There's a fair amount of Liszt in the repertoire of Antonio Pompa-Baldi. There's quite a lot of Dante in his output too.
The Italian-born, US-based artist has brought his knowledge and talent to Auckland to take part in the Lewis Eady International Piano Festival, both as a judge in the competition part of the event, and as a performer.
One of the works he's bringing to Auckland is Roberto Piana's 'Glances on the Divine Comedy' based on Dante's 14th-century depiction of Hell and Heaven, and who might end up where. It's a work Pompa-Baldi commissioned in 2021, and which he often performs alongside Liszt's own 'Dante Sonata'.
Such programming is a reflection of how highly Pompa-Baldi rates Liszt's contribution to music for the piano, but also how much value he places on the other arts, especially literature.
For Pompa-Baldi, being a professional artist requires a broader perspective than simply focusing on the notes he has to play.
Speaking to RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump, Pompa-Baldi says artistry also comes from an appreciation of life and art beyond music.
When asked what he'll be listening for when he judges the final round of the competition part of the Lewis Eady Festival, he replies: "I'm not trying to be coy, I swear, but the truth is I'll know when I hear it. I'm looking for somebody who makes me want to hear them again".
"Somebody who has a voice and a personality beyond the basic skills that everybody needs to possess in order to compete at this level."
Pompa-Baldi says that while the standard of technical skill among musicians has increased tremendously over the past 30 years, true artistry is "more rare".
How would Pompa-Baldi would respond to a student who has all the right moves, but is struggling to express the meaning in the notes they're playing?
"Well, it's very simple. The music is what happens between the notes ... it's all about getting out of one's practice room and considering life, and the world and literature, and visual arts ... and coming up with a firm grasp of a world that is contained within those notes."
How does Pompa-Baldi cultivate his own sense of artistry outside of music?
"For me personally, you have to have time to immerse yourself into the arts beyond just music. You have to go listen to live concerts, and symphonic music and chamber music, and perform chamber music and collaborate ... and then of course, read."
Lewis Eady International Piano Festival and Lewis Eady National Junior Piano Competition
6-10 December 2023
University of Auckland School of Music