Earlier this month, we caught up with the charismatic performer at Berlin’s Potsdamer Square where Martello had played the first official date of his extended European tour three years earlier. A fan of architecture and design, the urban troubadour had wanted to combine these aesthetic passions with his love of music. Now, he travels the world with a custom-built electric piano to play in squares around the globe. His ultimate aim: to perform in every capital city at least once. Yet despite his ambitious goals and accomplishments, Davide remains a humble, gentle soul – and an accidental urban hero.
Read on to find out more about Davide Martello and his Klavierkunst (piano art) project.
Davide, thanks a lot for meeting us here in Berlin. What brings you to the German capital?
I am based in Constance, but came to Berlin to relax and unwind. It’s a great city and home to a lot of my friends as well as my own studio.
We would love to hear about the story behind your Klavierkunst project …
Klavierkunst started out from the simple idea that beautiful architecture can influence the perception of music. I got the idea from a street musician who played outside of my window. Although he wasn’t any good, he performed in a spectacular and aesthetically beautiful square with amazing acoustics.
This inspired me to start Klavierkunst. My ultimate goal is to play every single capital city around the world. I bring my piano to the most beautiful locations and the city becomes my stage. I never wanted to be just a street musician. I wanted to have an aim, a purpose, a concept – and from this Klavierkunst was born.
How many cities have you visited with your piano? What about your most memorable moment?
So far, I have played in more than forty cities and over twenty-five capitals around the world. And throughout my travels, there have been so many interesting moments!
Istanbul was, of course, very unique, but amazing things have happened in other cities as well. For example, when I was in Vilnius, Lithuania, I started to play in front of a cathedral that could dwarf a football stadium. When I started the square was still empty, but by the time I finished the place was absolutely packed. It was so crowded that you could only glimpse the very top of my piano. In Stockholm a couple got engaged in front of me! It’s exhilarating; I never know what is going to happen when I start to play.
What difference can music in public spaces actually make in our cities?
Music can change situations completely. I was in Piran, Slovenia, playing in a square filled with children and teenagers skateboarding, riding bikes, and screaming just like normal kids. It was so loud that I thought about going somewhere else, but the space was beautiful – so I played. At first, all of the noise continued, but slowly the children became conscious of the music. They stopped running around and actually listened. I like to think that I gave them a gift. I believe everything that interrupts daily life is a gift. People are always in a hurry, running to their next engagement. When these people stumble upon one of my concerts, they slow down to enjoy the moment and music. Because it is so unexpected, it causes people to tap into a different level of consciousness. Age, race, or nationality are irrelevant; music can be enjoyed by all.
Your most famous intervention happened a month ago when you played on Istanbul’s Taksim Square. What prompted this performance – and do you think that it was successful?
I went to Istanbul because I had heard what was happening in the country and thought I might be able to bring some peace with my piano. To this end, I was successful. There was peace during those three nights and the attending protestors will always have that memory. I was accepted and enjoyed nothing but support from the protestors. Later on, however, I received a lot of different feedback. A few days ago, for example, I was fixing my piano on a road in Berlin. A few Turkish people recognized me and got a bit upset. They told me that I had no right to interfere and that the Turks could deal with it themselves. I replied that if there is violence on this earth everybody has the right to interfere. I mean this. Irrespective of your age, race, nationality, or gender – if we encounter injustice, we all have a right to do something. We all have a voice.
You are not just playing music in public spaces, but also compose music yourself. What is it like – and could you tell us about your inspiration?
When I’m playing I tend to improvise a lot. Before I start to play I place my iPhone on the piano and record the entire set. Afterwards, I repeat anything I like, but I don’t write any scores.
My inspiration usually comes from the situation around me, but to be honest, I am a sucker for a beautiful woman. I fall in love easily. If I am playing in a square and I see a beautiful woman listening to my songs, it is as if someone has put a spell on me. I start composing like a madman.
It all sounds almost too perfect. Doesn’t anything bother you?
It can be really frustrating coming to a new city, discovering an amazing location, but realizing that I can’t use it because of all the traffic noise. It would be a dream come true to play in a central spot in a city without any interference from cars.
Have you ever run into problems with locals or authorities?
Locals have been nothing but great. They always welcome me and my piano on wheels.
But I have had some problems with the police. In Turkey they even took my piano. But apart from that it hasn’t been too bad. German and Italian police have been the strictest, but I always seem to find a way to play.
What are the next steps for Klavierkunst? What kind of adventures are you planning for you and your piano?
I live in the moment, so I am never too sure where I might go next. The best way to follow me is via my Facebook page, Klavierkunst, which I keep updated to let people know where I am headed.
I would love to continue this series of peaceful interventions. I always thought that music can bring peace and Istanbul proved this to me. I think that everyone has something to offer to make the world a more peaceful place. For me, it is my piano.
Interview by Claudio Rimmele
All photos, incl. the header image, by Lisa Schwegler