Citterio, who spent years with the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra in Milan, says she took on her new role “more out of curiosity than desire,” considering the group’s passionate nature to be a potential for further personal growth.
It all began in 2013, when Jeanne Lamon announced her impending retirement. Tafelmusik began an intense international search to find a worthy successor, which included inviting guest musicians to play at various performances. It was here that the Italian violinist came onto the scene. “Sometimes, one word can change your whole life,” Citterio says. “In this case, my name and a recording, which came to Tafelmusik’s attention, meant I was invited to take part in the Baroque Masters program.” That invite in 2015 was followed by another in 2016. She was named the musical director in January 2017, making her debut this past September.
“Sometimes, one word can change your whole life”
Citterio is proud to represent the old continent in North America as an Italian; she is most excited by the prospect of bringing to her new role that je ne sais quoi “about our music” that simply can’t be put into words. As well as having a natural talent, Citterio also had a musical upbringing; “Music was listened to and breathed all day,” thanks to her mother – a music teacher and composer. When she was just five, she happened to see a video of an orchestra and instantly fell in love. “The movement of all those well-coordinated bows fascinated me to such an extent that I asked my mother for a violin. From that day on, I never stopped.”
“The movement of all those well-coordinated bows fascinated me to such
an extent that I asked my mother for a violin. From that day on, I never stopped”
Despite having also studied the piano – another great passion – at 16, she dedicated herself solely to the violin. Due to her busy schedule filled with projects and tours, she had less time for other activities. Citterio underlines a fundamental difference between musicians of antiquity and those of today: “All musicians from the early days of musical history were composers and multi-instrumentalists who sometimes experimented with other art forms. Naturally their training and musical activity were not comparable to ours today, as musicians face decades of repertoire,” she explains.
Elisa Citterio, photo by Monica Cordiviola
Indeed, when seeing her at work, one can glean her natural talent and innovative approach, but also apparent are the years she spent studying an incredibly rich repertoire. She directs the orchestra with light, lively and passionate movements, evoking a great amount of emotion. The role of first violin – directing the ensemble without the baton that most people expect to see – is certainly not for everyone, she admits. “It’s a very complex role, more than directing without an instrument. The body becomes a means to guide the orchestra. The more the understanding grows, the less intense my hints have to be. Let’s just say that I can never get sick before a concert!”
What she would like to take back to Italy from her North American experience is the incredible teamwork that characterizes Tafelmusik. “You can easily describe it as one big family because of our way everyone interacts with each other and because of the consideration given to the affectionate fans and supporters. In Italy, there is not that same tight-knit structure that is so attentive to reciprocal needs, nor is there a strong fan-base for artistic projects,” she explains. Laughing about her first Canadian winter, Citterio says, “My family and I are waiting fearfully for the arrival of the cold and we are struggling to imagine how we will survive it!”