Putting her heart and soul into everything she does, Gloria Campaner, a celebrated Italian pianist, carefully elects causes to support through her music. During her recent visit to Cape Town, she performed at a private event hosted by Newmark Hotels, Residences, Reserves & Lodges’ Managing Director, Neil Markovitz, in aid of Rhino Disharmony. This unique project was created by Motswari Private Game Reserve owners, Marion Geiger and Fabrice de Lamazière, together with one of the founding directors of Rhino Disharmony, Anthony Watterson, to educate the world about the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa through the arts.
Driving along the Atlantic Seaboard, the beaches are packed to capacity, but I’m en route to a far more appealing event. Arriving at Mr. Markovitz’s private residence, I hear the sound of piano music emanating from the home as Gloria rehearses for the evening’s concert.
Freshly cut flower arrangements of proteas and hydrangeas adorn the tables and I hold my breath for a moment to take in what is right in front of me – a striking woman sitting at a Fazioli piano, playing so passionately that it almost brings me to tears. On the right-hand side of the piano plays an eye-catching reminder of the cause that is being supported; a bronzed sculpture of a newborn rhino calf with his umbilical cord still attached, another victim who didn’t make it after his mother was poached.
Gloria is stylishly dressed in a custom couture gown by Italian designer, Antonio Grimaldi, and her piercing green eyes become expressive as she speaks about her path to engaging audiences with her gift of piano music.
GLORIA, TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF.
I started playing the piano when I was four years old after receiving a piano toy as a present for my second birthday. It was a baby grand piano, all red and white and my Mom remembers that instead of handling it like other children might have done, I was trying to play with both hands. I even prepared an auditorium of puppets and dolls to play for; I was creating my own little theatre. My Mom never understood what I was doing, perhaps I saw it on television once, but my family was not musicians and I hadn’t seen or heard any music before, so maybe this was a sign.
I was greatly influenced by my best friend, our neighbor’s daughter, who wanted to go to kindergarten at the age of four. She was keen to make music, and since we did everything together, we even went there together. She was too shy and gave up immediately, but I absolutely loved it. I started with the violin, which proved to be very difficult with no-one helping me. I drove my Dad crazy with screechy violin sounds, while the piano, on the other hand, sounded good. In the beginning, I learned to play everything by ear, and it seemed easy. It became difficult once I had to learn to read music and learn how to play properly.
I did my first public recital in Perugia when I was five years old. This paved the way for my debut performance with the Venice Symphony Orchestra. I was just out of junior school and suddenly I was on stage, embraced in music by the entire orchestra. It’s an experience I will never forget.
This was a very important step as a memory. It’s the most amazing experience to be on stage with an orchestra accompanying you.
I left home when I was sixteen. I studied classical music in Europe, Russia, and the USA. I went to university to study foreign languages; I studied Russian – it’s such a fascinating language and my piano teachers at school were Russian.
I have been studying all my life, practicing eight to ten hours per day. I had to give up lots of things to live my dreams and to look up at my passion, to balance it; I’ve met amazing artists and amazing people. I have explored so many types of music; I was in a rock band when I was younger, I do electronic production with my electronic band, I am a DJ, I play with amazing jazz musicians and choreographers and street musicians.
DID SOMETHING IN YOUR FORMATIVE YEARS SPARK YOUR LOVE FOR PLAYING THE PIANO?
Definitely my little toy piano, but I love all types of instruments; I even play the trumpet. The piano was the easiest when I was young and didn’t have a coach in my family. You can create a lot of music with the piano – it can be a percussive instrument, groovy or extremely intimate. Minor, major, all humanity, spirituality and more. Pleasant, happy and melancholic. You have to go where the music is in mood and spirit.
YOU DEBUTED AT THE AGE OF TWELVE WITH THE VENICE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT?
Suddenly, there I was, on stage during the first rehearsal with all these musicians and instruments around me. You are embraced by sounds from every direction, encircling you. It’s an overwhelming experience. I had to work hard to contain my emotions.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GENRE TO PERFORM?
As a classical pianist, I am very lucky that I’m able to perform at lots of events and to explore different avenues. I also sing sometimes, just for fun.
WHAT OR WHOM HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCE AS AN ARTIST?
That is a very interesting question. I am so open-minded, I think the biggest gift was to get given freedom from my professors and my family and my lifestyle in a way that I was always feeling allowed when I was experimenting with music. I was lucky enough to have met good people along the way who believed in this flame that I have inside of me, using it as a lightbulb to find my path; even to explore different pathways.
This was the biggest source of good energy that made me grow like that. Thanks to my open-mindedness and awareness of the beauty of possibilities and life, this awareness made me so open with my heart, because when you respect yourself and you respect other people, you open up. That’s when everything came in; everything became a great influence – meeting a street artist rather than meeting the biggest artist in the world; opening all my senses to listening to the greatest pianist in the world; everything became on the same level, because when you open your heart, you grow and when you grow, you’re safe. Having that freedom, and being accepted for who I am, has given me this possibility.
YOU HAVE PERFORMED IN FRONT OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE. DO YOU STILL GET THE OCCASIONAL STAGE FRIGHT AND HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT?
Yes, absolutely. I am a coach of a very interesting workshop which helps others to ease stage fright. I have met the most amazing musicians who have helped me on every level – music, the piano, for which I’m very grateful; it’s equally important to coach and helps someone balance the nerves and all the adrenaline that pumps through your body. Young performers and artists don’t necessarily know how to cope with this, and I didn’t know how myself at first, so I found myself backstage with my heart going into my throat and my ears. In my workshops, I teach others about breathing techniques, yoga basics with lots of important exercises.
Whether I’m performing for hundreds of people or only a handful, I believe in the music and whoever hears it, has the right to take it in at its best level. For this, you need a lot of work and a lot of strength and one cannot take it for granted.
WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
I find my own way of playing and interpreting music. I am not a composer; I write very simple music. I try to be centered with myself and find breathing, walking and being in nature imperative to my creative process.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR ALBUM, HOME.
It might sound strange to call my album Home when it’s dedicated to my favorite German composer, Robert Schumann. So why the title Home? There are different layers of meaning; the first one is very basic – it’s dedicated to my home town and my family, so it’s all related to Venice. The deeper meaning alludes to all the years that I have been traveling on an ongoing basis. I have a home, but I’m never there; I live out of my suitcase. The album is dedicated to the wish I have for myself and for all the people who live a life like me who are on the road non-stop, to feel the difference between being at home and feeling at home, which is a huge difference.
If you’re able to trust in your capacity of feeling at home wherever you are, bring a few things with you that reminds you of that, and I would like people to feel at home when they listen to my album. The album is also dedicated to a foundation that helps children who don’t have a home or the privilege of having a family.
The third layer is connected to the fact that the home in a very spiritual way is also our body. We live inside a place that is hosting our soul. The first thing we have to do is to be grateful every day, giving the correct nutrition, sleeping enough, respecting and loving ourselves and feeling good about ourselves before anything else. Respect your body and respect your life.
APART FROM PLAYING THE PIANO, YOU ALSO ENJOY DANCING.
I did eleven years of classical dance and I love dancing the Tango!
YOU’VE HAVE TRAVELED EXTENSIVELY TO PERFORM. DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE PERFORMING VENUES?
Japan has amazing concert halls. I love to go places where it’s sunny; I love South Africa and I love South America. Cape Town reminds me of Rio de Janeiro, which is my favorite city.
THIS IS NOT YOUR FIRST TIME TO SOUTH AFRICA. WHAT WARMS YOUR HEART ABOUT THIS BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY?
It’s a mix of culture and extreme wild nature. Being a nature lover, there is so much space between things, which we don’t really have in Europe.
YOU ARE A HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST.
I do a lot of social work beside my main performing, and I dedicate most of my life to children and to disadvantaged communities. Through talking or playing the piano, I convey the message of love.
PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT THE DAFNE PROJECT.
It’s a project dedicated to violence against women. It’s the premiere of a piece that was specifically written for me. It’s a very harsh piece with a strong message and contemporary music.
YOU ARE A GUEST OF NEWMARK HOTELS, PERFORMING FOR RHINO DISHARMONY. HOW DID YOU COME TO LEARN ABOUT THE PROJECT AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
I have long known about the tragedy of rhino poaching but I learned about Rhino Disharmony and its aim last year. It is a very unique way of fighting against the problem; through raising awareness and consciousness. By shining a light on the matter, we are able to influence people positively and ultimately discourage people from inflicting harm on these beautiful creatures. Anthony represents musical talent, including myself, and choreographs and creates Rhino Disharmony concerts – he is equally passionate about the cause.
WHAT EXCITING PROJECTS DO YOU HAVE ON THE HORIZON?
My calendar is full for the next two years! Dafne is happening the day I come back from South Africa. I also play musical stones, as taught by the late Sardinian artist, Pinuccio Sciola. I will be performing at the Marlboro Music Festival where I will take up residence in America. I am looking forward to performing with the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan.
Newmark is the management company for a selection of luxury hotels, residences, reserves and lodges in Africa. The company has perfected the tradition of applying excellence to all of its endeavors and its daily operations. Newmark’s extensive experience in managing prestigious and distinctive properties is matched by its determination to help owners realize their worth. This is made possible by a highly focused, motivated and skilled executive team, led by industry visionary, Neil Markovitz. Passion and focus – these are the two core elements that set Newmark apart as a leading hotel management company. These characteristics make the Newmark experience far more than unique; they make it unforgettable.
About Rhino Disharmony
Rhino Disharmony was founded in 2014 as a movement to create one global voice against rhino poaching. Through the participation of artists, their fans and the informed public, Rhino Disharmony aims to create a global platform that will draw attention to the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa. By doing so, the hope is to encourage a shift in perception about the use of rhino horn and how it is fast-tracking this species to extinction.