Alessandro Pittorino has been exploring the organ since he was a child, literally inside and out. The West Australian organist has recently returned from New York’s Juilliard School and will be performing at Government House Ballroom’s WA Day Gala Concert. Pittorino’s charismatic performing style will be on display alongside tenor Paul O’Neill, soprano Naomi Johns and drag queen Cougar Morrison in a celebration of Western Australia’s diversity, humour and culture.
Editor Rosalind Appleby caught up with the 25 year old organ sensation to find out more about his fascination with the instrument.
Rosalind Appleby: What first inspired you to play the organ?
Alessandro Pittorino: When I was around 5 years old, I saw someone playing quite a large pipe organ in Fremantle and I was completely fixated on it. My mum use to like to go into the church on a Sunday afternoon for quiet and peaceful reflection, away from the crowds. Around the same time the movie Harry Potter had just been released. With the organist seated on ground level, but the sound coming from all around the building, and so many different sounds – I honestly thought it was magic. I had found my Hogwarts letter! I was then granted access to this instrument and continued to explore it by myself – the ultimate musical instrument for any child who loves to explore!
RA: The pipe organ has evolved since the 3rd century BC into one of the most complex man-made devices. Why do you think humanity has been so interested in music made from blowing wind through pipes?
AP: There’s a certain human element to this otherwise machine of an instrument. This idea of a living and breathing instrument, just like we as humans breathe, gives the organ this humanizing element. But it immediately transcends that as the organ works with the infinite – as long as you hold the note, only then will it continue to sound. It is interesting to add that the organ I be will playing is called the ‘Infinity’. The sheer amount of musical possibilities that can be achieved with facility has fascinated and continues to fascinate musicians, builders, and audiences alike. Although the organ looks like a beast of an instrument, it is actually incredibly intimate and is capable of producing many different types of sounds, depending on what the score may require. Whether it is J. S. Bach’s monumental Passacaglia in C minor or John Williams’ iconic Star Wars suite, the organ, at its best, gives its player the ability to express themselves with the amount of power and flexibility usually only afforded to an orchestra. There is something special about doing that and witnessing it.
RA: Pipe organ repertoire spans over 500 years. What is your favourite period of organ music?
AP: That would be like trying to choose your favourite child. I love listening and performing all sorts of different music for all sorts of different reasons. There is no one size that fits all. The beauty about the arts is that it has power to be a true reflection of who we are and rarely will that ever be a black and white image. Our world is filled with so much colour and there are as many emotions as there are colours in the world. There exists all sorts of music to convey and express that, and that’s why I can’t choose just one.
RA: Where do you hail from originally (you have a rather exotic name!)?
AP: I was born and raised right here in Perth! I attended East Fremantle Primary School, then both Christian Brothers College Fremantle and Trinity College East Perth! I have both Italian and Greek heritage, but I am a proud Australian.
RA: You’ve studied at the University of WA and have recently returned from three years at The Juilliard School. Where do you hope to take your career now?
AP: I am so incredibly blessed to be living and working as a performing artist. My work takes me all over the world, and affords me the opportunity to work with so many different people, both in the performing arts and outside.
RA: What do you love most about what you do?
AP: I love being able to share what I do with people – and I love meeting and being around people as a result. Like with any career, being a musician is a full time job requiring precise training, development and performance on an almost daily basis.
RA: You bring a lot of flair to your performances. What do you hope people will experience at the WA Day concert?
AP: I hope my audience is able to relax and have some fun! This is meant to be a celebration of who we are as West Australians! I think we deserve to be a little more proud of our not-so-little state and celebrate the amazing people we have here. If we support one another, and celebrate the best of who we are, there is no reason why Perth and WA cannot be the best in the world. In so many ways, it already is.
RA: Anything else we should know about the WA Day Gala?
This is the first major performance featuring an organ in the Government House Ballroom, and I’m so grateful to be sponsored by Principal Organs of Roland Australia who is providing a brand new Rodgers Digital organ direct from America. Perth audiences haven’t had the chance to experience an instrument like this before as this type of instrument just doesn’t exist here. Although it is not a pipe organ, it is a digital replication of what it would be like to have the real thing in the Ballroom. It comes pretty close! I’m also proud to say it is the first time a drag queen has featured at the Government House Ballroom. Cougar Morrison is a stunning performer; we both studied and worked in NYC, albeit at different times. She brings an international performance extravaganza with a local feel and flavor to the show. I’m so excited to be working with her! This will be one of the most diverse concerts on the calendar so far – and of all the many performances that I do, this is the one that I’m most excited about!
Picture top: Alessandro Pittorino