Van Cliburn

Cliburn confidential: Alessandro Taverna of Italy

Cliburn confidential

18 of 30

A conversation with the Cliburn competitors

Alessandro Taverna

Nationality: Italian

Birthplace: “Venezia, the most beautiful city in the world!” he says.

Lives: He splits his time between Venice and Padua, where he shares an apartment with his twin brother.

Age: 29

How he began playing: “Everything started when I was 4 years old — more or less — and Santa Claus brought me a little keyboard as a Christmas gift,” Taverna says via email. “At the beginning it was my little toy, but soon my mum noticed I was able to play what I heard at the TV. Neither my mum and my dad are musicians; they were always very discreet and never pushed me (still now, my mum would have preferred that I had become a doctor, or an engineer — I was enrolled in mechanical engineering for five years at the university). Later, when I was 6, I started to receive my first ‘real’ piano lessons.”

Favorite musician: He has many, but perhaps the pianist he loves the most is Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, the 20th-century pianist who, according to his online biography, was compared to Liszt. “[I admire him] for his composure, which doesn’t mean coldness: He made live the real essence and beauty of the musical message, embodying in himself the concept that musicians, and especially pianists, must be similar to a glass, because they shouldn’t shine by their own light, but [let] themselves pass through by a message [that] is higher and exceeds them.” Among contemporary pianists, he likes Yefim Bronfman, Louis Lortie and Stanislav Ioudenitch — the latter a gold medalist of the 2001 Cliburn competition.

Taverna adds that among conductors, Leonard Bernstein combined incredible taste and huge musicality while living a simple life — “and of course, I love Arturo Toscanini.” His favorite contemporary conductor is Lorin Maazel, music director of the Munich Philharmonic.

Cliburn dreams: “Of course, winning the competition!,” Taverna says, then adds, “Well, thinking about it, I would say that second place is not to be thrown away!”

When he is not practicing piano, he is: Usually looking at travel sites like for the best ticket prices for his journeys.

Favorite book: The Bible

Favorite movies: Schindler’s List, Sergio Leone’s immigrant epic Once Upon a Time in America, and Woody Allen films.

Celebrity he would most like to meet: “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (I love England!),” he says.

Currently in his CD player or iPod: Poulenc’s Gloria; Mahler’s Sixth, Eighth and Ninth symphonies; Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder — and ABBA’s Dancing Queen

Favorite food: Foods in the seafood-heavy Venetian tradition, including fritto misto (a mixed-fry dish that, in Venice, typically consists of seafood); canoce (mantis shrimp, which is known for the sweetness of its meat); capesante (scallops); and sarde in saor (sweet-and-sour sardines).

The first really Texan thing he plans to do in Fort Worth: Feeling the great spirit of hospitality — and eating a steak.

If he could travel back in time, which famous composer would he like to visit and what would be the first question he would ask? Beethoven. “I would ask him: ‘What the heck did you mean and how should we play the repeated A in third movement of [Piano Sonata No. 31, Opus] 110?’”

What he brings to the music that someone from another country might not: “I hope to bring to the music and especially to the piano playing a bit of Italian bel canto, because I believe that phrasing, voicing and making the piano ‘sing’ are some of the most important components of making music.”

What misconceptions do people have about classically trained musicians or classical music? “It’s not true that classical musicians don’t have any sense of humor,” Tavena says. “Music is of course a very serious thing, but we should never take ourselves too seriously!”

— Robert Philpot

14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

• May 24-June 9

• Bass Hall