The Music of Peace
Interview with Luisa Sello
“The power that culture has to transcend borders and bring people together is truly amazing.” These are the words Slovenian Ambassador to the OSCE Andrej Benedejcic used to describe the opening concert in Ljubljana of a musical initiative dedicated to peace which Luisa Sello, world-renowned Italian flautist, is organizing in partnership with the Organization. In her concerts that bring together musicians of many nationalities she uses the language of music to promote goals that coincide with those of the OSCE – co-operation and inter-cultural dialogue.
You have dedicated your life to making music with the flute – can you tell us a little about your choice of this very personal instrument?
The flute really is a personal instrument in the sense that it is the instrument most near to the human voice. Unlike all the other woodwind instruments, which have reeds inside, the sound of the flute is produced directly from the flow of the breath across the opening. So we flautists are like singers. The flute is also a mythological instrument. Orpheus used it to calm down the animals. So it means peace and calm. I got connected with this instrument as a child by chance. One day, someone brought a flute into the classroom – I don’t know why. The flute chose me, not the contrary!
For a while I played in La Scala in Milan in the orchestra, but my temperament was not really suited to orchestral playing, so I decided to leave and build a career as a soloist. Of course I play with other people – in small chamber music groups, as a soloist with the orchestra, or with partners – pianists or cembalists. I like to play very much, and I like to travel – that is very important in this profession.
Luisa Sello, flute, plays the Friulian folk song “Ai preât la biele stele” (“I prayed to the beautiful star”) in concert with musicians of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
For the past year you have been leading the group Esercito Concertante – which can be translated “army of musicians” – performing in different countries carrying a message of peace. Can you explain?
Esercito Concertante is the second part of a three-year project in commemoration of the centenary of World War I, using the language of music to transform the guns and the pain to friendship. We assembled an “army” of musicians from the same countries that fought in World War I in 1916-1917 – instead of guns to kill they use instruments to make music. There were 23 concerts in all – we still have eight concerts to go.
In the first year of the project, the idea was to transform the old places of war into places of art. For instance, here in Vienna we did a concert in the old brick factory that was used to make munitions.
Soon I will start with the third year - the title will be “Crescendo” – a musical expression that means “growing” but also “culminating”. It will concentrate on the region of Friuli, because that is where the last part of the war was fought. I will base it on a novel by the Friulian writer Federica Ravizza, a tragic love story between an Italian nurse and an Austrian soldier. And I will use the famous song Stelutis Alpinis – “Stelutis” are white, star–like flowers – composed by Arturo Zardini during World War I, known and sung by Fruilian people all over the world. My idea is to ask present-day composers from Friuli to compose new pieces for orchestra and choir based on this song.
There is a counterpart of this song in Japan - because they have the same tragedy and the same culture of family. For instance, the symbol of Friuli is the fogolar, a free-standing hearth around which the family gathers, and in Japan they have the same tradition. And they have the same song, telling about a flower waiting for the soldier coming back. It is very touching – you see how music can fly around the world and you discover the same situation so far away.
How do you see your musical projects promoting peace relating to the goals of the OSCE?
In chamber music, if you don’t co-operate you cannot play, nothing comes out. Every one of the players, each of them soloists, have to be modest, to give space to the others - so that the their identities combine to make a new one. Music can be a language of co-operation, because you have to deal with others, respect the other, if you want to have a result. In this sense, music is a perfect ideal expression of the dialogue taking place in the OSCE.
For the next three years I will be doing a new project funded by the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia called “Great Music as a Metaphor of Peace and Tolerance.” It will bring musicians from all over the world to co-operate, to speak together without words but with the one common language that is music. The OSCE as a main partner will help to promote the project, which in turn is a promotion in musical terms of the goals of the OSCE. Other partners are the University of Udine, the Aquilea Foundation, Vienna University, the University of Toronto in Canada and many others. The first concert will be in Prague on 5 June.
This week we are celebrating International Women’s Day. Do you feel that being a woman affects your approach to music and peace?
For me, International Women’s Day is about celebrating diversity, the unique individuality that each of us brings to our common humanity. When I travel I don’t only give a concert, I try to discover other cultures and find connections between us and others. For instance, when I was in Asia I visited the long-neck women living there. These women are without rights, without documents, without access to education and often abused, forced to work long hours weaving silk to feed their fatherless children. Friulian nuns are trying to help these girls, give them the opportunity to go to school, but they need money to do this. So I decided to give a concert in Chiang Mai for these girls. The name of the concert was “Odelette” – which means a small bird, very little, very light and very fast. It was inspired by the piece of this name composed by Saint-Saens. The nuns brought some of the girls that they had managed to save from exploitation, and they danced before my performance. The audience was large, with many tourists, and I was able to collect 8,000 Euros for the girls.
Of course, our young people in Europe, both girls and boys, also need help. They know a lot from what they see on the Internet, but many are depressed, without prospects, without interest in life. So I have also tried with my association Amici Della Musica to do something for them. I go to the secondary schools in Udine and I speak with them and play the flute. I invite them to my concerts. And it works. They come to me and they thank me for having shown them this beautiful music they didn’t know before. So I am doing a double service: for humanity and at the same time for music.