Piombo: Music for Primo Levi

January 12, 2023

Photo by Alexa Hoyer
Photo by Alexa Hoyer.

Magazzino Italian Art Announces Piombo: Music for Primo Levi: A Concert by Luciano Chessa and Frances-Marie Uitti

Magazzino Italian Art | 2700 Route 9, Cold Spring, NY
Saturday, January 21, 2023 | 12PM

Cold Spring, New York | January, 12, 2023 —Magazzino Italian Art is pleased to announce Piombo: Music for Primo Levi, a concert by Luciano Chessa and Frances-Marie Uitti in collaboration with the Centro Primo Levi in New York. The 60-minute concert was inspired by Primo Levi, an Italian-Jewish writer, chemist, and Holocaust survivor, and crafted in commemoration of the forthcoming Giornata della Memoria—the International Holocaust Remembrance Day observed every year on January 27th. The performance will feature two musical pieces: Quest[o] / Una meditazione and Piombo, both composed in 2022.

In an interview with Alessandro Cassin for the Centro Primo Levi, Chessa shared that he first encountered Levi’s story “Piombo”—the Italian term for the element lead—through Bob Weil, the executive editor at Liveright and the publisher of Levi’s complete works. In Levi’s book Il Sistema Periodico (The Periodic Table), “Piombo” is a chapter about Rodmund, a mining prospector on an expedition-come-odyssey to find lead. Chessa felt his discovery of “Piombo” was predestined; conjuring memories of his upbringing in Sassari, Sardinia, and his studies in cultural anthropology at the University of Bologna. In the case of “Piombo,” Chessa appreciated Levi’s departure from his analytic scientific mind into the realm of dreams. Emulating Levi’s sense of adventure in his composition, Chessa aspired to write a piece that would spark curiosity and devotion in the listener from the music’s inception to its conclusion.

Chessa wrote the piece for Frances-Marie Uitti, a world-renowned cellist celebrated for pushing the boundaries of traditional instrumental technique. As the musicians began to collaborate, they bonded over a shared admiration of Levi’s writing and reflected on conceptual notions of the element lead. Uitti offered insight into how to successfully write for her “2bow” method and how to integrate a scordatura—a retuning of open strings— exploring opportunities for a wider sound spectrum. To compliment Uitti’s aluminum cello, Chessa and Uitti will introduce lead objects, bells, and obsidian to further expand the timbre palette. 

For the premier of Piombo at Magazzino Italian Art, Chessa and Uitti will pair the piece with Quest[o]—a co-composition with improvisational counterpart to complete the performance. Conceived by Chessa and Uitti, Quest[o] / Una meditazione meditates on the term “questo” (this) as it appears in the title of Levi’s most renowned book: Se questo è un uomo (If This is a Man), an account of the writer’s experiences in Auschwitz. “Questo” and “quest” are false cognates that this musical work connects. Whereas “questo” is the wronged humanity to which Primo Levi points us to look at, “quest” is the search implicit in making everyone a witness, someone implicated and prompted to respond. Together, the performance promises to offer the full range of Chessa and Uitti’s mastery of adaptation, invention, and anima.

After the New York premiere at Magazzino Italian Art, Piombo will travel to California.

About Luciano Chessa

Luciano Chessa is a composer, conductor, audiovisual/performance artist, and music historian. Chessa’s compositions include A Heavenly Act, an opera commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Cromlech, an organ piece written for Melbourne’s Town Hall Organ; and Cena oltranzista nel castelletto al lago, an opera merging experimental theater with reality TV. Chessa has created multiple works commissioned by the Performa Biennial. In 2014, he presented three events at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum as part of the exhibition Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe. Chessa’s work has appeared in Artforum, Flash Art, Art in America, and Frieze; and has been featured in the Italian issue of Marie Claire and in the September Issue of Vogue Italia. As a music historian, Chessa specializes in 20th century Italian and 21st century American repertoire. He is the author of Luigi Russolo Futurist. Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult (2012), the first book dedicated to Russolo and his “Art of Noise.” In 2009, his Orchestra of Futurist Noise Intoners (OFNI) was hailed by the New York Times as one of the best events of the year. Chessa has conducted this project around the world at venues such as Rockefeller Center in New York, RedCat in Los Angeles, the New World Center in Miami, Radial System / Maerzmusik-Berliner Festspiele, the ArtScience Museum in Singapore, and Lisbon’s Municipal Theater. In the Winter 2018, while in residency at the Steel House in Rockland, ME, he developed the audiovisual installation #00FF00 #FF00FF and prepared the diplomatic edition of Julius Eastman’s Symphony No. II for Schirmer. After publication, he conducted the piece’s premiere at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.

About Frances-Marie Uitti

Frances-Marie Uitti cellist/composer, is known for inventing a radical method of playing with two bows simultaneously in the right hand. Through her 2bows technique, she can create 4, 3, and 2 part chords and play non adjacent strings, while the left hand is free to define pitches. She has invented over 250 different resonators that alter the color, dynamics, amplify beats as well as subharmonics below the C string, and designed electric instruments including her 6-string electric cello and her all-sensor 12-string double-bridged cello. Her work has been published by Contemporary Music Review, Cambridge University Press, Granta, Tempo, Muziektexte, and Arcana, among others. Uitti has given master classes to composers and string players at Yale, Stanford, Juilliard, and Harvard among many others. Her compositions have earned her a Fromm Foundation Grant, an award from the National Endowments for the Arts, a residency at Civitella Ranieri, commissions from the Holland Festival, Festival di Como, Biennale di Venezia, ICM London, National Sawdust NYC, and Ircam. Her work has been released by ECM records, Etcetera, Cryptogrammophone, ZoAr, Mode, JdKrecords, Seraphin, and BVHaast. Uitti plays both an Italian cello from 1700s, and also an aluminum cello from the 1920’s. Luciano Chessa wrote Piombo for the unique sound created by this aluminum instrument. 

About Centro Primo Levi

Centro Primo Levi is a New York based organization inspired by the humanistic legacy of writer and chemist Primo Levi, who survived Auschwitz and became a fundamental reference in the discourse on history and memory in modern societies. CPL fosters education and debate on Primo Levi’s work and the history of Italian and Mediterranean Jews. Topics discussed in our public programs and academic seminars are disseminated through our online monthly Printed Matter and publishing endeavor, CPL Editions. The Center works closely with many organizations, including the New York Public Library, NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, The New School, Columbia University, CUNY, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, CENTRA Genova, and the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan. 

About Magazzino Italian Art

Located in Cold Spring, New York, Magazzino Italian Art is a museum and research center dedicated to advancing scholarship and public appreciation of postwar and contemporary Italian art in the United States. The nonprofit museum serves as an advocate for Italian artists as it celebrates the range of their creative practices from Arte Povera to the present. Through its curatorial, scholarly, and public initiatives, Magazzino explores the impact and enduring resonances of Italian art on a global level. 

Meaning “warehouse” in Italian, Magazzino was co-founded by Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu. The 20,000 square-foot museum, designed by Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo, opened its doors in 2017, creating a new cultural hub and community resource within the Hudson Valley. 

Admission is free to the public. 

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