The only thing I knew about her was that she is a conductor, and I concluded she must be from Italy due to her name. But apart from that, she was completely unknown to me. Then I understood the weight of this interview. Nil is only 24 years old (not yet) and is one of the world’s youngest conductors. She had concerts all over the world, she played alongside the most famous instrumentalists and she has barely finished school. Even tough at 20 she won Italy’s title of best conductor, she is the kind of person that likes to hug anyone, wants to change the world and wears dark jeans and a backpack. She’s an energetic young woman who does not believe in boundaries and has a contagious smile. This is how she showed up for the interview. That’s when I realized what a valuable person I have in front of me. I was curious to find out what is that sets her apart from the rest of us. She has dreams of her own, like any of us, she has fears, she had problems at school, but most importantly, she has a passion that she follows no matter what. She is small, but she conducts big orchestras of the world. She believes that “life without music is a mistake” but she prefers silence in her spare time. I think Nil is one of the persons we should be studying about as role models to follow in school, she should represent motivation for each of us, younger or older than her.
She brought something special on Sibiu’s philharmonic stage, she turned the traditional Thursday concert into something almost theatrical, filling the auditorium with her energy. Before beginning to play a composer she told a little story connected to what she was going to play. I had the feeling she was taming the violin bows that were pointed towards her. It felt like she was not conducting but dancing with the orchestra. “It was so Nil”
For how long have you being doing music?
Nil Venditti: I’ve been playing cello since I was 6. Afterwards, I graduated the Conservatory here in Italy. I have a Bachelor and Master degree in cello and a Bachelor and Master degree in conducting. Now I’m studying for the second master in conducting.
When did you decide you will be a musician for the rest of your life?
Nil Venditti: I think I was 10, I was in Conservatory in Perugia, Italy, and there was this girl. She was very tall. I think she was 18 but she seemed like a giant to me probably because I was a kid at that time. And she asked me `What do you want to do when you grow up?’ and I told her `I’ll either work for NASA or I’m going to be a musician. But probably I’ll do music for the rest of my life… yes…I just decided, I’m going to be a musician.’ And it seems that indeed at that moment I have decided that, without knowing what this world is about. (laugh)
What do you think is happening to classical music? It seems to me there’s not much interest in classical music nowadays…
Nil Venditti: That’s true and I’m doing all that I can to change this and bring back classical music in teenagers’ lives. Pop music is really easy to understand, create, remember, it is something superficial. It doesn’t tell you all the things that classical music can, which can reach the deepest human emotions. Apart from that, there’s this preconception among teenagers, and not only them, that you must dress formal for philharmonic and that you must act in certain ways. But that’s far from the truth! Actually, during Mozart’s lifetime people would eat, talk and clap at the concerts, it was a meeting place, a sort of cinema of our days. It is only after Wagner, unfortunately, that classical music had become some sort of museum. You arrive there, sit down, listen quietly and then leave. I hate this! Somehow we need to revive classical music.
You said in an interview you’d like to `change the world through music’.
Nil Venditti: I always wanted to change the world and the thing that I can do best is music. So, then I end up saying I want to change the world trough music. I really believe this world lacks love and music is about love. It’s about life actually, but life itself is about love. This is what I want to pass on to the orchestra and to the public with every concert I have. I believe we all should change the world through what we do best.
...music is essential in a society’s structure.
How important is musical education for children, the future adults?
Nil Venditti: It is very important for several reasons. First of all, your brain works much more if you do music, it deals with multiple tasks at the same time. This way they develop their intelligence. For example, when you play an instrument, no matter which one, each hand has a different movement, it guides itself after a different score. Second of all, music is essential in a society’s structure. When you play in an orchestra absolutely everybody has to collaborate with the others. There’s no person more important than the other. That is why the orchestra is the perfect example of democracy. It is a concept that you unwillingly adopt the moment you play music. I think it’s really important, but unfortunately not many people think like me.
In Italy we only study music in elementary school and then we stop. To be honest I also got bored when I was 13 and they taught me the history of music. I didn’t care much about the music of the ancient Greek people when I was 13, it was the last of my thoughts. And I’m a musician. You have to do things with purpose. For example, Jaquinno Rossini, an Italian composer in the 19th century, loved eating and tried a lot of recipes that he created. Why don’t we teach his music trough his recipes? Music is full of examples like this. Why don’t we read Mozart’s letters? They are full of cursing and swearing. He did not talk very nicely. We should read this, have a laugh and then study Mozart’s work.
You are half Turkish and half Italian. How do these two nationalities coexist? Did they have an influence of any sort on your view on arts, on music?
Nil Venditti: As an Italian person I understand European music very well, classical music is in my blood, but somehow I can also understand all the Turkish rhythms. They have a completely different way of understanding music and way of feeling any beat. Also, this way I have a bigger repertoire that I can interpret naturally.
Does the fact that you are a pro motivate you to be better?
Nil Venditti: No. When something goes well I actually do the opposite. I tell myself is not ok to let it go when it’s good. You cannot be prepared for every problem and sometimes I’m not prepared and I have to work for it. And then, of course, it goes really well. That’s the key moment for me to keep studying and working because is very risky for me to let it go. I need to be careful with this.
Fazil Say described you as `one of the best conductors of this century’.
Nil Venditti: He’s my mentor, a great pianist and composer. He’s one of the greatest pianists nowadays and he makes music in a way that always shocks me. I conduct many of his pieces. We had 5 concerts together and he came up with this sentence, a very tough sentence. I have to keep up. When someone gives you this kind of compliments, you feel pressured to maintain the expectations high, but it’s part of the game. People like him played with a lot of people. He had 10 concerts a month for 30 years, so he really played with a lot of people. But if he said a sentence like this, it must mean that he really saw something he particularly liked about me, a spark, and what I should do is not lose that. It’s very difficult, but every day I do everything in my power not to lose it. That’s why I’m always very humble. When you start to think `I’m the best conductor’ is the moment you lose the game. So, I always keep studying, keep an open eye on everything.
How do you see celebrity? Is it affecting your learning?
Nil Venditti: I want to stay humble and I always thank God that the celebrities I met were normal people, behaving natural and I love this. I think all the people should be like this. We make music and that is very important to us. Everywhere around us is noise: interviews, management, concerts, money, video cameras and people, all this distracts you. You have to keep concentrating on music.
What about social media?
Nil Venditti: I hate that! I have to be pretty active, even though I’m not as active as people want me to be, because people follow me. I’m losing so much time! Do you know how much time it takes to make a nice post? But I know it’s very important. I met so many people since I’m travelling. Not only musicians. Simple people, people that liked me, wrote to me, we met and now we’re friends. It’s so nice sometimes when I get drawings from 5 years old girls. They draw me conducting and then they start to conduct in front of the mirror. Their parents send me these drawing and they’re so nice. But I waste so much time commenting and writing messages.
How long did it take you to create all this philosophy of music? You are so young and you already have a philosophy of focus.
Nil Venditti: I had to build a “defense wall”. I am a woman and I’m young. When I am in front of an orchestra I have in front of me 100 instrumentalists and most of them have been playing in that orchestra long before I was born. It’s a very uncomfortable situation. They have to do what I say, an even more uncomfortable situation.
Do you feel there’s is a stereotype in mentality?
Nil Venditti: Yes. Imagine if a 3 years old kid tells you what you have to do, how would you react? The solution I found to this is being very humble and always smile and concentrate. I make it about music because that way nobody can come against me. If I were to make it about me then people will be pointing the finger at me `you’re young, you’re a woman, who do you think you are’. They’ll start discriminating me. When I make it about music I don’t have such problems because they see it is not about me, it’s about what we are doing together.
Is there a gender problem?
Nil Venditti: People ask me this question all the time. They all expect to hear this answer: YES! But, actually, my answer is always NO, not at all. It’s the same. A man has exactly my same problems and difficulties. Music is not about gender. It is true that if I’m a woman and I don’t do a good job, people will say it is because I’m a woman. But if I’m good and a man is good then it’s the same. I’ve never had a problem, and I do conduct in places like Turkey where the women situation is not one of the best.
Tell me about your relationship with your parents.
Nil Venditti: (Visible joy) I love them! My parents love each other and they loved me and my brother a lot. I have a little brother. Well little… 19 years old. My parents are amazing. I’m the only musician in my family. My father is a dentist and my mum was just mum, as a job, and she was super supportive. She took me to every concert. For 10 years she drove me from Perugia to Rome where I had concerts every Saturday and Sunday. Which meant that for 10 years she didn’t have one weekend with her husband. But they love each other very much. They shower together every day at 2 o’clock. They’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve seen this in my home since forever. This is my understanding of love.
Have you been bullied as a teen in school?
Nil Venditti: Yes, actually, a lot. But you want to know from whom? Not from my friends or classmates, but from my teachers. There was this Conservatory which was like a university, you can get in at the age of 10, as I did, you don’t necessarily have to finish high school to join. The normal school where you read books was in the morning and in the afternoon was the other one, the Conservatory, where you can get in at any age, a sort of extra-school activity. So, in the mornings I went to the normal school, like everybody, and then in the afternoons I was in the Conservatory which lasted for 10 years. And the teachers in my normal school were saying `music is a hobby, not a serious thing’, but actually the Conservatory was very serious. I was literally going to two schools, where everybody gave homework. They were bullying me a lot, they were making fun and started being against me. I was very good at school, I had to be like that. School was very important to me and I always tried to make everything perfect, but they were ALWAYS against me. I had so many fights in school because of this and because I had to go from time to time to play. They were thinking `that’s just a hobby and she can’t stay at home to practice’, but for my classmates who were in the football team this was fine, they could go and practice without a problem.
I have this story from my last year of high school. In Italy, after 5 years of high school you get a final exam that is really important. I went to a scientific high school, so mathematics was a really important subject. And I’m very good at math, I love it. Our exam takes 6 hours, but you can’t leave earlier than 3 hours, even if you’ve finished the paper. You have 2 problems and 10 questions, but to pass the exam you only need to solve one problem and 5 questions. You have to choose. So, I was at the mock exam and I finished after one hour. `What do I do, what do I do?’ Then I copied the whole test again to make it look nicer, but I still got another hour. `What do I do, what do I do?’ I solved all the rest because I had nothing else to do. And then I marked the pages and gave it to the teacher. The next day the professor came in front of the class and he said `Do you know what you did…? You finished the whole test!’ And I was like `Ow, ya, I’m sorry, I had time and I couldn’t go out.’ And he said `And now what do I correct?’ I said `I put the numbers on the pages, so you just go page 1, then page 2….’ And he goes `No. You come with me to the principle of the school’. And this man, the high school principle, said exactly this `You do music, right?’, `Yes’, `Do you think you’re a creative person?’, `Yes, I do music, I do arts, I think so.’, `Do you know how we call in psychology creative people?’, `No, how?’, `Divergent. How did you dare to do this? Because you are no better than the others, you have to stick to the rules. Do not do this anymore because it’s not fair. It’s a school, you all have to be the same. You cannot be the one that does what you want’, and then my teacher added `And plus, I don’t know what to correct.’ And to him I said `You can correct everything you want. Everything is correct!’. And guess what? I got a 10 because everything was indeed correct! That is how I remember my last day in school, because I didn’t go to school anymore until the exam.
I suffered so much that even today I don’t have the courage to go back to school and take my diploma. It’s still there, in school. I didn’t have the courage to go there because they broke me so much and I have such a psychological block that I simply can’t. It was hard because I loved school, I loved studying, I was good but still they bullied me… Even when I pass by the school with the car I don’t look in that direction. I keep looking straight ahead.
What other types of music are you listening to when you don’t listen to classical music?
Nil Venditti: I work the whole day which means I listen to rehearsals and study, so when I’m free I don’t listen to music. I do music all day. If your job is to write all day, would you write in your free time? But when I’m with friends and they put some light music is relaxing. To me, music is work, I can’t do other things while listening to music. I usually conduct or beat the rhythm, it takes up all my attention.
Are you happy with the educational system you’ve been through?
Nil Venditti: I’ve been through a very good educational system. My school was very demanding and that was very important. I read every important Italian writer from Dante to Petrarch, Boccaccio or today’s writers. I studied Latin, ancient Greek and it was very important, even if at that moment I didn’t understand why. To me is very useful now because when I do Requiem and it’s in Latin I understand the language. Or when I visit a church and it’s something written in Latin I can understand and translate it… But I would certainly add music to everything I did, for understanding the world. I didn’t study geography in school that much, I just had a vague idea. But now that I travel I can say that I know geography. I would have liked to learn more of it because nowadays everything is so connected. If something happens, for example, in China, it relates to Rome, and everything is so linked. We have to know geography because we are citizens of the whole world, we’re not only Italians or only Romanians.
I saw you have a Romanian composer in your repertoire, George Enescu.
Nil Venditti: The Romanian Rhapsody, more specifically, because I participated in a competition in Bucharest and it was part of the contest’s repertoire. There are these less known composers that have good pieces of music and you have to bring them in front of the public. Also, for young conductors, it is very useful to bring something new. If I do, for example, Tchaikovsky 6, everybody will be like `Come on, we’ve heard this thousand times!’
I would love to study more of Enescu’s repertoire because I loved The Rhapsody. It was a great piece!
Do you have fears?
Nil Venditti: I am afraid of bees because I’m allergic to them and I’m afraid of not finding a person that will stay by my side.
Do you feel you are living your childhood dream?
Nil Venditti: Yes. I feel like I won the lottery and I’m on the right chair. I have to be very careful not to go down. It’s difficult when you reach a certain level and you’re not allowed to go down from there. You always have to either stay at that level or to go up. That’s pretty hard and stressful.
What is your actual dream?
Nil Venditti: Find a person that will stay with me for the rest of my life. But this person has a very hard job because my life is not easy. I mean, I am an easy person, but my life is full of travelling, concerts… And so, this person should be really patient and it’s difficult to find one.
Recommend me a book and a piece of music.
Nil Venditti: Mozart 29th Symphony and „Novecento” by Alessandro Baricco. The movie `The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean’ got inspired from this book.
author: Teodora Minea
photo credits: Artografica