Teenaged Italian piano prodigy finds India wonderful
Considered one of the best pianists in Italy, 16-year-old Leonora Armellini, who burst upon the capital's musical stage like a storm, says she was surprised by how much India understands "our music".
"This is my first visit to the country and I thoroughly enjoyed it," said Leonora, a chubby and smiling teenager who, according to Italian Ambassador Antonio Armelini, is described as a genius of sorts in her country.
She performed to a packed house at the India Habitat Centre last week. Not a soul stirred as she held everyone in thrall for half an hour with her impeccable rendition of composer Chopin's piano concerto. The prodigy had celebrated her 16th birthday a day earlier.
"Initially, I did not know what to make of the audience but after playing I realised they were wonderful and understood our music," Leonora told IANS.
A native of Veneto in northeast Italy, she created a flutter at the age of 12 when she forced the Italian authorities to lower the age bar so that she could appear for the state-level piano diploma examination at the Conservatory of Padova which she cleared with a "voting of 10" and high praise.
Leonora won her first solo prize at the age of six in pianoforte competitions at Verbania, Cesenatico, Gussago, Manerbio, Salsomaggiere Terme, Camaiore, Albenga, Brescia, Grosseto and Feltre.
"I started playing the piano at the age of two after watching my mother play it," Leonora said. However, she learnt to play the pianoforte formally at the age of four when she was assigned a tutor, Laura Palmieri. Leonora still trains under Palmieri in Rome.
Classical music is in my blood, says Leonora. "I belong to a family of musicians. My mother plays the piano, father the bassoon and my brother plays cello," Leonora said.
She was drawn to music. "Nobody had to prod me. It flowed inside my head," said the pianist, who practises at least six hours a day and straddles the two busy worlds of regular college and music with ease. "I also find time to listen to a little contemporary rock music," she said.
Leonora's moment of glory came three years ago when she played Chopin's compositions for the first time with an Italian orchestra. In 2006, she executed for the Musical Association, F. Venezze of Rovigo, the integral of the R. Schumann's "Album of the Young". Her list of honours is long.
She has grand plans. "After mastering the pianoforte, I will probably become a composer," says the Chopin fan. "I have already composed some scores because I am a student of music," she says. "But I am just 16. Can't think of playing them now. I will play my own music later," she laughs.
She is cocky. "I am probably the youngest pianist in Italy and, as everybody says, one of the best," gushes Leonora.
Leonora may be young in years, but she understands the ethos of India and its rich heritage. "This country has a rich legacy of music." She has heard Indian music, "though very little".
And she has a word of advice for Indian youngsters: "The youth here should first listen to Indian classical music before listening to Western classical."