Francesco Maria Colombo: Rio De Janeiro reportage

I’m always fascinated of something that makes the difference in the portfolio of the artist I admire.

Basically this is what happened surfing through Francesco’s portfolio. This man took pictures of any kind of people, in intimate and genuine situations, transmitting warmth, wrapping the viewer with that sense of security. It was there that I noticed something out of its place, something colder but of course still strong. There was the power of a journey, the excitement of a new place, but at the same time a familiar feeling that we get in front of something that our soul cannot ignore, even if it’s something we won’t understand in a moment.


How did you feel working so far from your hometown?

This is a typical situation related to my job. Being a conductor means that life brings you to Argentina, Canada, Germany or South Korea… My hometown is very often a residence or hotel room, sometimes it’s an airport lounge. I’m used to it, my hometown is any place where I can have a good wi-fi connection.

Did you find it inspiring conducting your orchestras in completely different places?

Definitely! And this is why I prefer to be a guest conductor than a resident one. The work of the conductor is technically the same in different countries, you have to tell the same things (louder, softer, higher, lower and so on, the rhythm so and so, the accents this or that way…), but you have to tell those things in different ways because the personality, the character, the human element of the players changes if you conduct either in Brazil or in Japan. A conductor must understand the code of communication in a very short time, in order to transmit his message to the orchestra: he must be a good musician, but a psychologist and an anthropologist as well. And a leader.

It seems that being a conductor is really different from being a photographer. How did you become one and another? Is there any link between these two activities?

I think that the separation of the arts is a sad cultural idol of our time. In the intellectual education of a young gentleman in the XIX century, it was obvious that he had to learn to play on the stage of a theater, to read classics in Latin, to draw and paint, to play an instrument. Think of Goethe: he was a poet, a playwright, a novelist, a painter, a man with institutional charges, and he wrote some beautiful scientific essays. In photography, if I must think of someone who really was a Renaissance man, I think of Gordon Parks: supreme photographer, musician, film director, writer, activist for the rights of Afro-American people… I tell this because I was never able to fulfill my curiosity towards world and life in a single way. I worked for a decade as a cultural columnist for “Corriere della Sera”, I started to conduct professionally at 36, and I discovered photography very recently, when I was 45 (I’m 48 now). It has started as a “therapy” in a difficult moment of my life, and it has become a profession and an obsession. Meanwhile I continue to conduct, and I would like to start again to write (writing was my first love). What is the link? A kind of a sensibility, a way to feel things, and the fact that life is too short and beautiful things are too many…

Tell us about the moments you took for yourself to take the pictures we can admire here. Why the beaches? Why in this melancholic way?

This was my first trip to Rio de Janeiro. I was committed to conduct an opera by Donizetti, “La fille du régiment”: so I had to spend a month in this incredible city. I was used to the common place of a noisy, colored and extrovert place: instead, what I discovered the first morning I woke up in Rio, was the silence, was the beautiful and calm metamorphosis of subtle nuances and atmospheres on the beaches. I was astonished to discover that Rio can be a place not only of strong, violent colors, but of an infinite variety of luminous gray shades, of pale blue, pale green, pale pink, cold textures. This was fascinating as a visual dream, as a moment of suspension of my consciousness. And the result was a particular feeling of melancholy, sometimes of solitude but in a sweet way.

What did you like most of Rio De Janeiro? Did you miss something about Milan?

Apart from being, by far, the most stunning natural scenario of any city in the world, Rio was enchanting because of the human qualities of many friends, of wonderful persons. A natural warmth, not invasive but tender and gentle. I didn’t miss anything about Milan. A few blocks form my hotel, I discovered a delicious pastry shop with small panettone cakes, could I ask for more?

And is there any place you would love to live instead of Italy? Where do you just enjoy working? Which place do you feel home most?

I work as a conductor mainly in North America, United States and Canada. If I add the different periods I’ve spent in the US from when I was a kid to now, it amounts to several years. I enjoy the perfect organization of the orchestras in the US, but I need something more than a shopping mall in order to spend my leisure time…

And what is the place you are simply in love with?

I was in love with Munich when I was 15 or 20: it was a sensual, sweet, sparkling city where I had my sentimental, sexual, intellectual, musical, aesthetic education. Then I had my Paris period, and my New York period. I lived in NY for a while during the Nineties, and it was a different New York, much brighter than now. In this moment my favorite cities are London and Budapest, but I’m definitely in love with the French country, the small towns with big cathedrals, the castles and cloisters lost in meadows, the quality of life, la douceur de vivre…


Text by Nina Sever // All pics are Francesco Maria Colombo © All rights reserved