“Adieu Massimo”

Feature "In 2018, Italian conductor Massimo Zanetti took over as Music Director, less than a year after the former conductor Sung Si-yeon left." Myeong Hyun HurThe Strad

In 2018, Italian conductor Massimo Zanetti took over as Music Director, less than a year after the former conductor Sung Si-yeon left.

What kind of conductor is he? I searched through my memory and remembered Massimo Zanetti on the Verdi Opera DVD I watched a long time ago.

In the video, there was a person who loved Verdi more passionately than anyone else, and that was Massimo Zanetti. A poster hanging at Suntory Hall in Tokyo also came to my mind: it was a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Yomiuri Nippon Orchestra. Since he was given the final concert of the their Season, I thought he must be considered a pretty
reliable conductor.

He comes to Korea to join the GPhil, performing for the first time in our Country. He received love calls from Japanese orchestras at the same time, but eventually chose to play in Korea. Why did he choose that? He answered back: “Isn’t it an orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti?”

Then he began to prepare for his inauguration concert with enthusiasm. The program’s highlight was a combination of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet three Suites. I wondered if his music would be exactly what I remembered. Sure enough, his music in the rehearsal room was very passionate. That’s right, he was that sincere about music. It seemed natural to lead to a successful inaugural concert. That’s how his first concert in Korea went.

2020 came and it was a tough year for both Gyeonggi Phil and Zanetti. With the Coronavirus raging, it was impossible for Massimo Zanetti to return from Italy to perform as soon as he wanted. In fact, it was very difficult for foreigners to enter Korea. In the summer, the whole situation looked better: a two-week self-isolation system was created and so Zanetti was able to stand on the Korean stage.

It was not easy to isolate in that harsh way and being alone. Later I asked Massimo why he made such a choice and he replied that he could endure self-isolation just fine. He respected the two weeks mandatory quarantine system for almost two years, until it disappeared: a total of over 5 months of self isolation.

He told me he spent time studying music, reading and cooking. I met with the host who manages his accommodation. She had never been to a concert hall before meeting Massimo. “I thought he was just a foreigner who came to Korea, I had no idea he was making such great music.” During quarantine, one of Massimo’s biggest concerns was his cat left at home- one day I found out that its name is Figaro – :as a cat owner, I’m well aware of this issue: several weeks away is a long time.

Massimo Zanetti really loves Italy, his country: it’s hard to express it just with the word “love”. When Italy won the Euro Cup 2020, there was a real up-roar, everyone I met started a conversation by talking about it. I’m not very interested in soccer, so I was bored. Thinking about it now… I’m sorry I wasn’t that responsive, my Maestro.

Of course his love for Italy is also reflected in the music, he is in fact keen of the Italian Composer Respighi. Therefore he decided to perform the complete Roman Trilogy at the Seoul Arts Center Orchestra Festivals: as a proud Italian, he thought it was his duty to properly perform Respighi in Korea.

He performed first Roman Festival and it was a great success, so much so that his reputation grew after the 2019 Orchestra Festival. Unfortunately due to the spread of Covid-19, it was impossible to perform a large orchestra piece at the 2020 Orchestra Festival. What program is he going to do now, instead of the second composition of Respighi’s Trilogy? Massimo decided for Mendelssohn 4th Symphony “Italian”. By doing that, he was still able to show wonderful music again.

The first project of 2022 was Mozart’s “Figaro’s marriage”. It was an overwhelming success. It was even more meaningful in Korea, where you can’t easily appreciate good opera performances. Only one conductor could have done this.

Already during the rehearsals the orchestra members were thrilled by Zanetti’s deep insight. I have a clear image of this opera in my mind but it sounded on a different level. Orchestra members were totally fascinated and had no choice but to follow him.
The two performances were precious and on a level that will be hard to replicate.

I think, if possible, I would have gone to the performances for a whole week. On the way home, the Arias didn’t leave my mind and all his ideas were so convincing. Indeed, I got why Massimo’s cat is called Figaro. Even after the opera production was over, Massimo remained in Korea to perform at the 2022 Orchestra Festival. The first half of this year was the longest consecutive period he has spent in the country: he completed the Schumann Symphonies Cycle, presented Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”
performed Respighi “Roman Fountains” and Debussy “ La mer” at the Festival in April , with no break for more than two months.

It was a challenge for the Orchestra and the conductor. Finally, the long schedule in Korea was over and one of the feedback was pretty surprising: Maestro’s hair were too long on stage! The long-haired maestro, who expected feedback on music, was embarrassed. But I found it really funny. In order to reassure worried fans, he sent me pictures of him with his hairdresser after the haircut as soon as he returned to Italy.

This Conductor gained a lot of popularity in Korea. Respighi “ Pines of Rome” presented at the 2021 Orchestra Festival is still a vivid memory; as an Encore he proposed Mascagni “ Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana”, a work that expresses a wish for a peaceful new Spring.

The message to us was clear. Italy was the country that suffered the most in the early stages of Covid-19. Massimo must have been desperate for his beloved country to get its normality back. Like the Pines of Rome, Italy also persevered. And then the day when Massimo Zanetti had to leave the GPhil approached. The last program was Verdi’s Requiem. It was the first and last Verdi in his term.

Ironically, I watched all the performances he conducted in Korea, but I didn’t get to watch the last one. I could only hear it from home because I was confirmed to be infected with COVID-19. During the rehearsal period there were many difficulties due to the pandemic. The scheduled Bass singer had to be replaced just before the first concert for health reasons, and the World’s best Bass, with the smoothest voce, was luckily in Korea. Yeon Kwang-chul, an old friend of Massimo, rushed to Suwon in a heartbeat. And the last performance was especially touching.

After the last notes with the Gyeonggi Phil, Massimo lowered his arms and couldn’t look back. I would have wanted to personally greet the audience who loved him and GPhil so far, and tears came to my eyes. On stage he talked only with music but he still managed to leave a message to the audience.

Few hours left before the end of his term, he said : “Thank you for your sincere appreciation, without it we wouldn’t have achieved as much as we have. The love you gave me will be cherished forever in my heart. The journey between me and the GPhil stops here, but please keep loving my Gyeonngi Phil’s kids as much as you do now. It’s an orchestra worth it. I will miss you a lot. I hope you stay healthy until the day we meet again”.

Goodbye Maestro, your friend Mr. Hur