This past Thursday, Wesleyan’s Romance Languages and Literatures Department, with the help of the Thomas and Catherine McMahon Memorial Fund, sponsored an international concert titled “The Sound of Nostalgia.” The lofty Memorial Chapel reverberated with conversations in the many languages of the international crowd, all awaiting renowned Italian flautist Sara Bondi and Spanish pianist David Revuelta, who have been collaborating and performing all over the world together for two years now, from Carnegie Hall to the Svirél Competition in Slovenia. Both are well educated and accomplished in their respective fields, having studied at conservatories and performed in solo concerts and competitions.
The two took the stage, but instead of jumping right into the music, Bondi took a place at the podium to introduce the theme of the concert. She began with an explanation of the term “nostalgia”: an amalgamation of the Greek nóstos, meaning homecoming, and álgos, meaning pain. Bondi then introduced a quote from Cesare Pavese, one of the most celebrated Italian authors of the 20th century, which read, “It’s not easy to settle down.” This was the first of many quotes from Pavese and other Italian luminaries that Bondi and Revuelta wove into their concert, not only providing explanations for why they chose the pieces they played, but also placing them in the context of the time and the theme underlying the whole concert.
On Friday morning, Sara and David were happy sit down to discuss their history as a duo, their conception and hopes for this concert, and what brought them to Wesleyan.
The Argus: You have been playing together for two years now. How did you meet?
Sara Bondi: We met in a music academy [in Madrid] where we both worked and, actually, it started because he accompanied my pupils
and we started talking about what we were doing as concert[s] and we both participated in competitions and things like that so we thought it could be a good idea to start working together and see what happens.
A: How did you come up with the idea for this concert centered around immigration?
SB: [Adjunct Instructor in Italian] Daniela [Viale] asked us to create a program that had something to do with Italian culture. It was difficult at the beginning to find a central theme that could be like a thread between the pieces, and then when I read the sentence by Pavese, the first one, something clicked, and it was like, if I can find composers that have emigrated and see if they have said something about that or that has changed something in their lives, then that would be a good program, and [after] reading some books, things came together by [themselves].
A: How long have you been playing this concert together?
SB: We started rehearsing in September, but the first concert was in December.
David Revuelta: We have more repertoire, like French music. Well, it’s because the repertoire usually, for a flute and piano duo, is very important from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century because earlier, of course you have repertoire, but it’s not as good as the ways the composers did [later], and it’s very important for example, French music with Impressionism, a great development. This is nice, one of my favorites.
SB: Before [the repertoire for the current concert], we were concentrating on preparing repertoire for competitions because we tried to get known somehow or to get concerts, so the first thing we did was participate in competitions and so the program was centered on preparing that. Then, after Daniela asked us, we started rehearsing [the current concert program]. It takes a lot of effort to build a whole program. It’s not just that you decide the pieces and start playing.
DR: Of course you can, but for example there’s a difference [between] a little performance for four or five persons and a concert. This is the reason why all classical musicians play all works for a long time. We like to tell, “Ah yes, I’ve only been playing this piece for the last three weeks or one month,” it’s totally a lie. Usually, we have a higher responsibility when we have new works. We are always playing for sometimes three years.
A: So is this the time to experiment with new works without the pressures of competition?
SB: Well, it has pressure anyway because, you know, this concert has been scheduled since February of last year, so you know the people are expecting a product and so you want to be at your best. You have jet lag, you have a changing climate.
DR: And have a difficult piano!
SB: And so you always have a little bit of pressure, but that makes it more exciting, somehow.
DR: Yes, I am starting to be too old for this!
A: But you guys are just getting started!
DR: But it’s true, I love this kind of tension, because competitions usually are almost anti-musical, because you want to be each part perfect at the same time without mistakes, perfect from all points of view. Every time you make a mistake, you think, “I’m going to be eliminated now,” only for a note.
A: So concerts are a different kind of pressure.
SB: I think in concerts, you can focus more on the music. You can focus more on the emotion, on the atmosphere of the piece, and of course you have to think about being the best you can, but the best you can is not always technically perfect; sometimes it’s emotionally perfect.
A: This is true, and what I loved was the emotion that you brought to the concert, and what facilitated that was the confluence of the readings and the music. How did you come up with that idea?
[Both sit back and laugh]
SB: It was, how can you explain the thoughts by creating a program if you don’t explain it? So since Daniela asked for something that was linked to Italian culture and literature, the first thing was finding the text by Pavese and then, through that, we created the text, and it just came [together] somehow.
A: I understand you played a concert at Carnegie Hall in October of 2012. What was that experience like?
DR: Well, I felt as if I were playing, because I played soccer in the third division in the Czech Republic, like I was playing in the stadium of Real Madrid, so I said, “Today is a good moment, so I must play 100 percent, no doubts, no fear, self-confidence, and the goal.”
SB: It was funny because just two years before, I was there, not in the chamber music hall, but in the big symphonic hall, and I was sitting there watching a concert thinking, “I want to play here,” and then when it came, that we really could go there, it was like, “Whoa, dream come true!” It was fun.
DR: It’s like everyone in the world knows Carnegie Hall. There is a famous sentence, I don’t know if a cab driver said it or Rubenstein, but someone, I think a man in New York, called for a taxi and asked, “Could you tell me, how can I get to Carnegie Hall?” and [the taxi driver] said, “Practicing a lot, my friend,” and he drove away.
A: And it was at the concert at Carnegie Hall that you were invited to come play at Wesleyan by Daniela?
SB: Yes. Actually, Daniela and I went to school together, to high school and to university, and then when I knew we had won this competition and got to play there, I told her she had to come and listen to us, and I think the last time she had listened to me playing the flute I was 18, so it was really a long time ago. And so afterwards, we went to have lunch together and she said it would be amazing if we could come play at the university.
A: What do you hope the audience gleans from this show?
SB: It’s not perhaps the emigration thing in itself, it’s mostly a thing that I have felt myself. I moved from Italy to Austria to study and then from Austria to Spain afterwards, and I always have the feeling, when you leave a country where you have lived, either your own or another where you have put your roots somehow, you get the chance to have another homeland, but at the same time you miss things from your home, and you don’t notice that things are changing you. It’s a little bit the things I was telling [the audience] at the beginning of the presentation yesterday. The real danger of traveling is that you get changed somehow, and then you can go back physically, but you not always can go back emotionally because you are different. When I am in Spain, I always feel I am very Italian, and when I am in Italy, I notice that somehow I am not so Italian anymore. And so I think for me this was the most important emotional part of the idea of this program. It’s necessary to travel somehow to grow and to learn and to experience, but you have to pay a price for that, and this is what nostalgia is for me.
DR: For me, it is very important, as the world is becoming smaller and smaller, we are discovering that we have differences, but usually they are differences that don’t separate us. Am I different from a Japanese person, sure, but then finally we have the same things because we are human. And now I feel a nostalgia about this, and maybe music can remind us the humanistic reason of life, maybe the most important thing, because finally, this is the art. Why do we have art? The art always reminds us what we are. It’s only this. Even sometimes with bad things. For example, if you go to a concentration camp to know what we are able to do, as humans. Even with this, and painting, architecture, theater, opera, dancing, music, I’m going to put soccer on the list. Soccer is very important too; it brings people together. The feeling is always to create bridges between two teams, two cities, two nationalities, or two continents.