By Brittany Sterling Young
Among the violin faculty at CUA’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music is none other than Alessandra Cuffaro, a renowned soloist who is recognized worldwide as the first Italian woman to perform all 24 of Paganini’s Capricci, a collection of exceedingly difficult violin piece, in one concert. She has performed this feat 23 times in various cities around the world, including Madrid, Rome, and New York. The Italian Language InterCultural Alliance Foundation recognized Alessandra in 2008 and presented her with the Cultural Award for being one of the most prominent Italian American performers of our time.
Alessandra’s violin students at CUA’s Rome School can attest that her teaching style is indeed unique as she combines her Italian heritage with the Russian style of violin playing. This is due to the influence of her own teacher, Sergey Grischenko, a renowned Soviet classical violinist, and pupil of David Oistrakh at the Moscow Conservatory. It was this teacher that inspired her to achieve this great feat, as he told her, “All my best students must have this experience – playing Paganini’s Capricci in one concert. Are you ready? For our next lesson let’s read number one and go in order…”
Alessandra details the experience and emphasizes just exactly why such few people (and only one Italian woman) were able to perform all twenty-four Capricci in a row. She references “the long, accurate preparation”, as each Caprice “represents the hardest technique frontier,” and that “each one of them stands as a masterpiece of the eccentric personality of the genius Paganini. The melody and richness of each Caprice is unique, different and beautiful, elegant, and expressive…Paganini’s Capricci are the lyric voice of the violin!”
She also describes the intense physical preparation that goes into preparing the Capricci.
“The physical fatigue that comes with the performance of all twenty four. It’s like running the 100 meters in Olympics Games 24 times in a row and running to win each time!” Cuffaro said.
The preparation is physical, like that of an athlete, with a regulation of diet, sleep pattern, and even concentration (i.e. when to have the audience clap to get some mental rest and when to keep her focus going). To give an idea of the physical toll this can take, after her first performance of the Capricci she shed almost five pounds!
“I have always been in love with the music of Paganini, being the quintessence of the voice of the violin, true pride of every Italian musician… And this is how I started ‘being in love’ with the violin,” Cuffaro said. “I was three years old when I watched a black and white movie, a beautiful biography of Paganini’s life and I fell crazy in love with it… I was bewitched! Who could have said that my destiny one day would have be to perform all 24 Capricci and enter into the history of Italian music?”
Since her days of performing the Capricci around the world, Cuffaro has been interviewed by major Italian news networks such as RAI. Looking back, Alessandra ponders her favorite memory. She especially enjoyed how the audience was always emotionally involved.
“Not only did they listen out of mere amazement for this show of ability, but they were truly touched by the Capricci for what they are, an expression of pure art from a pure artist, the genius Nicolo Paganini,” Cuffaro said.