< SWITCH ME >

12 countries in the last year. A new hotel room every 2 weeks. Paolo, 27, is arts administrator and musician and he has accepted that if he wants to live out his career in music, the feeling of 'being at home' can only be a very temporary phenomenon. As manager of the first Italian Film Orchestra he travels the whole world. But if you feel jealous now, read first and then judge whether this kind of life is truly for you...

''It was horrible',' recalls Paolo, when I ask him about the first time he touched a violin. ''In the beginning you produce mere noise. I think it took me about four years to actually enjoy playing. However, from the age of eight, I knew, I had to become violinist.'' As a little boy, Paolo remembers walking past the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia, one of the most prestigious music academies in Italy, imagining a whole different world behind its thick walls. A world dictated by music and the wish to bring your sleight of hand to perfection. When he was 11, he applied to join the Conservatory. ''The day we were called to perform before the selection committee was probably the only time in my life that I experienced the dividing power of music, or at least of the passion for it. You can't imagine the pressure and competition which was almost tangible in the halls of the old building. A competition between children who already realised how this day would decide about their future in a very definite way...''

Growing up in the academy

paolo_and_violine
Photo: Paolo Petrocelli
After spending so many hours together, Paolo nearly feels as if he has established a personal connection to his violin.

Paolo made it into the academy and from that moment on, his life was dominated by endless hours of violin exercises. ''In the final years I sometimes had to practice 8 to 10 hours per day!'' he recalls, laughing, not seeming to mind the discipline. With normal school lessons on the side, there wasn't much time left to live the kind of life Italian boys of that age usually enjoy, in which parties, girls and trips to the beach play a major role. ''But I found invaluable friends at the Conservatory, and growing up with them, as people and as musicians, is an experience I would never want to have missed.''

"They day we were invited to perform before the selection comittee was probably the only time in my life that I experienced the dividing power of music."

Particularly his participation in the orchestra played a very strong role in forming his character, explains Paolo. ''An orchestra is a little bit like a group therapy. You can't play for yourself; your mood will always affect the ensemble. Therefore you have to learn to open up to the others to make the best of your sadness or your joy; expressing it with music.'' And it was also as member of the orchestra that travelling began for Paolo and has since then been an ever-recurring element in his life. ''I was not even a teenager when we began touring Italy and the rest of Europe. Being two weeks, or even a month away from home and my family was exciting, but difficult! Undoubtedly, I learned a lot, especially when we met with ensembles from other countries and performed together.''

European particularities

It seems as if the same cultural stereotypes that often characterise different European nations are also reflected in the microcosm of an orchestra: ''Germans are generally very professional, and along with their British counterparts they have excellent technique! But Italians are known for their ability to express their passion and temperament when playing. On the downside, we are noisy. And undisciplined… I admit it!''

When he was 20 years old, Paolo fell in love with the works of William Walton, a British composer from the 20th century. To track his idol's life and creation to its roots, he decided to do a Masters in musicology in London. ''Usually, when I arrive at a new place, I ask myself if I would want to live there. I remember that in London I thought: I could stay here forever… or at least for a couple of years. I immediately loved that city.'' But things turned out differently and Paolo turned his back on academia, wishing to work as a music manager instead, with his steady base in Rome. ''In the end, I found out that what I really want to do is work with artists and promote new talents.''

Italian_Film_Orchestra_5
Photo: Paolo Petrocelli
The Italian Film Orchestra and its manager, Paolo, the second from the right standing.

This hasn't made his life any more sedentary: today, Paolo is Associate Director of IMG Artists, a global leader in arts management. He organises festivals and concerts all over the world and as manager of the Italian Film Orchestra he recently travelled to China. The bags of many of the musicians, unable to face the prospect of 2 weeks without Italian food, were heavy with homemade pasta and pesto. ''During this trip I experienced my first real culture shock. China is just so different, in every respect! When I found out that the whole stage for the orchestra's performance wasn't set up on the night before our show; I almost panicked. Our Chinese colleagues looked at me in complete mystification and told me that everything would be fine. One night is after all a lot of time.''

"I'm still speechless and a bit jealous when I compare the genuine enthusiasm of some of the young African artists with the slightly arrogant nonchalance and boredom with which Europeans seem to attend international music events."

However, the encounter with musicians from outside Europe has helped Paolo recognise an important weakness which plagues the heirs of Mozart, Puccini and Debussy: ''In October, I spent 6 days in Paris, as Italian delegate to the UNESCO Youth Forum which unites young 'cultural leaders' from all over the world. I'm still speechless and a bit jealous when I compare the genuine enthusiasm of some of the young African artists with the slightly arrogant nonchalance and boredom with which Europeans seem to attend such international events.'' The European history of music is dominated by immortal names and we still have some of the best academies and orchestras. But sometimes, says Paolo, not having this overwhelming background can be an advantage. ''The delegates from Asia or the Middle East were for example much more open to experimenting with new technology or using social media to promote their culture and art. I have the impression that their education allows them to think in highly innovative ways; ways that would seem almost revolutionary in Europe.''

Not wanting however to discredit his European colleagues, Paolo adds on conciliatory note: ''It is difficult to characterise any country or a culture in a few words. My judgement in these matters can be only subjective.'' When I ask him where the food is best and the women most beautiful, he answers like a true Italian and gentleman: ''To me, Italy has the best food and I have no doubt that the most beautiful woman in the world is my girlfriend.''

Teaser Photo: Paolo Petrocelli

NEXT ISSUE
IN -1105 DAYS