by Nicky Swett
In advance of the Quartetto di Cremona’s Chamber Music Society concert, founding violist Simone Gramaglia reflects on two decades of repertoire and relationships.
How did the four of you start playing together? SIMONE GRAMAGLIA, violist of the Quartetto di Cremona: Violinist Cristiano Gualco and I studied at the same conservatory growing up in Genoa and met again in Cremona at the Stauffer Academy. In 2000, during the interval of a chamber orchestra concert, Cristiano asked if I would like to play in a quartet and I said yes because of our great friendship. Since we were studying in Cremona, we gave our quartet the name Quartetto di Cremona. It was an homage to the town, to Stradivarius, and to the great violin tradition. At the end of 2001, the second violinist and cellist left and so during Christmas, we were the Duo di Cremona. Then we decided to ask violinist Paolo Andreoli and cellist Giovanni Scaglione, who actually lived in Genoa, so it’s funny—we are the Quartetto di Cremona, but we are all from Genoa.
Are you looking forward to returning to New York in February? SG: In New York, the atmosphere and the love for music is incredible, and you can play things that you wouldn’t play in other places. We are going to debut at Lincoln Center playing Prokofiev’s First Quartet and Schoenberg’s First Quartet. We played the Schoenberg a couple years ago, and it’s a string quartet that we really love. Sometimes promoters, when you say “Schoenberg,” they say “thank you very much, next.” But in New York, it’s no problem.
What makes the Schoenberg Quartet on your program challenging for players and for listeners? SG: There is this intensity, this presence of a lot of elements all together. At the beginning, all four parts seem to be very important—they have the same dynamic. But if you play all four parts with the same importance, you won’t understand anything. When you look at the score, it’s complex, but it’s so beautiful. You immediately feel these unique themes that are so emotional, so sweet, and they are not difficult to understand. Even if you don’t know classical music very well, you can get this music, because it’s simple in a way. It’s a journey: there is passion, there is sadness, there is desperation, there is happiness. And when we arrive at the finale, something happens, I don’t want to say what—it’s unbelievable.
Why did you decide to program Prokofiev’s B minor Quartet? SG: We have to thank the Emerson Quartet when we play this Prokofiev. It’s one of my favorite pieces, I listened to it since I was a kid, and the best recording of this piece is the Emerson one. I asked my colleagues to play it many times and after 20 years, we finally decided to learn it. It’s fantastic: the dialogue between the voices is so well balanced. The way Prokofiev uses the harmony—it’s another world. He brings your ear to expect something, but then he suddenly changes, and you are surprised by the elegant harmonic solutions that he finds.
You’ll also be performing Weber’s Clarinet Quintet with David Shifrin. Have you collaborated with him before? SG: We performed the Weber quintet recently with David in Houston ontour. We really were astonished by his playing. I discussed it with my colleagues after the concert—it was probably one of the first times that we had no difficulties mixing our sound with a wind player. Weber, he’s a great composer in many ways; this quintet is so well written, such natural music, that it wasn’t that difficult to play it beautifully. Though, in the last movement, there are so many recitatives. We are Italian, so we are used to opera, but recitatives are not always easy to play together. Yet David is so flexible, so musical, and so clear in what he does, that it is very easy to follow him. We really look forward to playing with him again in February at Lincoln Center.
What do you do outside of quartet playing together or individually? SG: Paolo is a certified, professional cook. He also loves driving cars. He is the main driver when we travel—he brings us to concert appointments on time, if not early, because he likes to go fast. Giovanni is a fantastic jazz pianist. He can improvise anything on the piano. During the pandemic, Cristiano became an astrophotographer. NASA published one of his photographs in a blog! I’ve got a passion for golf, so when we are on tour, often I try to see if there is some place where I can go and play. Together, we love food, we love to find the best restaurants wherever we are. I have to say that even after 22 years, we are happy to spend time together, we are always happy to travel together, and we talk a lot.
Cellist, writer, and music researcher Nicky Swett is a program annotator and editorial contributor for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.