When Italian-born classical pianist Roberto Poli moved to the South End from Venice in 2003, he was just another student coming to reap the benefits of the stellar colleges in the city.
But Boston grew on him, and the classical music scene here – along with the music education opportunities – caused the accomplished musician to want to put down some roots.
And he has done just that over the last 15 years, living in Chester Square and painstakingly renovating his home, getting involved in the neighborhood to a point where he has volunteered to host the Chester Square Area Neighborhood Association’s (CSANA) Spring Soiree on Sunday, April 22, in what is likely to be a unique experience.
“I’m Italian originally and I moved to the states in 1998 to attend the New England Conservatory,” he said. “I started teaching piano privately. At that time, I decided I liked Boston and so I’ve made it my home.
“Boston is a wealthy city and as such it has a lot of opportunities,” he continued. “There are many opportunities to listen to music and there are a lot of parents who value the musical education of their children and their own personal musical education too…Boston is a small city so it doesn’t have the same scene as New York or Los Angeles, but in a way there’s a lot more attention on this music because we have the greatest symphonies in the world. Also there are many fantastic musicians who also call Boston home.”
Poli is on the faculty at the New England Conservatory and the Boston Conservatory, and is a very sought after private teacher of the piano. He was born in Venice and educated at the Venice Conservatory of Music. He also studied under numerous virtuoso teachers in Italy before coming on scholarship to the New England Conservatory in the late 1990s.
One of his claims to fame is that he is one of the foremost authorities and performers of the music of Fryderyk Chopin, having made many recordings and videos – not to mention live performances.
It’s a career that Poli said he always knew he wanted from a young age. He started seriously playing when he was about 11 or 12, which is late in the world of world-class piano. However, he said he was fixed on reaching his goal and never imagined doing anything else.
“If I look back, I don’t think I have ever imagined myself doing anything else,” he said. “When I was 14 or 15 and I realized how much I liked music, I don’t think I ever thought of trying to choose between music and something else. There are a lot of young kids who are wonderful musicians, but the reality is their parents take them out to pursue something more financially rewarding. There is the misconception that music is something you can’t make a living out of. Thankfully, that has changed.”
On Sunday, for CSANA, Poli is re-creating a Sunday afternoon home concert, such as likely existed in the 1850s on Chester Square. He will be accompanied by Mezzo Soprano singer Colleen Palmer.
“We’re doing some songs from the 1850s and 1860s that were written by Boston composers and likely played in the homes of Chester Square at that time,” he said. “Everyone had a piano because there were important piano makers around, even here in the South End…The idea is to create the kind of soiree people would have hosted in their homes in the 1850s on a Sunday afternoon.”
In a very unique twist, one of the songs, called ‘Slavery’ – an abolitionist classic from Boston, is based on a letter written by Benjamin Franklin Hallett – who once owned Poli’s house in Chester Square. In the song and the letter, Hallett criticizes a Mr. Sampson from the Cape regarding his treatment of the Mashpee Indians.
Ironically, Poli has had a portrait hanging of Mr. Sampson in his home for many years, something he bought on a whim. Now, on Sunday, Hallett and Sampson will meet again.
“Sampson’s portrait hangs in my home, which is sort of creepy,” he said.
Other songs that will be featured will be ‘Home Again,’ ‘The Sword of Bunker Hill,’ ‘I’ve Left the Snow-Clad Hills,’ ‘By the Sad Sea Waves,’ and ‘My Grandmother’s Advice.’
Drinks and Hors D’oeuvres and a silent auction will take place. Tickets can be purchased at www.bit.ly/2Dw7TVw. The address will be provided upon purchase of a ticket.