Ottavio Dantone, the Italian keyboardist and conductor, is the Filippo Inzaghi of the early music world – a Baroque expert who once brought his considerable heading skills to the youth teams of AC Milan. Discover how he became interested in music and his work with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, as well as his surprising footballing background.
How did you become interested in classical music?
In my family, nobody was a musician. My father was a tailor and my mother used to help him in his workroom. When I was 5 years old, my parents offered me a small keyboard toy. I don’t know how I did but I learned to read and write music alone, by myself. When I was 10, I became a singer in the boys’ choir of Milan Cathedral. There, I had my first piano and organ lessons and I got familiar with the 16th century polyphony, but I could already compose music on my own.
You were in the AC Milan Youth Team – what does football mean to you and why you didn’t pursue that career but instead chose classical music?
Playing football gave me lots of emotions and taught me many things. I learned what love for your team and its colours means, I discovered real friendship and what results you can obtain thanks to harmony and shared intention. Still now I’m in contact with my ex-football partners and lots of them come to my concerts when they can.
I’ve always been a supporter of AC Milan. When I was 13, I used to play in a team which was controlled by AC Milan. They asked my father if I was interested in entering the football school and to study there. But I chose to get into the conservatory instead. Anyway, I played football at a semi-professional level till I was 27.
Do you think there are any parallels between the worlds of classical music and football?
I’ve always thought that the sense of rhythm, or the harmony and the synchronization of movements are important factors also in football. I was particularly skilful with headers and I think that choosing the right timing to jump, to wait an instant for the ball and to hit it at the perfect moment have helped me a lot.
Of course, football can also be a metaphor of life, society and of a musical ensemble too. The coach has the responsibility of choosing, (like the conductor), there are persons with more or less genius, personality, imagination and fantasy (like the soloist), but to get the best result, you need the game and harmony of the whole team, where everybody is important and indispensable.
What do you feel about the Bach family programme you perform with the OAE?
J.S. Bach is the composer I love the best because he was able to blend the maximal musical science with maximal emotion. Besides, he assimilated the Italian, French and of course German style to be able to write the most beautiful Italian and French music. He then succeeded, through his personal style, in realising the musical ideal of the Age of Enlightenment: to create the perfect style which includes them all.
His sons, according to me, are fundamental (more than Mozart himself) in the transformation of the musical language between Baroque and Romanticism. The programme that we perform clearly demonstrates it.
Ottavio Dantone is director/ harpsichord for Bach: A Family Affair, performed at St John’s Smith Square on Sunday 30 October 2016.