Born in Udine, Italy on the 29th of August 1986, Ottaviano Cristofoli started playing the trumpet at the age of 10. He began his trumpet journey under the tutelage of Prof. Fabiano Cudiz and in 2004, he graduated from the Conservatory of Udine J.Tomadini under the guidance of Prof. Marco Tampieri.
Soon after, Cristofoli joined the Italian Youth Orchestra at the Music School of Fiesole until 2006, and in 2007, he became an associate member of the Chicago Civic Orchestra and the Miami New World Symphony Orchestra (USA). His studies with Prof. Davide Simoncini gave him the opportunity to perform with several Italian orchestras including but not limited to the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano, Orchestra of Teatro Carlo Felice, Orchestra of Teatro San Carlo, Orchestra of Teatro La Fenice, as well as the Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento.
From 2006 to 2008, Cristofoli joined the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival Orchestra directed by Christoph Eschenbach in Germany, and in 2008, he won the audition for the position of co-principal trumpet of the Hyogo Performing Art Center Orchestra (HPAC) in Kobe, Japan. Cristofoli then moved to Japan and spent a few months with the HPAC before being invited as a guest to play for the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) in Tokyo. After a few collaborations with JPO in 2009, the artistic director, Alexander Lazarev, decided to offer him the position of principal trumpet, a position he still holds today.
In 2015, Cristofoli performed the world premier of the Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra “Tokyo Suite”. The Concerto, composed by Gabriele Roberto, was dedicated to Cristofoli himself, and was commissioned by the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. His first CD, “Fulgor”, was released the same year, with pieces including those dedicated to him by composers such as Giampaolo Testoni, Alessandro Lucchetti, Alberto Cara, Marco Gatto, Claudio Cimpanelli and Federico Biscione.
Apart from playing in the orchestra, Cristofoli also recorded numerous soundtracks for films, TV series, commercials and radio broadcasts. His second CD was released in 2018, titled Azura: The Italian Recital, a collaboration with Japanese pianist, Doremi Takahashi.
In 2019, Cristofoli was appointed the artistic director of Music System Italy, a project he founded with Prof Flavio Parisi and Prof Shinji Yamamoto in 2015. According to Cristofoli, “Music System Italy is a platform for cultural exchange between artists and students from all over the world”.
Who inspired you to pursue music, specifically the trumpet? What qualities do they have that makes you admire them?
It was my dad that inspired me to start playing at a very young age. I started playing the saxophone at 6 and then at 12, I was admitted to a trumpet class in Udine Conservatory, which was in my hometown. Funny enough, the style of the conservatory was so old at that point, that even the saxophone was considered too modern. Fortunately, things have changed now.
I had to take a pretty strict exam in both the clarinet and trumpet at that time. After taking the exams, I followed my guts and chose the trumpet. I was 11 years old then.
My dad played a fundamental role in my music journey. He was an amateur guitar player with an exceptional ear and memory for music. He once sang back half of Tchaikovsky’s 5th last movement to me (correctly), because he had heard it on the radio while driving and wanted to know what that symphony was. He had a very simple idea about music, especially sounds. He said that music should be pleasant and beautiful. He passed to me the capacity of enjoying a beautifully simple melody, rather than delving into the complications of messy stunts.
At a young age, I would often imitate my older friends and try to impress people with very messy “stunts”. My dad would tell me, “that kind of playing belongs to the circus. It’s for drunk customers at a bar. You don’t want that”, and that is a precious teaching I got from my father, to which I respect to this day.
What do you think are your biggest strengths and why do you think it is important to have them?
It is hard to point out something specific without sounding arrogant, but with the thought of young readers who are seeking for inspirations in mind, I would say that my strength since young was perseverance, patience, pragmatism, and strategy.
I knew and recognised the limits to my playing capabilities. While I had schoolmates who could “smoke” the trumpet with one hand or feet up, I knew it was no match for me at that time. Instead, I focused on my skills, learned from older players, and sought to improve. I estimated that it would take me about 20 years to play the trumpet comfortably, and maybe 30 to start mastering the trumpet, not even mentioning music in general. I understand that music is such a vast language that the best thing is to remain humble and keep learning, because there will not be an end point.
I did set some goals for myself as well, one of which was to be financially independent as soon as possible. Thankfully, that worked out as I wanted to and I managed to find a job immediately after I graduated from the conservatory.
I have always been fascinated by students that, in proximity to exams, practises 8 hours and then would go on a vacation afterwards. I was amazed because to me, the trumpet was my diet. I tried the method of “eating 2 kg of pasta and then fasting for 2 weeks”, but that did not work for me. My practise routines are like carbs, fats, and proteins – I don’t change my “diet” based on what I have to play. Although some might say that my routine is repetitive, I think it’s the most effective way for me, given my personality. I view it the same way as my daily 60 minutes of physical training.
Interestingly (or maybe not), the shape of my trumpet sound as well as the shape of my body is unexpectedly similar.
Could you share with us your favourite playlist? What pieces does it consist of and why do you like them?
My playlist is a mess. It goes from Bach to The Who… it’s really bizarre. However, I’ve been enjoying records recently as it feels more like a performance since you can’t skip tracks. Other than that, I like to listen to classical jazz; Miles is my favourite.
What do you think are the greatest challenges you face as a musician?
Sacrifices. When music becomes your priority, it forces you to make choices. My family and friends are in Italy, and because I’m living very far from home, I only see them a few times a year. Sometimes, you will wonder if those sacrifices are worth it, especially when times are hard. Fortunately for me, music has given me so much, and I am constantly thankful for what I have gotten.
However, technically speaking, as a professional musician, I think the biggest challenge is to keep up your playing standards over a long period of time. It is very easy to lose the momentum and level down, and this usually makes me feel depressed and helpless. That being said, a good work-life balance as well as a humble practising attitude is key.
Another challenge I face as a musician is the constant need to step out of my comfort zone with different genres of music. When I played with Tokyo’s Brass World, I had to learn to swing from classical orchestra repertoires to pop pieces, wind orchestral pieces, solos, and even commercial music. However, despite the difficulty, I find it quite interesting and funny at the same time.
You have performed in many countries worldwide, including Mexico, Italy, Japan, and many more; what are some unique experiences or interesting events you have encountered or felt while performing in all these different countries? (eg. Do you notice differences in how audiences from around the world perceive music?)
I still remember how uncomfortable I felt when I first played in Japan. I did not understand the “vibe” of the Japanese audience, and it was unsettling that the entire concert hall was in silence.
Contrastingly, Italian audiences are very noisy but also very honest and radical, especially during operas. I have witnessed audiences yelling at singers multiple times, and I’ve even seen couples fighting to break up during an opera performance. Loudly laughing at bad soloists was a common occurrence too. If the concert is good, you’d notice, and if it isn’t good, you’d notice too. People might just leave halfway or start being noisy, but when they like you, you feel like they’re on stage with you.
This is why I say Japanese audiences are very “mild”. You have to learn to read their reactions instead. Now, I feel comfortable here in Japan, and I can tell if the audiences are enjoying the concert.
When I performed in Korea, I could not tell if the audience were listening to me at all. However they cheered so much at the end! It’s so cool how they like to yell and clap at you. I find it very sweet of them to cherish my performances so much.
What made you decide to move to Japan and join the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra? Did you find it difficult to adapt to the new country you moved to?
It wasn’t a decision, but rather an opportunity that I took without thinking at all. My priority was to get to play in an orchestra as soon as possible, and Japan opened the door for me, so I gave it a shot. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect and I did not plan on staying long, but I was wrong. I realised the wonderful opportunities that Tokyo can give me, and now it’s been 14 years since I’ve been playing in Japan.
Life is great here generally, but sometimes, there are also things that reminds me that I’m a foreigner with a very weak visa.
What do you think is the most memorable concert you have performed in, and why?
Well, this is another impossible question to answer. I think that every phase of my life has its own standards and summits. I remember the euphoria the first time I played in an orchestra as well as the first time I played as a soloist. However, if I have to be honest, there are actually one or two concerts that strikes as my favourites.
One of the concerts I’m talking about is the JPO subscription concert in December 2021 at the Suntory Hall. I had the privilege of performing the Arotunian trumpet concert and Mahler 5th, conducted by our Chief conductor, and your compatriot, Kahchun Wong.
This concert was actually a challenge I accepted only because I was so so excited knowing Maestro Wong was conducting it. The concert was sold-out and the atmosphere that day was the “highlight” of the concert. It was unforgettable.
As the Artistic Director of Music System Italy, why do you think it is important for cultural exchange between musicians all over the world?
As music becomes international and national styles starts to fade, it is important that young players travel and meet different people, cultures, as well as different ways of thoughts. We cannot accept a unified way of playing since music cannot be that narrow. We need young musicians to interact and spend time playing with those of other nationalities. Young musicians may find what is considered odd in their own country totally normal in another. Music can’t be standardised. It needs to have its own characteristics, and diversity can help open up what is really inside each of them.
What do you think is your best piece of advice for young trumpeters?
Firstly, always use you brain and think about every technical issue you face. Secondly, find a good trumpet teacher. I mean someone who can or could in the past actually play the trumpet. Getting diet tips from a very overweight person is not going to work most of the time. Lastly, music needs to be learnt. Go and learn on your own as much as possible, and do not expect to be spoon-fed.
What do you think can be done to grow the classical music audiences?
I think music education is key. Music is great. I have never met anyone who wasn’t impressed by coming to one of our concerts for the first time. They just don’t know it exists.
We need to make classical music more accessible, but that does not mean that we need to dress up like clowns and dance on stage, or allow smartphones during performances just so people can distract themselves. That’s just not right. We need to open up the doors to our performances and concerts. We need to ensure that classical music is not a “strict” and “closed” circle, where people with no music education are not welcomed. This will only intimidate them, like how a total stranger being brought to a golf course would simply feel uncomfortable.
We need to create the right environment for all kinds of audiences.
Carolyn has been a music enthusiast since young. Having picked up the piano and violin in Primary School, Carolyn decided to further her music journey by joining the Bishan Park Secondary School band, where she picked up the clarinet. She continued to take part in the Symphonic Band CCA when she studied at Anderson Serangoon Junior College. Currently a Linguistic and Multilingual Studies major at the Nanyang Technological University, Carolyn hopes to promote the band community through writing. If there is one thing she cares more about than music, it will probably be her cat.