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Polo Piatti with Stephen Warbeck, oscar-winning composer of Shakespeare in Love and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin etc.

Polo Piatti with Stephen Warbeck, oscar-winning composer of Shakespeare in Love and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin etc.

Polo Piatti winkles up in Hastings

Polo Piatti is one of the personalities to show to the wider world what diverse musical talent there is to be had in 1066 country. Having shown the Hastings Tango Club the way to go with Argentinian music, Polo is now to be for the third time music director of the Hastings International Composers Festival, which is taking place on 24-26 Sepetember. Julian Norridge interviewed Polo about his life story and how he came to Hastings.

Composer and concert pianist Polo Piatti was born in the La Boca area of Buenos Aires – it means The Mouth – a vibrant district best known as the home of tango and for the football team for which Maradona played. Now he lives in the Old Town in Hastings. The two are, he says surprisingly, very similar.

“La Boca may be a bit more colourful, but both places have an artistic community embedded in a fishing community – both were an important port in the past. I like that. I like the friction between the two. I find it inspirational to have this reality – it keeps me grounded. It’s special” Polo has lived in Hastings for eight years now and during that time he has made quite an impression. He started the Hastings Sinfonia orchestra and is also the founder and artistic director of the International Composers Festival. This year’s festival – the third – will take place between September 24 – 26 in Hastings and Bexhill.

Polo as a child, practising the piano in Buenos Aires

Polo as a child, practising the piano in Buenos Aires

Polo’s grandfather was an Italian who emigrated to Argentina at the beginning of the last century. He was a blacksmith who married a Native American. Polo’s father was a businessman. He loved music, especially opera. “I think my father was scared I might be gay because I was very sensitive” he jokes. “He saw that whoever played the piano got the girl. So he sent me to a piano teacher at the age of three.”

By the time he was six, Polo had moved on to the local conservatory. He gave his first concert at the age of seven. Five years later he was accepted at the National Conservatory, the most prestigious in the whole of South America at the time. He was the youngest pupil they had ever taken – the normal age of entry was 18.

Polo receives his first music prize, aged 10

Polo receives his first music prize, aged 10

His two great loves, he says, are music and travelling. At the age of 16, to the despair of his parents, he gave up studying and spent three years travelling around South America with a friend. He returned to the Conservatory at 19 to continue his studies.But he still had the travel bug. After graduating, he decided to come to Europe – “some of the best composers have been European”. He wanted to learn French, German and other languages and continue with his music. First in Madrid and then in Paris, he would study during the day and in the evening play the piano in fine restaurants, hotel receptions and up-market bars. “I couldn’t afford a piano but I needed to play – it was like a drug.” When he was 22 he returned to Argentina but found he couldn’t survive there playing classical music and composing as there wasn’t enough demand. So he came back to Europe for good.

Polo working in London with Bolshoi’s Artistic Director, Yuri Grigorovich

Polo working in London with Bolshoi’s Artistic Director, Yuri Grigorovich

This time he went to Berlin, where he worked for the German equivalent of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, a hothouse of the avant-garde. He worked with a well-known visual artist called Didier Bay and began to build a name for himself. “But I wasn’t happy with the music I was playing, electronic experimental stuff. My heart was with orchestral music and the piano.”

He moved to Freiburg and began to develop a skill for which he became well known – giving concerts of classical improvisations. ”As a child,” he muses “I used to get bored and play the pieces I had to learn but in a different key to the one the composers had used, waiting to see if my teachers would notice – which they usually didn’t. I believe this started my love for improvisation. Liszt and Chopin also improvised. It’s called extemporizing.”

This skill enabled him to give improvisations live on stage. He would ask the audience for a title – it might be anything from ‘Red” to ‘Atomic Power Station’ – and then make up a piece that reflected that title. He says that after his years of study he developed a theory about the use of specific keys, rhythmic and melodic structures which for him correspond to everything around us, not only material objects and places but also states of mind, landscapes and human conditions. He uses this knowledge to form the basis of his improvisations. The rest is down to inspiration.

Polo with Nobuya Monta in Kyoto, Japan

Polo with Nobuya Monta in Kyoto, Japan

It works. One critic called his concerts “complex, elaborate, intelligent and beautiful”. He performed all over Europe and made a good living. But nothing remains from that period. He never allowed anyone to film or record those concerts because he thought he’d find it too intrusive and distracting.

When he was in Freiburg he met his wife, the actress Martina Mars. She was also a dancer then and they collaborated on developing an award-winning production, which they performed all over Germany. He also spent three years as the Co-Founder and Music Director of the Freie Kleintheaterschule at the Forum Theatre in Stuttgart, where he wrote the music for several original plays.

Polo premieres his suite ’Sentimental Journey’ in Kyoto, Japan (2012)

Polo premieres his suite ’Sentimental Journey’ in Kyoto, Japan (2012)

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Polo and Martina decided that Germany was about to change and they weren’t sure they would like what emerged. So, partly because Martina was a huge Tolkien fan, they decided to visit England. They sold everything they had in Germany, bought a motor home and travelled all over the country. They were made so welcome that they decided to stay on and make their home in London. Polo got a job as a pianist at the Italia Conti Academy of Dramatic Arts, eventually becoming their Head of Music. He also gave more improvisational concerts at places like St James’s Piccadilly and the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Polo conducting from the piano

Polo conducting from the piano

Then one day Polo was attacked at Liverpool Street station and knocked unconscious. He fell  flat on his face and his jaw was broken in two places. He was operated on and steel plates were inserted in his face – he still can’t feel anything around his chin. They decided they needed a change of scenery and began to look for a place outside London. They had taken to coming to Hastings for the festivals – Jack in the Green and so on – and they liked the way of life, the eccentricities of it. So they sold up and moved to the Old Town.

“I found home,” says Polo. “Everyone is so friendly. They leave you alone – which is very important for an artistic person – until you want to become involved. Then they make you feel very welcome.” Polo did become involved. He became the Arts and Entertainment Officer for the Winkle Club. Then four years ago he decided to found the International Composers Festival to promote the kind of music that he loves: classical music that is both melodic and contemporary.

Polo premieres his composition 'Tristesse & Passion’ with Scottish violinist Daniel Rainey, St Mary in the Castle (2013)

Polo premieres his composition ‘Tristesse & Passion’ with Scottish violinist Daniel Rainey, St Mary in the Castle (2013)

He describes his music as emotional and passionate. “For me, music has to touch the heart, otherwise it has no point. I don’t believe in cerebral music. The function of music is to enrich the soul.” His passion is for music in the Western tradition, which conforms to the classical structures which are quite rigid. “I like that – the composer has to work within those boundaries. I think we’re in danger of losing that. All young composers now want to break out. They don’t want to write a concerto or a symphony, just experimental music – for me that’s a great shame” He is concerned that most funding for new music goes to experimental, avant-garde composers. “So a composer like me can write only for films or teach. Or change profession. The concert halls don’t play much of our kind of music. We have nowhere to go.”

Hence the International Composers Festival. “I had a format in my head,” he says. “It was about how to help all these incredibly talented musicians that don’t get heard. Now the festival has a reputation around the world. If you like this kind of music and don’t want just to write for films, you come to Hastings.”

The majority of the works to be featured in this year’s festival are commissioned. Composers from Mexico, Brazil, Austria, Japan, Ireland, Italy, Canada and the USA – as well as Britain – are presenting works that are unlikely to get heard in their own countries because they are in traditional Western formats.

This year’s theme is ‘Pictures’ and the final concert will feature music from some of the best- known films and television dramas of recent years. “The composers who write this music are very keen for it to be played at the festival,” Polo says. “They hardly ever have direct contact with an audience in a concert hall. They enjoy it.”

The first concert on Thursday 24 September  in All Saints’ Church in Hastings Old Town will feature the music of the distinguished Japanese composer Nobuya Monta. It will include the world premiere of his one act opera ‘Otohime’, performed in stunning national costumes by a cast who are flying in specially from Japan – including Chief Conductor maestro Hiroshi Endo from Tokyo.

On Friday 25 September there will be a Gala Concert at St Mary-in-the-Castle in Hastings featuring world-premieres and performances of chosen works by composers from all over the world. It will include excerpts from the Polo’s own highly anticipated Multi-Faith Oratorio ‘Libera Nos’.

On the morning of Saturday 26 September the Festival moves to Bexhill for a morning concert at the De La Warr Pavilion with specially commissioned works by both established and up-and- coming composers.

Polo with members of the Hastings Philharmonic Choir in Hastings (2011)

Polo with members of the Hastings Philharmonic Choir in Hastings (2011)

The grand finale of the Festival will be a concert called ‘A Feast of Film Music’ featuring among others music by some of today’s best-known composers for cinema and television. They include Stephen Warbeck (‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’), Patrick Hawes (‘The Incredible Mr Ritchie’), Nigel Hess (‘Ladies in Lavender’), Hans Zimmer (‘Pirates of the Caribbean’), John Williams (‘Schindler’s List’) and Debbie Wiseman (‘Wolf Hall’).

A special feature of the Festival will be two Open Rehearsals, where members of the public can attend for free and see composers and musicians meeting for the first time to rehearse new works. The first will be at St Mary-in-the-Castle on the afternoon of Friday 25 September for that evening’s concert. The second will be at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill for the final concert of the Festival. Both will start at 3pm.

Hastings International Composers Festival,  1)  An evening with the exquisite music of composer Nobuya Monta 7.30pm 24 September at All Saints’ Church All Saints St Hastings, TN34 3BP   2)  Grand opening concert, 7pm Friday 25 September 2015 at St Mary In The Castle, Pelham Crescent Hastings TN34 3AF    3) A Feast Of Film Music 7.30pm Saturday 26 September 2015 at De La Warr Pavillion, Marina Bexhill TN40 1DP  – For further information and details of how and where to buy tickets, go to the Festival website.


Posted 14:28 Wednesday, Sep 9, 2015 In: Music & Sound

1 Comment

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  1. Chris Cormack

    Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck has decided to support the International Composers Festival Hastings in a different and very special way by not only attending but by performing himself at the De La Warr Pavilion concert ‘A Feast Of Film Music’ on Saturday 26 September. He will join the orchestra and play the accordion part of his world-famous ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ film theme!!main-events/c13vl

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Saturday, Sep 19, 2015 @ 09:53

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