- Turun Sanomat
- Le Monde
- L’Unità (Rome)
- Berlingske Tidence (Copenaghen)
- Svenska Dagbladet (Stoccolma)
- Der Bund (Berna)
- Il Tempo (Rome)
- Classical Guitar Magazine UK
- Cervantes (Napoli)
- 5th Fret Germany
- Intervista Guitart
- Corriere della Sera
- Helsingin Sanomat
- Julicher Nachrichten
- Il Messaggero 
- Il Messaggero 
- Kieler Nachrichten
- CGM UK Derby
- CGM Mirrors
- Helsingin Kitaraseura
Conservatoire-alike sterile purity and form stands far from Ambrosio’s playing as far as the moon stands from the earth… This guitarist lives the music with fire-alike passion and with each one of his cells… Experience, confidence and joy, in Ambrosio’s playing, were shining like the Sun itself and a sovereign, over human technique allowed him to perform even the craziest jumps.
So, how did I like it?
“Like hell !”
This astounding virtuoso musician has simply seized his audience in less than four beats with his incredible skill at playing, his powerful sonority and rich colours, his amazing technique. And this is not all, there’s still this authentic music that surpasses all the technical aspects to bewitch the audience in every moment
….we experienced how clear and rich of timbrical and dynamical possibilities the sonority of the lute can be . The audience was charmed and transported by the refined phrasing and warm intense sound although light and balanced.
Only a slight number of performers can stimulate the senses of the listener by their presence, he his a perfectionist, this is shown by the fact that he manages his instruments in a sensual way and at the same time with respect; it’s a pleasure to listen and watch him in action
…what Carlo Ambrosio has been able to offer at the Bern Konzerthalle was the highest tribute and homage to the Reinassance lute and to the music written for it!
His stylistic characteristics, display an elegant touch, with precious tones and talent that happily elaborates a range of colours, in the remarkable cultural penetration.
Two Days with Carlo Ambrosio
It is a warm April day and an agent for Beijing Eurovista, student/driver Wen Yi Ming (闻一鸣) and I, are waiting at Beijing International Airport for the arrival of Carlo Ambrosio. After a brief while the man came in to view, understandably somewhat tired, having just taken a long flight from Rome. He was carrying not only a small bag and his classical guitar, but also another strange looking instrument case. With the greetings and introductions over, we asked about this. He mentioned that he would be playing parts of his tour using the renaissance lute, an instrument that is quite uncommon in China, as well as the classical guitar. Heading to Tianjin, we learnt that Carlo also studied the cello and plays the piano, as well as having previously studied both composition and conducting – in fact, Carlo believes “it’s important to have a knowledge of music that goes beyond your instrument”. Besides his music skill, Carlo speaks English completely fluently, is an accomplished potter, artist and an organic farmer – in short, a polymath.
After arriving and getting settled in Tianjin, Carlo was invited to have a meal with the head of the guitar department at Tianjin Conservatory of Music, He Qing (何青), masters degree student Chen Ling (陈凌), Wen Yi Ming and my self. Over our selection of traditional Tianjin dishes – jellyfish, boiled fish, dumplings and the like – we learned that similar to many guitarists, Carlo started playing the guitar at an early age. He was totally besotted by classical music after attending a Rachmaninoff piano and orchestra concerto when he was only five years old. Although many great guitarists began playing at a very early age, Carlo is quite unlike them in many respects, principally because by the age of 30, he had already ‘succeeded’ in the business and enjoyed considerable success, performing over 150 gigs a year. From his viewpoint at that time, there was ‘nothing left to achieve’, and he decided to retire from touring and playing the classical guitar.
Although music was still part of his life, Carlo no longer wanted the stress of touring, which had taken a considerable toll on his health, personal life and general well-being. Upon finishing a concert in Valencia in 1989, he did not perform for another 13 years. During this period, although still loving and being involved with music, he completely gave up classical guitar performances. After this period of absence, which he jokingly refers to as a ‘sabbatical’, he began to take up the guitar again and realized that he in fact did have a lot more to offer, particularly with regards to teaching.
Carlo described how previously he had held teaching positions at prestigious conservatories, but as a teacher at that time he felt he had failed in two very important areas. He believes that during that younger period, he was unable to install neither confidence nor enthusiasm in his students because he did not disassociate the role of performer from that of teacher. This was particularly evident as many students looked up to him and saw him as having a completely ‘impossible’ level of guitar mastery which was disheartening for them.
After discussing one of the younger members of the guitar department, Carlo told us how in recent years, during his summer guitar teaching programs in Italy he requires all students to perform, every night in the local towns; furthermore, in order to develop confidence he encourages the more timid students to perform with him so that they may develop and enjoy his support and encouragement. He then enquired if this student would be attending the master class, to which He Qing replied he would be.
After dinner, and taking a somewhat unusual ride in a taxi ‘pimped out’ with neon blue lights and heavy metal music, we arrived at a café, favored by young Chinese and foreigners alike. Whilst relaxing, Carlo explained his frustrations with the music business. He stated “It’s a dark moment for culture in general and for classical music in particular in the world these days. Money no longer flows as it did in the 80s and 90s and royalties wouldn’t pay neither your bills nor mine…” Furthermore he believes that the classical guitar is being ‘butchered’ today, with many aseptic guitar performances being given to audiences unable to distinguish good from rather average playing, and similarly, a lot of the teaching is simply not up to scratch. He believes that generally technique has improved although this has come at the expense of the very soul of the guitar, with no glissandos, vibratos, and tone colours so that, in his words, “the instrument is becoming more and more like a poor harpsichord, but with less extension and far less repertoire”. Carlo is quite open and passionate about his views, which consequently has probably not ingratiated him to many within the classical guitar establishment.
The following day, whilst shopping for a few souvenirs before the master class, Carlo elaborated more on his comments from the previous day, first asking whether students at the conservatory used the angled or straight right hand position and what guitars they would be using. He believes that a guitar should be made of spruce and rosewood as other woods just don’t have the same quality of sound. Likewise he considers that the right hand playing technique should be straight, and not angled, as this gives the best control for guitar performance and the widest range of timbres and tone colours. Certainly, when teaching students, Carlo makes allowances for differences in technique and guitars, but he does have very rigorous views on this matter.
For Carlo, sound and tone are everything – for his album Mirrors, he spent 3 months learning to play naturally on a small 1849 Juan Maria Garzia guitar to get the perfect sound. In a similar vein he spent considerable time researching strings to get ‘the right sound’ on his other albums, and furthermore, extensively researched the composers of the music in order to interpret the pieces in a way that he feels more authentic. Carlo takes these issues very seriously indeed; for him, the guitar is an integral part of his identity; any sloppiness or half hearted treatment of the instrument, especially in professional circles, is almost seen as a personal affront.
After lunch, whilst walking to the conservatory, Carlo was asked about composition. He laments the fact that none of the great 18th and 19th century composers specifically wrote for guitar and that during the 20th century there were very few new, great pieces, for the instrument either; although he is however especially fond of Britten’s Nocturnal and a number of pieces by Henze, Walton, and Bennett, amongst a few others. He is also somewhat critical of Segovia for not encouraging the great composers of his day (Stravinsky, Bartok et al) to write for guitar whilst focusing too much on often quite cheap Iberian style music.
In further clarifying his views, he stated that one of the biggest problems with guitar composers (i.e. those that use the guitar exclusively as their composition tool) is that they rely too much on familiar patterns and runs which are played on the guitar. Although the guitar can provide some great inspiration and unusual sounds due to its tuning and structure, it is best to ‘set one’s self free’ from this, as this source of inspiration can also become a major limitation. For him, a perfect example of a fantastic guitar piece was in fact not written by a guitarist at all; what Britten did with his Nocturnal was take an idea first and then mould that idea on to the guitar making use of the special characteristics of the instrument. He stated that it is best to move away from using open strings to provide root or bass notes and instead use these strings to fill in the harmony when applicable – a possible way of doing this being through using less conventional key signatures when composing, and creating and developing ideas that are initially ‘free of the limitations’ of the guitar.
The master class was the main feature of Carlo Amborosio’s time in Tianjin, and it was here where he really ‘came to life’. A number of students were chosen to have class with Carlo in the auditorium of the Modern Music Department and with the help of He Qing as translator.
It was soon very apparent that this is where one of Carlo’s strongest talents lies. Immediately he developed a very strong rapport with the students through his sense of humour, animated body language and paternal voice. At no point was Carlo critical, but instead encouraged students to find their own means of expression; acting as a guide rather than as a ‘teacher’. “Try, experiment, do what ever you want – nothing is wrong – then you choose” were his words said in a calm friendly voice to high school music student Zhang Yu Chen (张雨辰).
Throughout the class, Carlo drew attention to the composers, pointing out the characteristics of each and how he believes that elements of the composer’s character could be brought out in the performance of a piece. When talking about Giuliani and his Sonata in C Major, he contrasted the character of the German composer, Beethoven, with the Italian Giuliani, stating that the latter would have exaggerated elements of expression where as probably, “Beethoven would not have done that”. Carlo further drew attention to certain cultural elements that Chinese students might not all be familiar with, stating that an Italian cadenza was very direct and ‘to the point’ as opposed to its German and French counterparts, and this in turn needs to be taken into account when playing music from different nations. After this class, Zhang Yu Chen commented that Carlo had given her a new musical perspective, particularly with regards to this element, learning about the composer’s character and history and then incorporating that into playing the piece.
The idea of ‘getting to know the composer’ through their character, culture and history underscores Carlo’s philosophy, that in a piece of music, “the notes are written only as the ‘instructions’ of the composer, the ‘recipe’ to play a delicious dish, but they are not the dish itself”. He sees the role of the guitarist not so much as a performer, but rather an interpreter, where the musician has to be brave and make bold statements that follow the character of the piece as opposed to playing the music in a bland, superficial way by merely taking no risk at all through just ‘playing the dots on the paper’. (Carlo has been criticised in the past for being ‘too free’ particularly where he ‘corrected’ parts from composers which he felt were ‘spelling errors’). None the less, the difference in the playing of the students was immediately apparent.
After completing the master class we headed back to Beijing, first by car and then taxi from the outer ring road to circumvent Beijing’s strict traffic regulations. Throughout the journey Carlo mentioned that he had really enjoyed meeting the students at the conservatory, and said that he had been so inspired, that in the near future he would love to visit all the conservatories of music in China, that have a guitar department, to give master classes and concerts, spending three days with each. Although no small order, Carlo is quite accustomed to this ‘tour de force’. Based on the experience of these two days, Carlo indeed has a lot to offer, and this is emphasised by what the head of the guitar department, He Qing said: “the master class at Tianjin Conservatory was very successful, with students benefiting substantially from this. Carlo believes the present situation with the classical guitar in China is very exciting. He holds Chinese culture and values in high esteem and is very willing to work with conservatories and devote his energy towards further developing the classical guitar here”. He has left a deep impression on the school, and everybody here is looking forward to welcoming him back, hopefully in the very near future, given the Headmaster’s invitation to Carlo, to hold the guitar classes regularly. A very good chance for Beijing students and the Conservatoire itself.
Before Ambrosio had even struck a note tonight, it was obvious we weren’t dealing with one of those rather bland characters the classical guitar occasionally produces… it was abundantly clear that my journey hadn’t been in vain. Carlo Ambrosio is a major international talent whose recent return to the concert platform is to be globally celebrated.
…Ambrosio’s triumphant account of the Allegro Risoluto from Paganini’s Grand Sonata. Ok, it’s been done a zillion times before, but this version really flies, possibly to a greater height than any other recording I currently own.