Ferdinando Sulla is a young conductor and musicologist in search of roots and the deepest meaning. Making music to him is the core of the soul – a state of grace.
All I need is to be inebriated by the smell of mystery while catching a glimpse of the old city or to linger in front of one of the impenetrable beauty of the sunsets on the sea, to find satisfaction in the same contradictions that up to that moment had made me feel nervous.
Ferdinando Sulla is a young music conductor and was born in Crotone, a town in Calabria, home of Pythagoras. You have always felt the importance and perhaps also the weight of these roots. You have left but you return as soon as you can. What thoughts do you carry with you, what feelings do you really feel as unchanged of that bond that especially the people of southern Italy carry more or less secretly in their hearts for life?
Growing up I felt not so much the weight and importance of a territory so rich in its roots, but rather the clear dichotomy that exists and persists between its history and the present. By now it is very hard for me to hide the discomfort that comes from the conflicting feelings I have towards my land and people, namely both anger and disbelief, increasing a sense of almost irremediable impotence. But all I need is to be inebriated by the smell of mystery while catching a glimpse of the old city or to linger in front of one of the impenetrable beauty of the sunsets on the sea, to find satisfaction in the same contradictions that up to that moment had made me feel nervous.
You started singing in a choir when you were a child, then you studied organ, orchestra conducting and you graduated in Musicology. I also know about your passion for ancient miniatures. In short, music and art are the centre of your life – the theorem demonstration and the revelation of a sacredness?
Since childhood I have always loved and practised art in all its forms, learning to paint, draw, sing, play and conduct. My relationship with arts is about physicality, concrete and perceptible sensations. The beauty of art and creation has always pierced me and amazed me and it still accompanies me today deep down my soul playing a dangerous but inevitable game, which to me is necessary, because without it I could not be myself. A mad and unconscious search for symbols, images, sounds that could unfold the sense of the sacred to which I belong and justify my place in the world.
Seeing you conducting, I've always felt like your gestures are not only about musical communication but also about expressions – in a very broad sense. You want to embody the means to convey your inner search for a balance, the revelation of the secret of your soul through a state of grace, so to speak. Does my interpretation seem correct to you?
In this regard I take the liberty of making an extemporary reflection that brings back to the surface something unexplored and unconscious for me. Beyond the concepts and the superstructures that can be imposed by academic rules, namely this or that interpretation or an aesthetic thought consolidated within a tradition, I think that the creative act is the most unconscious thing that can exist, if one can speak of a performance as a creative act. Instead, I like very much the vision according to which the interpreter becomes the means for the revelation of a secret that is not his own but common and shared, directly or indirectly, with the "creator" of the work. The concert thus becomes a sort of revealing dream – to put it in Freud's way – which encapsulates the so-called spirit of theatre and music. But as often happens in the darkness of night sleep, the secret keeps its meaning until the senses awaken from the ecstatic numbness. For me, reviving a work of musical art is a visionary act that has little to do with logic. At the same time, I firmly believe in the in-depth study of the technical means through which the work itself can be brought back to life, hence the rules. Thanks to these rules the internalisation of the work becomes not only something psychological, but also made of soul and flesh, breath and blood of the body – it is an indissoluble bond.
Spirituality and idealism, the pillars of the greatest artists of all times, and the need to transmit Beauty and Truth, belong to you in their own right. And yet I often read interviews with musicians who would rather talk about the usual trivialities about ambitions and career, and these deeper themes struggle to come up. What about Maestro Sulla then? What does he want us to talk about?
I am in the real world and in the mud that constitutes both it and us. In order to relieve myself from this mixture of fake sociality, do-goodism and ruling indifference, I seek strength in beauty and in what is different.
That's what I'd like to talk about, how everything in the world and in life is not the same as everything else. This "demagogy" is destroying the great Western heritage created by poets, artists, philosophers, scientists over millennia of history. It is hard to tell the difference between a poem by Leopardi and the silly and poor ideas of some blogger or cheap poet. For the first time in history we are moving towards an inexorable flattening of critical judgment, and I find all this absurd and worrisome.
What were your inspirations and your myths in Art? Do you believe in the need to make Art as a demonstration of power or do you think that Art can and should change the world and people for the better? Finally, I often ask myself what is the real purpose of Art..
The heroes, the myths that built my inner self could be taken for granted, but not to mention them would be a worse crime because they say so much about me: Giotto, Michelangelo, J. Vermeer, W. Turner, J.S. Bach, G. Mahler, R. Strauss, G. Testoni, T. Mann, H. Hesse, G. Ungaretti, E. Montale, T. E J. Cocteau, C. Well, and I could go on for hours... I don't think Art has any claim to making people better, it just transforms them. One of the tasks of Art could perhaps be that of testimony, of memory through an uncontrolled process of self-identification of the subject with the art object. And here is the miracle of Art, the transformation: man and work become one, intertwining one another.
Western art is the reflection of an optimistic culture, the daughter of hope in ultimate salvation, a concept on which all our way of thinking is based. In fact, what is lacking is precisely this yearning for joy... We are children of a culture of death! We do nothing but talk about and celebrate the dead, and we end up forgetting the living.
Music, so powerful in its ability to convey human feelings, involves the physicality and spirituality of each of us, whether we perform it or listen to it. Are your feelings in conducting other musicians the result of this involvement or are they mediated by reason and the need for technical clarity? There are conductors who wriggle wildly and others who are impassive...
The study phases, including rehearsal, focus on the technical aspects in all their facets. It is clear, however, that in the performance, not only the latter can be considered, but what happens becomes a synthesis between technical and emotional aspects, which in my case always prevail ... I try to translate this mediation through a gesture that is synthetic, but never detached, and also attentive to the expression of musical phrases. In fact I think that what I give more importance to when I direct is precisely the phrasing, because the expressiveness of art and its consequent communicative power is an unavoidable priority to me. Anything that requires the opposite does not interest me, actually... it is indifferent to me! I am very worried that my gesture will be expressive and in line with the phrasing, without being unnecessarily magniloquent, and I hope it can always convey emotions, as well as the will of the author, of my vision of the work and also of those essential technical indications so that everything does not blow up.
What do you think about the world of music and Italy’s society in particular, where you live and work? Is the feeling of being a necessary part of a "system" part of your artistic ego, as you often perceive in orchestra leaders, or are you in an alternative position, more or less voluntary? What clashes and difficulties do you find on the impervious path of a young musician of great talent and how to face that banality of appearance we talked about before?
Italy is a country that doesn't value and nor like its artists very much, and if we are referring to the musical environment in general I doubt that we can find words of appreciation, especially as far as its management is concerned. I don't even think that people pay attention to appearance in its best meaning anymore; actually, elegance could be intended as a weakness... but some "non-qualities" that show little of the real personality of an individual, exalting his worst facets, are also taken into account. I always recommend to myself to find the strength to leave as soon as possible this country that I love madly, to come back one day as a completely renewed man and artist.
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