition of the festival. His music is edited and published by ArsPublica, Philology and Sconfinarte. His works have been performed in Australia, Austria, Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, England, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, U.S.A. and broadcasted by Italian National RadioRAI. In the field of musicology, he had two series of lectures by titles “Contaminazioni sonore” and “Music and Architecture”, while in the field of teaching he developed an ear training software with Max/MSP. He published a book entitled “Mappe Sonore” about music education for primary schools. Recently the work I Camminatori. Resoconto audiovisivo per isole erranti (The Walkers. A Report) commissioned by Università degli studi di Milano-Bicocca and premiered at EXPO2015 has been selected and awarded in important film festival like the Los Angeles Film Festival, Toronto Film Week, New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, Goldensun Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival etc. Between 2009 and 2013 he has been head and artistic director of the Cultural Association G.E.R.M.I. (European Independent Music Research) and promoter of the homonym festival and composition competition. Starting from 2012 he is part of M()A a group of composers who develops site-specific musical projects. Currently, he is an Electroacoustic Composition teacher at Conservatorio “Antonio Vivaldi” in Alessandria.
Johann Sebastian Bach: (b Eisenach, 21 March 1685, d Leipzig; 28 July 1750). Composer and organist. The most important member of the family, his genius combined outstanding performing musicianship with supreme creative powers in which forceful and original inventiveness, technical mastery and intellectual control are perfectly balanced. While it was in the former capacity, as a keyboard virtuoso, that in his lifetime he acquired an almost legendary fame, it is the latter virtues and accomplishments, as a composer, that by the end of the 18th century earned him a unique historical position. His musical language was distinctive and extraordinarily varied, drawing together and surmounting the techniques, the styles and the general achievements of his own and earlier generations and leading on to new perspectives which later ages have received and understood in a great variety of ways.
The first authentic posthumous account of his life, with a summary catalogue of his works, was put together by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel and his pupil J.F. Agricola soon after his death and certainly before March 1751 (published as Nekrolog, 1754). J.N. Forkel planned a detailed Bach biography in the early 1770s and carefully collected first-hand information on Bach, chiefly from his two eldest sons; the book appeared in 1802, by when the Bach Revival had begun and various projected collected editions of Bach’s works were underway; it continues to serve, together with the 1754 obituary and the other 18th-century documents, as the foundation of Bach biography.