BLOG POST #3: Alessandro Fongaro at Batavierhuis and ‘Omaggio alle rose’

BLOG: North Sea Round Town by Richard Foster #3 – ENGLISH

Internal Examinations

Internal Examinations

Alessandro Fongaro at Batavierhuis and ‘Omaggio alle rose’
by Richard Foster

Watching live music feels like an increasingly itinerant pastime. As the certainties of the old “touring era” of the last fifty years slowly crumble into dust, audiences have to grasp what they can, wherever it’s served up. Maybe in this light, festival residencies are not just a fashion: maybe they are part of the answer, ecological and financial pressures come increasingly to the fore. You just have to be prepared to find the music in some odd places. Let’s accept the trend for intimate gigs in surprising or “secret” locations is the new normal, as the world runs out of everything… 

It’s no surprise, therefore, to be surprised to find Alessandro Fongaro playing a quick NSRT gig at Rotterdam’s Batavierhuis, on a stage that could pass as an old wooden portacabin. Outside, there’s a vegan brunch on offer, with beetroot playing a starring role. Lanyard-wearing delegates talk about this and that before being called into the stuffy cabin and listen to various zeitgeisty talks that bat the usual words about; sustainability, resilience, development, and so on. Fill in the blanks at your leisure.

Seemingly on a high from the Cinerama premiere the night before, Alessandro and violinist George Dumitriu enter stage left and run through a short set that lasts half an hour but feels like ten minutes.Three pieces are played, starting with a new one, apparently never performed before, that follows on, texturally, from those explored in the Hunters in the Snow set. Dumitriu and Fongaro seem to delight in finding an obtuse, atonal meeting point to spark their music, like watching someone turn an old radio dial to find the right kind of interference… A piece from Fongaro’s other project, Pietre, follows; this piece has a more dipping, liquid quality to it with some sonic inflections that may draw on Romani music. As a reprise we hear a stripped down passage from Hunters in the Snow, the tensile, sometimes direct musical guideropes now more obvious to grasp, when shorn of the emotional weather the other strings and brass and percussion added the night before.

A few days later we find ourselves in a different setting for a different set, and set up. A door on a side street just north of Central Station reveals the setting for a house gig in what we are told is an old fire station. The scene is Urban Boho; a spacious garden, the right kind of paperbacks in utilitarian bookshelves, an indoor swing suggesting all manner of frippery, and what may originally have been a sump pit converted into a sunken kitchen. This latter hosts all the kit needed for guitarist Gabriel de Oliveira, drummer Giovanni Iacovella and singer Beatrice Sberna to join Fongaro in an exploration into classic Italian pop – aka the project ‘Omaggio alle rose’ (‘Homage to the roses’).

Starting a little tentatively, (maybe because the melody lines took a much more definite lead here than in other Fongaro shows at NSRT) the set blossomed into the kind of spacey urban pop that likes to float mercurially about whatever space it finds itself in. The select and ever-so-slightly dress-down audience sat, nodding, taking good note of the direct sonic sketch work that took the place of the bold washes of sound which had previously characterised Fongaro’s shows. Now and again people sought out and caught onto the jazzy, improvisational undercurrents that briefly made themselves tangible and added the odd propulsive element to the whole. Fongaro, obviously a fanboy of this music, sang soft backing to Sbernato’s expressive lead, and seemed lost in the moment of playing tracks like like Paolo Conte, Michele Virano and Vito Pallavicini’s ‘Insieme a te non ci sto più’ and the marvellous, jalopy-like ‘Valzer della crudeltà’; a 50’s  song sung by Margot, in which, according to Sberna, “you realise as you get older that everything sucks…” An improbable setting for such a sentiment but you should never be embarrassed about taking the smooth with the rough.

Journalist Richard Foster writes a blog for selected performances at North Sea Round Town 2024. Richard writes regularly for The Quietus and Louder than War and has written for Vice (Noisey) and The Wire among others. 

Photography: Maarten Laupman