Paganini Rockstar

About This Project

Bringing together Paganini and the term rock star is a daring enterprise. Nonetheless, our idea is to take the rooms of Palazzo Ducale as a setting to talk about the art of the great Genoese violinist (1782- 1840) observed from the musical perspective of today’s world, a world partly forged by the sounds and genius of Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), an African American guitarist from Seattle. On the surface the gulf between them is as wide as it can possibly be. The challenge the exhibition takes on is to bring out not only the numerous points in common between Hendrix and Paganini but also, and perhaps above all, to express what making music means to someone who has full control over what he plays and how he plays it – the someone we call a virtuoso. The fact is, though, that many of the elements and features that still today mark the path musicians take stem precisely from the artistic and biographical story of Paganini: the discovery of talent, virtuosity, performance, image, look, touring, unleashing the fantasies and enthusiasm of the public, the complicated relationship between professional and private life, inheritances … In some rooms visitors are guided by the objects on display; these serve to catalyze the stories and the music in a way that has been suggested by a famous passage in Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium: I would say that the moment an object appears in a narrative, it is charged with a special force and becomes like the pole of a magnetic eld, a knot in the network of invisible relationships. The symbolism of an object may be more or less explicit, but it is always there. We might even say that in a narrative any object is always magic. After all, both Paganini and Hendrix entrusted their art and their self-expression as artists to two distinctly magical objects: the violin made in 1743 by Giuseppe Guarnieri del Gesù known as Il Cannone on account of the extraordinary power of its sound, and the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, a veritable icon for generations of young rock musicians who regarded Jimi Hendrix as their guru. The two instruments were in effect extensions of their soul as well as their body. What, in short, are the ingredients that make someone a rock star? Some of today’s rock stars try to answer this question, talking about their life and their relationship with music. In addition, every visitor will have the chance to experience virtuosity in concrete terms by watching a dancer of the calibre of Roberto Bolle perform his choreography (composed largely on the basis of improvisation) inspired by Paganini’s famous Capriccio No. 24. Putting on an exhibition on music is no easy task, though by no means impossible. One approach is to put into play the many stories that Paganini and Hendrix inspired in those who were fortunate enough to witness their magic. At the same time we can listen to the stories of today’s rock stars, who in narrating their experience bring to life and continuously re-actualize the (individual and collective) creative processes and complex organizational paths that underlie the life of a rock music star. One might talk of the power of their aura. The marvel aroused by the virtuosity of Paganini, so extreme, new and disruptive, was on a par with the amazement felt by audiences listening to The Hendrix Experience in the late sixties – a dening experience for the future of rock. Equally, we are convinced that there is a need to lighten up and in some cases to dispel the most extreme legends, to give more weight to the human component of making music, because ultimately that’s where the real magic lies.

Ivano Fossati, Roberto Grisley, Raffaele Mellace


I worked as part of the team at NEO [Narrative Environments Operas].