Maurizio Pollini, one of the last remaining legends of the piano world, is presenting a series of five-concert “Pollini Prospettive” here in Rome. Each concert consists of old and new pieces paired, sometimes convincingly, as in Bruno Maderna’s lush Aura with Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and sometimes unconvincingly as in an hour of preludes, ballades, and sonatas by Chopin followed by the haunting …sofferte onde serene… for tape and piano (written expressly for Pollini in 1976) and the massive, unrelenting, anti-American-imperialism A floresta é jovem e cheja de vida (1966)—both by Luigi Nono.
What struck me most was the intense reception given to the latter piece by Nono. Coming last on the second half of a 2 and 3/4 hour concert, I was amazed to see virtually the entire audience remain (it began as a packed house).
There was a reverent respect given and every cough or sneeze was met by angry “shhhs” and the more Italianate “tssssss.” I saw several people quietly stand up and leave after being scolded for coughing too much. It’s nice to see this kind of attitude, but it was all the more spectacular considering that (1) Pollini wasn’t even playing in A Floresta and (2) the work is incredibly unforgiving, dense, difficult, gray.
What is it about this music that is neither pretty nor beckoning, that lacks obvious formal structure, that has sung words that are all but comprehensible, that stacks layers upon layers of recordings of documentary material interspersed with ferocious beatings of large copper plates? Why is a Marxist composer, a friend of Massimo Cacciari, ex-communista, now mayor of Venice, lauded in southern Italy where Fascism still peeks its head every time and again?
Making it through an evening of Nono is not simply about listening to modern music, but rather making a political statement. Many Romans that I have spoken to prefer to think of their city as part of the North, symbolizing a strong work ethic, openness, liberalism, and a connection to the rest of the world. Perhaps Italy is changing.