May 1st 2020

Alessandro Deljavan: Recovering ‘brain and soul’ during the covid-19 crisis

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”



A new talent from Italy, Alessandro Deljavan, made his U.S. East Coast debut in 2019 with a reading of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 under conductor Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Zander told the audience, gathered for a pre-concert talk, that they were in for one of the ‘greatest piano performances you will hear in your life’. Deljavan delivered. A Pescara native only 32 years old at the time, he gave the concerto a masterly treatment and the critics agreed. Deljavan displays his European musical style openly, injecting a personal air into his performance, an emotion visible in his swaying frame and his flying hands. He came to Boston with impressive credentials, considering his age. He has recorded about 50 CDs in solo and ensemble music and was a semifinalist at the Cliburn Piano Competition. His performance there created an international wave of “Deljamania” that continued for several days after his elimination. He told us he is now finished with competitions – too much preparation for too little gain. Among his recent projects is the creation of his own label, the Aeras Music Group, that will launch later this year with five CDs. And his trio, with Amedeo Cicchese on cello and Daniela Cammarano on violin, has recorded Tchaikovsky and Debussy on CD for the Italian music magazine Suonare. Meanwhile, his habits have been forced change during the corona virus crisis, a lockdown in Europe that has cost him nine cancellations. He has moved his teaching online and spends more time just thinking. As he put it in our interview, “Thinking is the best way to recover our brain and soul.”


Interview by Michael Johnson


Question. You had a triumph in Boston, with the audience cheering and stomping and demanding encores. Yet I believe you felt you could have done better. In what way?

Answer. It's always possible to play better. And while this is true, I would not change any of my performances, not even the ones I did not feel were my best. Everyone is always looking for perfection instead of enjoying the imperfection of life. There is so much joy in embracing the moment.

Q. Your Boston experience was unusual. What specifically was conductor Benjamin Zander trying to extract from you?

A. Maestro Zander and I had several conversations on the phone before we met. It was clear from the very beginning that we were of the same mind. That is not always the case between a soloist and conductor. Usually there is not enough time to rehearse in order to find each other. With the Boston Philharmonic and Maestro Zander it was different. This was the first time that I was able to rehearse the piece three times with orchestra and live it every day for a week. It was a great experience all the way around.

Alessandro Deljavan

Q. How do you see yourself? Primarily as a soloist, an ensemble player, a pedagogue?

A. I see myself as a musician, as a person who spends his life devoted to music, completely under the control of music. It enables me to be present as a whole musician no matter the situation.

Q. Could you name some of your most influential teachers?

A. All of my teachers have been extremely important in my development.

Valentina Chiola was the first real teacher I had, from the age of 4. She was extremely patient and gave me an ideal method. Piotr Lachert, a brilliant man with the mind of a composer, he probably gave me the first splashes of madness, in the good sense. He was the first teacher who helped me see music with different eyes. Then Riccardo Risaliti, a maestro in a very traditional way. I was extremely careful with each word, and very, very respectful. He gave me the immense culture and love for the old tradition of pianism and was also the person who introduced me to chamber music. When I was 11 years old he gave me the score of the Brahms Sonatas op. 120 for clarinet or viola with piano and that was the beginning of a truly intense new world.

Q. Where did Enrico Belli rank in your learning experience?

A. I had two intense years of lessons with him. I was only 15 and 16 years old and for the first time I faced the big repertoire -- Beethoven op. 110, the Liszt B Minor Sonata, and my first shocking introduction to the classical repertoire: Schubert and Mozart. Maestro Belli tried to calm my enthusiasm and to give me a different approach to exploit the score to its full potential. He wanted to make me more professional, to start having more control over my body and my instincts. His approach was like a series of master classes. Then came my audition at Como Academy, at a moment when I was feeling somewhat negative about my future in music—at that time I was trying to be the opposite of every pianist I was hearing.

Q. How much of your Como Academy study do you rely on today? What did you learn there? How important is William Grant Naboré in your development?

A. My first contact with the Academy was when I was 18 years old. I was probably not ready to be in such an institution, but Maestro Naboré believed in me from the very first moment. He heard something in me and he followed his heart and experience. And everything I have done in my music life since 2005 was because of him. What he did was to build a unique music school. The connection between students and teachers, the relationship between musicians was vital for us. Being at Como meant stopping the study of piano and starting to learn how to live. Maestro Naboré is still and always will remain my teacher for everything. ‘Piano professor’ is such a limited term for him. Spending time with him, cooking, talking, listening to music -- it's an experience that I would wish for any pianist.

Q. Were you immediately accepted as a student?

Not exactly. I played a Schubert Sonata, the Debussy Images Book I, and the complete Chopin Etudes op. 25. Maestro Naboré’s first reaction was, ‘you are not ready to be part of this Academy. Here the level is extremely high and we already have mature musicians.’ One month later he invited me to a master class and I began as an official student: I played the A minor Schubert Sonata for Fou Ts'ong, and after that lesson so many things that I had experienced before fell into place. It was a revelatory experience.

Q. How might your musicianship evolve over the next decades? Do you have ambitions to compose? To conduct? To leave Pescara?

A. I bought a former convent 40 kilometers from Pescara, in Villamagna. It's very important for me to breathe clean air and live as simply as possible. Life in a giant city full of cars and smog is hard for me to imagine. My perspective is always to live fully. My aspirations for the best musical experiences guides my decisions and over the past several years I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some wonderful musicians—these experiences have brought me a sense of optimism for what might lie ahead.


Q. Conducting seems a natural way forward for you.

A. It is true that I have conducted a few times from the keyboard but I believe that having an intense connection with each member of an orchestra is difficult to achieve in the way that chamber music can bring people together—it is something that I continue to work towards when I am given the opportunity.


Q. What are your career ambitions?

A. My goal has always been to connect deeply with the music. This is my greatest ambition. If I am able to fulfill this then I feel I am doing my best work.


Q. What is your view of young piano talent, including your students at the conservatory?

What can I say? This is not an easy question. We are living a world where the result is everything. And passion does not count for much any more. Why is a young student with talent studying more than eight hours a day? To win a competition. Not to become a real musician, not to live his life with intensity and using heart and head with honesty. Education is so important now. The new generation of parents most of the time think of the amount of money their son will make in ten years.


Q. How important is the influx of Asian piano talent from China, Korea and Japan? Is the piano world becoming overcrowded and destined to become more so?

A. I'm enjoying the amazing growth of Chinese culture for music in general.

Asian culture is historic in every sense, thousands of years of culture and history.

I normally visit China every year and what I see is people who really enjoy learning. It’s such a joy for me. I strongly believe in an amazing evolution of music in China.


Q. In what direction is your repertoire growing? Do you have a preference for Italian style? German? Russian? French? And what era – classical, Romantic, Contemporary?

A. Through the years, my connection with certain styles has shown me what I have a true affinity for. I love every period of music for what and how the emotions are expressed. The great variety of colors and feelings are part of what makes a life in music interesting. I can't say who are my favorite composers, Many have said I have a strong feeling for Chopin. These days I feel a natural connection with Schubert and Bach.


Q. Do you ever work with living composers? What do you learn from this experience?

A. I'm actually very, very involved with the young generation of composers.

I'm extremely interested in what they have in their mind and how they can somehow 

evolve” all the music they studied. I play contemporary pieces by young composers every opportunity that I can. I like strong personalities, I like people who really know what they want from their own compositions. Last year I performed a short piece by the young Italian composer Antonello Tosto Nocturne in the Daylight. I really appreciated his influences and his ideas from the very first moment. I hope we can continue our cooperation. I also had the chance to work with the late Piotr Lachert. He wrote one of his sonatas for me. Piotr was a fundamental personality in my musical life. He is somebody I really miss!


Q. How busy were you with public engagements before the coronavirus crisis? How many in a typical year?

A. After my solo recital in Paris, I lost nine concerts due to the virus crisis.? It was an extremely stressful period but somehow I'm glad that it also gave me some time for myself. Thinking is the best way to recover our brain and soul. I normally have between 30 and 40 concerts per year. No one knows how this will evolve for public performances in the near term.


Q. How has the coronavirus crisis affected your piano life? How will it change your life in the mid-term and long term?

A. Like everyone, I have moved to online teaching which I have enjoyed. It creates new challenges but also new perspectives and ways of working. The lessons have become interactive in new ways. I am very proud of my students and how positive they are during this time.


Q. What is your feeling when you listen to your recordings? Pleasure? Pain?

A. I have made 51 recordings, not including Vexations by Satie. That was eleven and a half hours of music produced as a digital album for Aevea. One of my craziest projects ever.

After so many recordings I am accustomed to focusing on the process. I actually love the experience of recording. This past summer and fall I mades several recordings, both solo and with my violin duo partner Daniela Cammarano. These recordings will be released on a new label I am founding, Aeras Music. It’s an exciting prospect for me to have the opportunity to bring my vision forward. My engineer for these projects is Michael Seberich who has been working extensively with Sokolov. I can’t wait to share the first release which will be the Bach Goldberg Variations.


The list of upcoming releases include:


Bach: Goldberg Variations

Mozart: Sonata KV 284, Sonata KV 309, Rondo KV 511, Variations KV 455

Schubert: Sonata D 959, Allegretto D 915, Two Scherzi D 593, Piece in A Major D 604

Beethoven: Sonata op. 96 and op. 30 n. 2 (First cd of the complete cycle)


Q. Why do you wear woolen gloves when you play in public?

A. For years I have suffered from Raynaud Syndrome (numbness in the fingers). Under stressful conditions, I feel my hands completely freezing up and for the past four years I have been wearing special gloves help me at the beginning of a performance.


Q. What is your view of the flamboyant performers, mainly from Asia? Don’t they detract from the actual music being played?

A. The real question for me is where are we going if the young generation is looking for fame, money, and publicity instead of striving to become a real musician with something important to say. In a world where everybody is talking about a sexy dress, or even quantity of notes, I am different. I still want to feel like an artist from the 19th century -- looking for beauty and telling stories through my music.





This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.



Browse articles by author

More Music Reviews

Feb 27th 2024
EXTRACT: "Question: Some pianophiles say the CD could be useful for meditation, therapy or even healing. ---- Answer: Indeed, that is the kind of feedback I am getting. But this music doesn’t belong to me any more, therefore I cannot label it with any purpose. It has taken on a life of its own. I can’t say how it affects the life of other people. Will it be therapeutic or will it have another effect? Time will tell."
Dec 4th 2023
EXTRACT: "Seated in a quiet corner of a Bordeaux hotel last week, we had an interview – more a casual chat – about her life, her Soviet Russian origins, her career, her future."
Nov 27th 2023
EXTRACT: "Schiff creates an atmosphere that we 'seniors' remember from the old days. No clowning, no bouncing on the bench, no outlandish clothing. He dresses in a black smock, black trousers, black shoes, topped off with a mane of pure white hair. His manners, his grateful bowing, are très Old Europe. ---- Schiff keeps control of his two hours onstage. He believes that dignity goes with the great music on the program and he scarcely moves as he plays."
Nov 19th 2023
EXTRACT: "  Boston-based guitarist, band leader and composer Phil Sargent is not about churning out endless CDs. In fact his ten-year recording gap, just ended, had his fans wondering where he was. But in New York and Boston, he tells me, he has never stopped working with other groups while composing and actively teaching young and mature talent. Although not always visible, he seems to be a confirmed workaholic, even practicing five hours a day. Yes, virtuosos also need to practice. ---- And now he is back. His new CD, 'Sons'....."
Nov 19th 2023
EXTRACT: "There is a renewed fascination with the memory-stimulating and healing powers of music. This resurgence can primarily be attributed to recent breakthroughs in neuroscientific research, which have substantiated music’s therapeutic properties such as emotional regulation and brain re-engagement. This has led to a growing integration of music therapy with conventional mental health treatments."
Sep 28th 2023
EXTRACT: "British psychotherapist, Michael Lawson, who has worked with several prodigies and former prodigies, calculates there may be as many as 200,000 piano prodigies active in the world today. “In a sense, they are not that rare,” he says in our interview below. Lawson is author of International Acclaim: The Steinfeld Legacy a new novel of the great pianists of the 19th and early 20th centuries in which the prodigy phenomenon is described in some detail."
Sep 17th 2023
EXTRACT: "Like so many stories about relationships told over an extended time, Past Lives uncovers the twists and turns, the “what ifs” and the manifold choices that lead to two people wondering whether they were meant to be together."
Sep 12th 2023
EXTRACT: " OrpheusPDX, a new company founded by Christopher Mattaliano in Portland, Oregon, concluded its second season with a brilliant and thought-provoking production of Nico Muhly’s “Dark Sisters,” at Lincoln Hall (August 24), exploring and exposing relationships in a polygamous sect and the courage of one sister-wife to leave it. With Stephen Karam’s libretto inspired by memoirs of women who have left the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) and the 2008 raid of the YFZ Ranch by the FBI, “Dark Sisters” was delivered with spot-on directing by Kristine McIntyre and riveting performances by an exceptional cast."
Aug 30th 2023
EXTRACT: "Wagner’s operas are well known to be budget busters, and lack of funds is probably one of the main reasons that Seattle Opera has not mounted the Ring Cycle in since 2013. After Speight Jenkins retired from his post as General Director in 2014, the company delivered The Flying Dutchman (2016) and Tristan und Isolde (2022), the latter under its current General Director, Christina Scheppelmann. Now starting its 60th season, Seattle Opera celebrated with Das Rheingold, but that can be seen as a bittersweet moment since Scheppelmann is moving on to take over La Monnaie/De Munt in Brussels at the end of the 2023-2024 season."
Jul 6th 2023
EXTRACT: " More than a hundred recordings have been made of his suite of 14 light pieces he called “The Carnival of the Animals”, and a range of his other works remain in the standard repertoire."
Jun 18th 2023
EXTRACT: "Conservatories and university music departments are filling up with fee-paying Asians as their parents pressure them to succeed in the West. Piano competitions around the world, now numbering about 800, are open to this new wave of Asian players. They are winning top prizes and they are building careers in Europe and the U.S.  Too often, according to some teachers, young Americans prefer computer games, the latest movies, rock bands, sports, or other less-demanding activities. The Asians are happy to fill the vacuum."
May 30th 2023
EXTRACT: "Three of Europe’s longtime leaders in contemporary jazz, now in their senior years, have just launched a CD of twelve  pieces that shows what a lifetime of sharing ideas in music can really produce." “New Stories” (Frémeaux et Associés) by the French trio of pianist and composer Hervé Sellin, bassist Jean-Paul Celea and drummer Daniel Humair is remarkable for improvisations so synchronized that the listener can feel the music come together from three angles in real time. The tracks were mostly composed or improvised by Sellin."
Mar 28th 2023
EXTRACT: "The young ex-dancer from Italy first burst upon the piano scene three years ago with 20 of her hand-picked Scarlatti sonatas. Now comes her second CD (Academy Classical Music) even more original and powerful, performing six of Baldassare Galuppi’s 18th century sonatas. Margherita Torretta‘s early training as a dancer gives her playing a swaying, graceful air while she maintains Alberti bass for control of the rhythm, momentum and especially continuity. Her ornamentation is boosted with some of her own improvisations, producing a fresher feel. It’s a magic combination."
Mar 24th 2023
EXTRACT: "Driven by a sense of mission and determination over several years, French pianist Lydia Jardon has completed a rare cycle of nine piano sonatas by Nikolai Miaskovsky. Her new CD  of numbers 6, 7 and 8 completes the task and offers a particularly rich sample of Russian experience in the worst of times. Miaskovsky may be only vaguely remembered today but he was a leader in the Soviet music world until the end of World War II. He left a wide range of engaging sonatas that have been brought back to life by Mme. Jardon on her own label AR Ré-Sé (AR 2022-1)."
Mar 16th 2023
EXTRACTS: "The most ambitious application yet of Steinway’s new digital piano, Spirio r, delivers stunning levels of sound and color in the new CD release of The Richter Scale, an hour-long keyboard drama written by well-known German composer and pianist Boris Bergmann." ----- "For the first time, the Spirio has been configured on a Steinway D grand to enable four-hand pieces to be played by two hands. The secondo score is first recorded in playback mode then combined with the live primo part. Liu is the live player who has to coordinate and fuse the two."---- "I took Bergmann’s advice and listened to the full composition from start to finish to best feel the gathering emotional turbulence. I was gripped by the melodies, harmonies, rhythms and percussive explosions along the way."
Feb 10th 2023
EXTRACT: "The piano music of Belgian composer Joseph Jongen is rapidly emerging from obscurity where it has reposed since his death in 1953. One of the champions of this rebirth is the Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilic who acknowledges he discovered Jongen only by accident. Researching early 20th century music, he recalls, “somehow Jongen appeared on my radar.” He quickly dived into archives in Belgium and became immersed in Jongen’s prolific output."
Jan 5th 2023
EXTRACTS: "One duo of special interest today is the pairing of brother-and-sister pianists of Slovenian origin,  Zala and Val Kravos. Both are veterans of solo performances and joint four-hand playing internationally. Their new CD offers....... The musicality and the technical perfection achieved by this team sets it apart from others in the same category."
Dec 23rd 2022
EXTRACT: "One of the festival’s best surprises was the glamorous Russian-born Irina Lankova. Her evening was dominated by Rachmaninov and perfectly suited her origins. She has invented a program of music and fireside chats, creating a quick and pleasant connection with her audience. At ease between numbers, she chatted in relaxed manner notable for her erudition. Dressed in a modest ankle-length gown, she was all about music, not showboating. Contrary to several other women headliners in the piano world today, she says “I do not need to eroticize my looks”. ---- Her opening Rachmaninov  Elegie No. 1 cast a silent spell over the Femina Concert Hall and she carried her charm through nearly two hours of graceful pianism. It is not unusual, she told me in an interview, to leave members of the audience in tears. 'I also cry, at least internally, when I play,' she says."
Nov 13th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Classical guitarist Jose Manuel Lezcano breaks new ground with his first solo CD,  “Homage: Spain & Latin America”. He combines two Scarlatti sonatas and his adaptation of works by Maurice Ravel, Bill Evans and the great Paraguayan guitar virtuoso Augustin Barrios. Mood and tempo jump from the contemplative to familiar classics to dance to jazz. I found the CD so captivating I played it in loop for hours." ----- "Twice a Grammy-awarded  composer and guitarist, Lezcano lives in retirement in the U.S. northeast and teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire where he holds the title emeritus professor."
Sep 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "When I try to understand my life as a critic in the dazzling world of piano music, I am at a loss. We have inherited so much over 300 years that I feel overwhelmed. There is no obvious focal point. What is at the heart of piano world? -- Personally I could not make it through the day without the stimulation of piano performance. My home resounds with music all my waking hours, constantly renewed from the thousand-odd CDs I have accumulated." ----- Picture: The author, Michael Johnson.