FIRST HEARD about the Italian recorder player David Bellugi last March through an e-mail message sent out on the early music listserve, EARLYM-L, by Glenn Boreham who had just acquired David's two recent recordings, Landscapes -- Three Centuries of World Music and Orchestra del Chianti. (for details see Recorders on Disc, September 1996).
Glenn praised David's use of multi-tracking to play up to eighteen parts, the "musical richness [and] also the recordings themselves, which place specific instruments in a kind of three-dimensional 'acoustic space'." He concluded by referring readers to David's home page on the World Wide Web (http://www.davidbellugi.com) for information on these and other recordings as well as FRAME, the recording company.
My curiosity piqued, I wrote to David Bellugi by e-mail to order the CDs, and as a result, we began corresponding. I told him what Scott Reiss was doing in this country with "crossover" music, mixing elements of classical music with popular and ethnic musics. By a happy coincidence, David's brother-in-law Berry Hayward, a musician in Paris, had received some tapes of Scott's performances and was now able to pass them on. His reaction: "Only an American musician could pull off that kind of versatility."
It was obvious from David's fluent and idiomatic English that he had lived in the United States. The Piero Bellugi who conducts the Orchestra del Chianti (sponsored by a group of Chianti producers) is his father, who held conducting positions with orchestras in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon as well as various guest positions in this country in the 1950s and 60s. David was born in Rochester, NY in 1954. He bought his first recorder (a plastic Dolmetsch soprano) at Briggs & Briggs in Harvard Square (Cambridge, MA) along with the Trapp Family method when he was 11 -- "love at first sight!" David lived in the States for almost twenty years and received a BA at the University of California San Diego in Applied Musicology.
David has been teaching at the Florence conservatory since 1979, at first in the conservatory's teacher-training division. Then "three years ago, when I had just about given up hope of it ever happening, a miracle: the recorder became an official course of study within the Italian conservatory system. I think the recorder is in about eight of the 52 conservatories in Italy now." Each instrumental class in Italy is limited to ten students.
David's students, "are quite good -- after 20 years of teaching at every imaginable level it's a real pleasure to find myself with potentially professional musicians." [see AR, Number 5, November 1998]
The two CDS arrived quickly and I responded entusiastically Landscapes sounded generally like a wild calliope, especially when you played fast and slurred. I was also very impressed with the same technique in the Vivaldi concerto, which I've never heard played QUITE so fast before, although it sounded like the perfect tempo." I then took Landscapes over to the apartment of my harpsichord-playing friend Linda Kent, whose eight-year-old daughter Emily went crazy about the CD and played it over and over, doing appropriate dance movements to each piece while standing on a pile of cushions arranged to suit the mood of each piece. It was almost Emily's birthday, so I decided to give her the CD. When I told David he was so delighted with my description of Emily's dancing that he generously sent her the CD himself -- "sounds like a very worthy cause!" Soon I wrote back to David that "Hearing Landscapes repeatedly has given me a keener appreciation for its delights. You play with such abandon -- amazing considering that you had to play all those parts yourself. The cross-rhythms are especially wonderful, and very hard to predict, even upon repeated hearings. I've even grown to like Brouwer's minimalist piece (not my favorite genre)." David commented: "I'm not a fan of minimalist music, either, but Brouwer's piece has that extra something that makes it a lot of fun to play and listen to. It is by far and large the piece that most people comment on."
ICCARDO LUCIANI is a close friend and colleague of David's at the Florence conservatory. David finds his Concerto di Anacrò the most expressive concert written in the 20th century for the recorder: "It has lyricism, structure, melody, harmony, and it fits the recorder beautifully." David told me that he was "musically incorporated" into the concerto. I guessed it was based on the motto "D-B," but it went further than that. The opening theme of the Allegro is based on the notes DADEBEG (DAviDE BElluGi, "Davide" being the Tuscan pronunciation and spelling of David).
I asked David more about his approach to the Vivaldi sopranino concerto, because I found that his fleet fingers and slurs transformed what can seem like so many scales and arpeggios. He told me that if I listened to "Craitele" played by the Romanian fluier player Dumitru Zamfira on the CD Les flûtes roumaines, I would hear his influence. He dubbed that CD, "a magnificent collection of some of the most lively and expressive playing I've ever heard. Zamfir and Stanciu, the two greatest panpipe players alive, are on it, but so are some lesser-known geniuses (outside of Rumania, that is) like Zamfira, Jon Vaduva, Ion Laceanu, Ion Ionescu, Marin Chisar and Dumitru Farcas, who all play their instruments in a way that in terms of sheer technique, tonguing, and ornamentation make all of us in the early-music world pale in comparison." He went on to tell me about many other ethnic influences, including the Indian flutist Panalaal Ghosh, the Persian ney player Hassan Kassaï, the shakuhachi player Kohachira Miyata, the Klezmer clarinettist Giora Feidman, the flutists of Rajasthan, a Georgian salmouri player, and the tioudiouk player Maral Gueledir. He called Feidman "perhaps the greatest clarinettist alive: he can laugh, cry, whisper, sing, and cackle with his instrument -- scarcely believable!" David considers such ethnic recordings "every bit as important to recorder players as Quantz's Versuch....." Not that he has neglected his Baroque performance practice. In fact he studied in Paris with Antoine Geoffroy-Dechaume, author of the book Les "secrets" de la musique ancienne and a direct pupil of early-music pioneer Arnold Dolmetsch.
David stresses that on Landscapes he was not "sampling" the sound with a MIDI keyboard, but simply recording through a DAT machine to the computer, which acts as a storage medium. "The first voice that one records must contain all of the interpretative data (phrasing, rhythm, intonation, feel) of the final result. In pop music this is called a 'click track' because it's usually a somewhat glorified metronome -- for example, an electronic drum beat. But in 'Landscapes' I use a 'musical' click track. For example, in the Bartók I started by recording a musical synthesis of the whole score: what I called a musical 'mold.' After filling in the other voices, this 'mold' -- having served its purpose -- was discarded." The one part that David does not play himself is the percussion. "I am fascinated by the rhythmic complexity and virtuosity of the Persian musician Ali Tajbakhsh's playing on the zarb, daf and djembé which goes beautifully with Renaissance music." My brother-in-law Chris Hayward's role as percussionist in 'Landscapes' was also fundamental for me, since he knows the exact cultural reference to every note and rhythm I play." When I lamented that he could not perform Landscapes live, he told me he could: "I perform a solo part over a pre-recorded 'virtual' orchestra of recorders that I've mixed onto a CD or DAT."
AVID LEADS A BUSY LIFE of teaching and playing in Europe, the United States, "and with a little luck in Japan in 1999." He performs concertos with various Italian orchestras, Landscapes (sometimes with Tajbakhsh), and other concerts with a Florence-based early-music group Musica Ricercata, with a Venetian group I Musici della Serenissima, with the guitarist Domenico Del Giudice, and with his students. Landscapes just went into its second pressing, and he is working on a sequel. David spends a lot of time doing work for Frame, an independant recording and publishing company he formed with a group of friends (their Web site, complete with sound bytes is at "http://www.quadroframe.com/"). It is clear from David's correspondence that he also has a rich family life. His wife, Rebecca Hayward, is an American painter who grew up in Paris and they have two teenaged daughters, Sarah and Sonia, who both love to dance.
David Bellugi is very much a recorder
player of the late 20th century, at home in our multicultural
and technological world: the Internet and the conservatory,
the World Wide Web and the master class, the recording studio
and the concert hall, Italian and English, family, friends
and public. His playing and his e-mail messages have enriched
my life this year.
David Lasocki, a music librarian at Indiana University, writes about woodwind instruments, their history, repertory, and performance practice. With Richard Griscom, he is the author of The Recorder: A Guide to Writings About the Instrument for Players and Researchers, published by Garland.