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Artist/Educator Archive Interview - Roberta Pili




e regularly feature the personal experiences and insights of a noteworthy artist/educator on various aspects of piano performance and education. You may not always agree with the opinions expressed, but we think you will find them interesting and informative. The opinions offered here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent those of the West Mesa Music Teachers Association, its officers, or members. (We have attorneys, too!). At the end of the interview, you'll find hypertext links to the interviewee's e-mail and Web sites (where available), so you can learn more if you're interested. Except where otherwise noted, the interviewer is Dr. John Zeigler.



The April 1998 artist/educator:

Roberta Pili, Pianist and Performer, Vienna, Austria

...."being on a level with any other artist with more and longer experience", where "many of her colleagues of the same age would turn pale, full of envy"........Roberta Pili´s performances have brought her increasing attention as one of the most admired young Italian pianists. Praised by the first Austrian newspaper Die Presse for her "high technical and musical skills" and "strong individual temperament", she has received very impressive press reviews for her performances and first CD-recording. Winner of the first prize at the Bösendorfer Piano Competition in Vienna, among other awards of internationally renowned competitions (Casagrande/Terni, Rombro-Stepanow/Vienna, Mozart/Salzburg), Roberta Pili in every performance demonstrates her great talent. Choosing from a wide span of solo piano literature, chamber music and piano concertos, ranging from Bach to Berio, for her programs she wisely selects works emphasizing her special affinity to the Viennese Classic and Romantic repertory. Her musical versatility and expressive power culminate in the performance of variations by Beethoven or Brahms, as well as cycles by Liszt or Busoni. With this particular style of program, Ms. Pili is offering to the audience a truly personal aspect of her human and musical spirit, where the gates to an intellectual but nonetheless passionate interpretation are wide open. Roberta Pili´s involved piano playing has never failed to impress and even to enchant her audience.

Roberta Pili has performed with several well-known orchestras, ranging from the Wiener Kammerphilharmonie to the Wiener Kammerorchester, as well as with the Bruckner Orchester Linz and with soloists of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Küchl Quartet). Highlights of her career include appearances in the "Klangbogen" Summer Festival Vienna, Konzerthaus and Musikverein Vienna, Brucknerhaus Linz, International Foundation "Mozarteum" Salzburg, Teatro Comunale Cagliari to mark their inaugural season, Lyceum Catania, Campus Internazionale Latina, Concerti Auditorium S. Michele Rome, Karajan Centrum Vienna, Konzerthaus Casino Bern. Her debut appearance in Japan, as part of a tour during the season 1994-95, took place at the opening concert in the Community Hall in Tokushima. Ms. Pili´s first solo recording was released in 1995 by the Gramola label and contains works by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Schubert. The recording was immediately noted by the critics as "demonstration of her mastery and technical ability". Subsequently the first Austrian classical radio station Ö1 brought a detailed report of the CD-recording, including an interesting live interview with Ms. Pili as well.

Born in Cagliari, Italy, and now residing in Vienna, Roberta Pili had her first piano lesson when she was seven. At the age of eleven, after winning several national piano competitions, she entered the Conservatory of her home town and began her formal musical education. She completed her studies in Italy with honours at the age of seventeen. Masterclasses with Joaquin Achucarro and Paul Badura-Skoda in Siena led to further studies at the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna. In 1994 she graduated from the masterclass of Hans Petermandl, awarded with the concert diploma and Master of Arts.

PEP: What made you go into music?

I was born in a family of musical background; my father is a musician. At the age of five, when I went to the kindergarten, I learned a lot of songs with other children, while our teacher was playing the piano. I was immediately interested in her playing, so I just tried to imitate her. At home, my parents were surprised to hear me playing the kindergarten´s songs from hearing, but I really started to learn playing the piano with my father at the age of seven.

PEP: Who was the most influential person in your years as a student of the piano and why?

Doubtless one of my teachers: Paul Badura-Skoda. I met him 1986 at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena (Italy) during the summer master classes. I was seventeen and I just had completed my musical formal education at the Conservatory of my native town, Cagliari. Because of my young age, I felt strongly that I needed more musical advice from a great teacher and performer, so I decided Paul Badura-Skoda was the right person for me. At the end of his master class in Siena I asked him how could I become his regular student, and he just gave the answer: “ Learn German and come to Vienna “. That meeting with him led to my further studies at the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna. His teaching method was impressive, especially his original ideas about the interpretation of the great classical composers: Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven. I mostly learned how focusing the studies on producing a good sound can be fundamental for the performance and for discovering new perspectives in music.

PEP: What do you enjoy the most about making music?

There´s something magic in making music: sharing with other people various emotions through the universal power of the music. When I am performing, I feel the urge to communicate, to reveal my spirit and make myself a part of the musical score. I recognized very early that my goals are my tasks, that making music means offering a personal aspect of my human and musical personality, where both the intellectual and passionate traits of my interpretations are meant to serve the audience´s needs. What I mostly enjoy in making music is feeling the audience´s breathtaking reaction to my performance. I am grateful to hear sometimes comments like: “ You made me for the first time able to understand that Schubert Sonata! “.

PEP: Is there a "best" way or "method" to learn to play? Any that should be avoided? What "deficiency" in training or technique do you most often find in students of the piano?

I think an ideal way to learn to play the piano would mean an efficient use of our body and, of course, of our mind. The basis of this method should be a correct posture when sitting at the instrument. Not a few students have problems making good music with the just natural movements of their shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. It is very important to recognize this natural art of playing from the first piano lesson, to develop conscious movements based on the knowledge of the body´s anatomy. Any other teaching method which does not consider that the approach to the instrument is different from student to student should obviously be avoided. I am convinced that learning to play is a continuing process, it never stops. I remember when a piano teacher said: “If you do not dispose of the complete piano technique when you are 25, you´ll never get the chance to do it in the future.” I think this is a sentence of ignorance about learning, because a pianist can improve every day both the technical and musical skills, learning being a never-ending process of life as well. One of the most frequent deficiencies in teaching piano students is demanding many hours of daily practicing as the only way to get a perfect technique and become a complete artist. Nothing could be more absurd! I must admit that I also have practiced a lot of hours in my student period, up to 12 hours a day. But today I recognize that this art of practicing is not necessarily the best one for better playing. Why? Our concentration cannot be constant for a long time, our brain is burned out after a time range between 60 and 90 minutes. Then we need a break. By trying to keep that concentration for a longer time, we can even risk to destroy all the good information we got during the practice, and our work would have been in vain. It is important to set a practice goal, or more than one, then strive for its/their achievement. I have learned that NOT the quantity but the quality of practice makes the real difference.

PEP: What kinds of things would you tell students of the piano and their teachers to try to avoid?

“The true art of being a good teacher consists of becoming dispensable”. The relationship between teacher and student can exist only by creating a cooperating team; both can learn a lot from each other. A rigid education should be avoided. A student cannot be a “copy” of his/her teacher, because every student has his/her own personality, which should be always respected by the teacher.

PEP: What advice would you give to students of the piano?

Enjoy your musical talent, enjoy playing this wonderful instrument, enjoy communicating with other people through your music. Try to meditate into the music, be one with your mind, soul, body and piano. Let your fingers be the conjunction of your heart with the piano.

PEP: How do you motivate yourself to do the long hours of practice necessary to be a successful performer?

I am convinced that for my self-motivation nothing is more powerful than the strong desire to demonstrate my talent. I try to practice exactly what I teach. In my practicing I adopt the same daily rhythm of work that I advise piano students to follow. The only essential thing is to be part of the music I am producing. I find motivation from within and from without the music.Once I have discovered and understood the meaning of a piano work, I can reproduce it as if I were the creator of that composition.

PEP: Can you give us your reflections upon music as a career? Specifically, what do you like most about performing and what do you dislike most? How do you deal with pre-performance "jitters" and what is your pre-concert routine?

A music career in the Nineties is principally a question of business. It is not enough to be a successful performer, but also knowledge of how to perform “off the stage” is required. Besides musical training, it is important to establish concrete goals, to improve marketing and promotion. Endurance is the most essential tool for achieving success in a musical career . Endurance should be applied in personal energy, in balancing personal and professional needs, in checking one´s own strengths and weaknesses, discovering new ways to promote one´s own musical product. All this can be very creative, but developing a career in music actually belongs to a supplemental management of the artist´s activity.

I like both performing on stage and off stage. It is important to establish a communication between artist and audience not only through the music, but also by talking with appreciative people after a concert. I also enjoy the preparatory ritual before a concert appearance. I usually spend about an hour in my dressing room by relaxing and beginning to concentrate for the upcoming event. I find it very exciting. Sometimes I don´t feel good playing in chamber music concerts. It´s strange, but true. I prefer to assume my own responsibility by playing as a soloist, rather than sharing attention with other chamber musicians who are not thinking collectively of the chamber music work being performed.

The only persons who should aim for a career in music (which includes accompanying, administration and teaching) are those who would not be happy or successful doing anything else, and who don't aim to get rich thereby.

PEP: What does it take to be a "successful" musician or music educator?

Being a successful musician or a successful music educator means having two different vocations, but pursuing the same goal: personifying a mediator between the composer and the audience or student.

PEP: What are your views on competitions and what should teachers and students expect from that experience?

I took part in some international competitions, where I experienced different results coming from them. A competition is good opportunity for students and pianists to meet other colleagues who are competing for the same goal. Many competitions offer a large and free choice of the repertoire, which can represent a motivation for learning new pieces, for discovering one´s own affinity to a particular musical style and composition character. Performing in a competition can be a good exercise in playing in front of a public, so a student can experience his/her own “stage-fright”. But there´s an important consideration about competitions, which students and teachers should always keep in mind: preparing for the best result, playing for the best result and expecting the best result. A result is a consequence of actions, so there are excellent results due to excellent actions.

PEP: What do you do to prepare a work new to you for performance and how long does it take?

First of all, I try to get different interpretations of the new work by looking for interesting recordings. I need to be introduced to the sound of that work, especially for getting more and more familiar with the musical and technical structure of the composition. Once I have collected enough suggestions from those interpretations to create my own musical ideas, I go on with starting the physical part of my preparation on the keyboard. This working phase contains setting up a proper fingering, analyzing the various harmonic changes for an efficient use of the right pedal and checking the tempos indicated by the composer. All this practice can take a period from one to 4-5 weeks, depending on the degree of difficulty of the piece. The most important part of my preparing a work for performance is the maturing of the interpretation from within. I call this “ the brain´s hard work”, and that can be done at any time during the day. Once I am completely convinced of the musical intention of the composer, the work is ready for being performed.

PEP: What was your most memorable performing experience and why?

It was the final round of a competition, which had been held in the form of a solo recital. On that occasion I played Beethoven´s Variations on Diabelli. With that impressive piano work I really felt I could have the entire world under my fingers. The audience´s attention was very high; it was an unbelievable sensation to feel the audience almost “breathing” with the music I was making. At the end of the performance the people could not to stop applauding. I enjoyed the people´s satisfaction, the jury awarded me first prize.

PEP: When you teach a master class, what do you hope to accomplish and what general messages, if any, do you offer to all those in attendance?

I think teaching a master class is like a mission. Music is the only thing which allows teacher and students to explore many different emotions like joy, sadness, happiness, pain, conviction, fear, love, hate. They´re together playing a leading role in producing music, and a passive role in receiving the emotional effects made by the music as well. The essential message I would give in this case, is to invite the people to develop their own point of view about making music, as a result of all the suggestions earned during the master class experience.

PEP: Do you have a favorite pianist(s) and if so, what attracts you to that person’s performances?

I´ve always been overwhelmed by the pianist Alfred Brendel. Whenever he´s performing in Vienna, I do not fail to attend the concert. His involved piano playing is certainly much more than a simple performance: it is a unique musical event, enriched by the strong personality and unlimited musical knowledge of this great artist. Every time I´ve heard Brendel live, I thought:..”Yes, this is exactly the way this work should be played”..... I am almost forced to accept his well-thought interpretations as the “right interpretations” par excellence.

PEP: What can we do as musicians to interest more people, children in particular, in good music?

We should remember that classical music is one of the finest expressions of the human spirit, like painting, sculpture, poetry. Just as our body needs care and food for good functioning, so our soul needs music for maintaining life´s energy. Choosing classical music for pursuing professional purposes includes a high commitment to excellence. What we should try to avoid is falling into the trap of routine in our teaching or performing of classical music, particularly when we are not open-minded to changes from without for improving the quality of our activity. I think the secret is to keep being curious and stimulating other people´s curiosity. Children are specialists in curiosity.

PEP: Pretend this is your personal soapbox. What would you like to say to students, parents, and teachers of the piano?

I would like to give this message to piano students: There are no hidden technical secrets to become a great pianist. The only way just consists of being able to refine one´s own musical and pianistic talents with patience, intelligence and endurance. It is a great challenge to find the right balance between a responsible care of the technique and a high spiritual motivation for making good music. For this reason not only exercise is required, which can often get boring and sterile, but also deep reflection, curiosity and concentration.

To parents: You´re the coach number one of your children! Support their musical talent in looking for a good piano teacher for them, a really competent and didactically gifted teacher. Attend from time to time their piano lessons and their recitals. Tell them when you like how they´re playing the piano, be a witness of their progress. Respect your children´s desires in musical matters, try to find a balance between what you want for them and what they want for themselves.

To piano teachers: There is no absolute “ideal” pianistic school, but a “healthy” opinion of piano teaching could be an inclination for a complete musical education of the student, rather than a training based exclusively on the physiology of nerves and muscles. A piano teacher once said: “I am not teaching music, I am teaching how to play the piano.” Nothing could be more wrong than this concept of music teaching. I think that especially the piano is the instrument for teaching music, because on the piano you can practically play and hear everything. The art of teaching music depends vitally on the teacher´s ability to actively demonstrate his view by playing himself. A lesson with an artist-teacher is an essential experience, because knowledge crystallizes into action, for truly artistic action is predicated on previous knowledge.

You can ask your own questions of Ms. Pili by e-mail to or visit her Web site at

Page created: 6/13/98
Last updated: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
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