Francesco Bruno, italian bandoneĆ³n player.

Interview to M. Francesco Bruno

From Trieste to Rotterdam, in love with bandoneón

While still living in Italy I started looking for a bandoneón teacher to study with. As italian bandoneón students knows very well, teachers in Italy are still few and not always truly good teachers.

I had the opportunity to get in touch with Maestro Francesco Bruno who lives in Parma and graduated in bandoneón at the CODARTS in Rotterdam, where he studied with Victor Villena. My study experience with Francesco lasted more than a year, until I decided to deepen the bandoneón in Buenos Aires. In those lessons Francesco made me understand the technique and made me love and appreciate the instrument and music in general.

It is therefore a great pleasure for me to introduce you to one of the most interesting bandoneónists of the contemporary scene, a magnificent teacher and a dear friend: ladies and gentlemen, Francesco Bruno!

Francesco Bruno, bandoneón e Tango a Parma e in Italia.

Hi Francesco, tell us: what is the bandoneón for you?

The bandoneón represents my bond with Tango, a connection born first with dance and then matured on a deeper level through music. An intimate and even personal bond is created between the musician and his instrument, an affinity between his personality and the type of music he plays.

Trying to analyze this aspect in more depth, perhaps the bandoneón is the instrument that best suits my personality. Like Tango, my disposition is full of contrasts, changes of atmosphere, opposite emotions. In my soul long notes, deep, acute, whispered, ringing notes light up, manifest very detached accents, irregular phrasings. All this is part of the vocabulary of Tango and the bandoneón expresses it in a natural way.

It is also an instrument to embrace, it dances with me. When I played it the first time I understood why I had left the piano many years before, I couldn't embrace the piano. However, I like to try not to forget that the bandoneón is an "instrument", it is not the goal, in a certain sense it is a tool used to build something else.

How did you discover the bandoneón?

About twenty years ago I was working as a researcher in Materials Physics at the Synchrotron of Trieste. I had studied music since childhood, then the piano at the Conservatory but, when I arrived at the university, enthusiasm for science had prevailed. Then I started dancing, first the Caribbean dances and then the Argentine Tango. Tango revived my desire to play. First I took up the piano again, then I picked up a bandoneón, a black Premier from my friend Giorgio Marega, and I understood that that that was my musical instrument.

Tell us about your study experience in Rotterdam.

In 2006 I bought my first bandoneón, a very simple brand new from Gutjahr's. A short time later, due to a leg injury, I found myself stuck at home for three months with a lot of time available, and I started studying for real.

Six months later I quit my job and enrolled in the Codarts, the Rotterdam Conservatory where there is is an Academy dedicated to Argentine Tango and bandoneón. I moved to Holland for the entire 4-year course of study. I could talk a lot about those years. One of the aspects that I really appreciated and that I like to remember here is the ability of that education system to always be connected to the reality of a musician's professional life: after a few months I did the first concert with the Orquesta Tipica of the school; transcription and arrangement are practiced continuously, a lot of ensemble music is made and students' initiative in proposing the repertoire and internal collaborations is encouraged.

Furthermore, the Department of Tango coexists closely with those of other genres usually cataloged as World Music, flamenco, Latin music, Indian and Turkish classical music and this continuously generates new stimuli; for example, for practical exercise in a pedagogy course, I gave bandoneón lessons to an Indian music student who in turn taught me a little bit of sitar.

Tell us about your experience with Tango Spleen.

My experience with Tango Spleen begins even before I finish my studies in Rotterdam. Mariano Speranza came to Holland to meet me and invited me to join them for a tour in Argentina in 2011: therefore, a month after graduation, I had my first concert with Tango Spleen at the Festival of La Falda in Argentina. After 9 years together and hundreds of concerts all over the world, this group continues to amaze me and to regenerate itself even if, as we know, Italy is not the easiest country to make music a real profession.

Some notable memories: the first concert with the Argentine tenor Marcelo Alvarez in Moscow; the applause of 1500 tangueros at the Tarbes Festival in France; the first time at the Rossetti Theater in Trieste. When I was a child my parents took me to that theater on the evenings of the Concert Society, perhaps hoping that one day I would perform on that prestigious stage, certainly not imagining that I would do it one day with this strange instrument. Of this memory I have the joy of my mother in the audience and the regret that my father - a great music lover - left us too early to be there with me on that occasion.

Do you want to tell us how you can prepare a new song? What is your study method?

I don't know if there is a universal recipe. In general, first of all I need to know it, listen to the recordings, try to familiarize myself with music and understand its meaning. Only then I can pick up the instrument. From a technical point of view, my fundamental principle is to isolate the difficulties and find creative solutions to avoid consolidating errors as much as possible. It is, above all, a mental work. And then I believe it is fundamental to be aware that "studying" is different from "playing": technical improvement does not take place simply by playing a song many and many times, but with specific and targeted work on technical difficulties. In this musicians should learn a lot from athletes.

We know that you propose an interesting concert for bandoneón solo, "The breath of two continents": what is it about?

It is a concert story. The program is quite varied, from traditional tango to Piazzolla, Argentine folklore, classical music. The protagonist is the bandoneón, which becomes a kind of travel companion that expresses itself through its breath. It is a wide breath, both for the variety of musical genres that I propose, both for the ideal route that takes us from Europe, where the instrument was born, to South America where it has established, and back to Europe and the rest of the world where it is proposed today as a complete instrument with which also deal with other musical genres.

Francesco Bruno, italian bandoneón player and his musical works.

It's an intimate concert, between one song and another I tell something about this "musical journey" and about my experience. We once proposed it as an interlude in the middle of a milonga, and I was surprised by the attention and participation of the public that "put the dance aside" for one hour and accompanied me on this completely musical experience.

3 musicians who are (or have been) fundamental to your education.

There are several, at various levels. If we talk about music that I have never stop listening I could say Antonin Dvorak, Simon & Garfunkel or maybe Sexteto Mayor.

Talking more specifically about my bandoneón training, surely I can say Victor Villena, who was my main bandoneón teacher in Rotterdam. Victor taught me the fundamental of the instrument, both from a technical and interpretative point of view. I speak about all those things that are hardly accessible to a self-taught musician, the deep technique that goes beyond the keyboard.

Then, more than a musician I would remember a group, which is the whole Tango Spleen Orquesta, in particular Mariano Speranza and Andrea Marras, from whom I learned what it means to make music. They are two complementary personalities, capable of making music that always goes in search of a meaning, a musical reason.

Finally I could remember all the Codarts students I met and played with during my years in Holland. Regardless of the artistic quality of each one, thanks to them I have experienced an international vision of making music, a continuous comparison of cultures and mentalities, the awareness of being part of a world - not only musically - much wider and richer than that where I grew up.

Which advice do you have for those who want to start studying bandoneón?

I recommend trying. Maybe even just to realize that it is not the type of instrument for them, or that they do not have enough time to dedicate to it. There is nothing worse than harboring a wish without trying to satisfy it. But if you succeed well, it's better of course.

Another tip is to trust experts for choosing the tool. The bandoneón market is a narrow niche, it is almost always a matter of buying and selling from private individuals, it is necessary to know how to evaluate the conditions of the instrument and its real value.

Finally, learning from a good teacher especially if you are not already a musician; there are many technical aspects that are not very intuitive in the technique of this instrument.

And of course you need to arm yourself with patience, especially at the beginning when you fight a bit with the keyboards.

What future do you see for the bandoneón?

I believe the potential of the bandoneón is still largely unexpressed, especially outside of the Tango. In the last years I participated in projects of classical and contemporary music, progressive rock, pop music and songwriting, and I realized that the expressive versatility our instrument permit the bandoneón player to "wear many different clothes".

Of course, to venture into other genres requires first of all a certain technical mastery and sensitivity to understand the right interpretation, to understand what original contribution we can make to music.

I think there is still a long way to go, and this path obviously starts with study and training. I am pleased to see that, as already happens for example in Holland or France,also in Italy start to take shape structured courses and good educational initiatives. The challenge, in my opinion, is played on the ability to attract young people, who can have time, dedication and energy to invest in studying.

Francesco Bruno, bandoneón player graduated at CODARTS, Rotterdam with Victor Villena.

The other unknown aspect is about the instruments. We have vintage instruments that are now a century old and are increasingly difficult to find. The brand new instruments often fail to replicate that particular sound that everyone is looking for. It is not yet clear, at least to me, what the bandoneón of the future will be . Certainly, however, if the bandoneónists community manages to grow both in number and in terms of quality, it will perhaps be possible to create the basis for investments in the development of new instruments of ever better quality.

What are your projects for the future?

In addition to the consolidated activity with Tango Spleen, I am undertaking an in-depth study on "ancient" music : Bach, Frescobaldi, etc. There is a large repertoire which is suitable for bandoneón but which has almost always been relegated to technical study material. Instead, I like the idea of facing that material starting from music and confronting myself with that language by putting the bandoneón at the service of that repertoire, rather than the opposite. it's a demanding path, but the results are rewarding.

About Tango, I recently started a stimulating collaboration with the Argentine pianist Juan Rivero, formerly a member of the Sexteto Milonguero and now living in Italy.

With Juan there is a good understanding and we already have a complete repertoire for the milonga. Unfortunately, the pandemic stopped the launch of this proposal after a first performance in Turin, but we are ready to start again as soon as possible.

Contacts and Web links

Francesco Bruno on Facebook
Francesco Bruno on Instagram
Francesco Bruno on YouTube
Francesco Bruno's website

Tango Spleen
Tango Spleen on Facebook
Tango Spleen on Instagram
Tango Spleen on YouTube
Tango Spleen on Spotify
Tango Spleen's website

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