Remake and Remodel with Artist in Focus 2024: Alessandro Fongaro

Remake and Remodel with Artist in Focus 2024: Alessandro Fongaro


For the fifth consecutive year, North Sea Round Town (NSRT) unveils its Artist in Focus. From June 27th to July 14th, 2024, the spotlight shines on bassist and composer Alessandro Fongaro, offering him a platform to showcase his (dream)project and an array of performances in Rotterdam, the city he calls home. The Artist in Focus trajectory is a culmination of a year of personal artistic development, which re-questions the musical and artistic values Fongaro means to put forward when composing and performing.


Read interview in Dutch


Text: Richard Foster 

The modern world summoned up in one picture; two people making conversation through the interface of a screen. Maybe it’s the only way: Italian bassist, composer and honorary Rotterdammer Alessandro Fongaro (1991) is a busy man. At the time of interview, the NSRT artist-in-focus was in London on tour, and gearing up for a show on 10 April at jazzahead! in Bremen with his personal project, ‘Pietre’. During jazzahead! he will give a foretaste of a new work he has been developing over the past year as Artist in Focus for North Sea Round Town, titled ‘Hunters in the Snow’ , with a specially picked ensemble consisting of George Dumitriu (violin), Yanna Pelser (viola), Pablo Rodriguez (violin), Thomas van Geelen (cello), Nicolò Ricci (saxophone), Marta Warelis (piano), Jim Black (drums) and Alessandro himself (double bass & composition). 

For the fifth time in a row, NSRT has elected an Artist in Focus. NSRT supports the artist, along with developing Alessandro’s artistic vision throughout his trajectory. Together with the festival, the musician is able to showcase his various facets, inspired and framed by the Rotterdam cultural landscape. To Alessandro, as an artist, NSRT has always been a very important festival- ‘North Sea Round Town represents one of the most forward thinking formats of festivals that I know of.’ Alessandro has been preparing himself for his biggest project during the festival, his dream project. Next to that, NSRT visitors will be able to add much more to their calendars to see from the Artist in Focus.


‘The Dream project’
Alessandro’s (dream)project is based initially around a picture, the painting,
Hunters in the Snow’ by Peter Brueghel the Elder. Alessandro sees the painting as his ‘musical representation of my sense of ‘home’,’ and of ‘the ever evolving perception of the places I once lived in and left.’ These include the town he grew up in, Valdagno, near the Lesser Dolomites, and his current home, the bustling city of Rotterdam. All these places’ meanings have been ‘silently shaping’ themselves through the lens of Fongaro’s camera, and are about to materialise in his latest music.

His (dream)project is essentially a story in music; based on a painting, and explored through photography. Storytelling, for Alessandro Fongaro, is a ‘key point, dear to me in all my music.’ Fongaro’s main concern was to find musicians who could translate what he saw through the lens and on that particular canvas into a narrative that connected with wider ideas of ‘home’ for an audience. No easy task, but he is confident he has assembled a crack squad for his (dream)project. This group consists of George Dumitriu and Pablo Rodríguez on violins, Yanna Pelser on viola and Thomas van Geelen on cello, and Nicolò Ricci on tenor saxophone, Marta Warelis on keys and Jim Black on drums. Alessandro again: ‘I feel these musicians gave me a sense that storytelling was inherent in their work; in the way they approached music and the way they improvised and composed. They all have a clear sense of direction. Take Jim Black: to my ears he created a language that brings ideas of songwriting in from the rock perspective. But qualities like this are true of all the musicians.’

“We need some discipline in here…”
Alessandro Fongaro is an engaging and erudite man. His role as a teacher at Codarts University for the Arts in Rotterdam, is evident in the clear, compelling way he argues why his passion for photography is key to his (dream)project. ‘Before I took up photography, I made music in a very confined way. And I feel music – especially jazz music – can very quickly become a bubble. Of course musicians find inspiration in many things, but there is a lot to study and the language of jazz requires a lot of practice, so it’s very easy to get stuck in that world. Jazz can be a “self-feeding” thing. For me, photography was a way to question art in general, and it became a new way to look at things in a different way, literally! [Laughs.] It gave me a different perspective on my surroundings.’

Maybe making music became too instinctive in its practice, too gnomic in its interactions, and maybe not worth justifying to oneself? Alessandro: ‘Well, studying and practising photography triggered a general form of critical thinking for me, which I hadn’t previously had the chance to develop. As I started to explore the work of Giacomelli, Scianna, Koudelka, Bresson or Brandt, I noticed that these photographers were really good at articulating the reasons behind their work, their values, and how they articulated them in their interviews, the books they wrote, or the passages they wrote in their photobooks.

 Of course, I’ve thought about this as a musician but everything becomes kind of a bubble with playing and studying. And these things in music are sometimes left behind a bit. But, you know, photography gave me the chance to explore form and composition in a different way, so it was a new approach to assemble things. Before, I had never really thought about the concepts behind my projects in such a detailed way.’ 

To Alessandro, being assigned to the task of being the Artist in Focus came just at the right time of his career. ‘In this past year I had the chance to make more time for my own work and to reflect on both who I am as an artist and the meaning of what I make. I noticed that up until a certain point I had been making things without looking too critically at the reasons behind my choices and never really spent much time on developing a narrative for my work.’ The Artist in Focus trajectory, including the dream project and his other collaborations have been an opportunity for Alessandro to approach his work in a different way and investigate these new needs which he believes will help him to grow as an artist.

“All I have is a photograph…”
The results of Alessandro’s passion can be seen on his Instagram account, @awasteofpatience. But this account isn’t just another “content dump.” Alessandro sees photography as ‘a chance to mature as an artist. I got my “fundamentals” done; you know, studying and performing and all my experiences up to now, and photography is more like what I want to base my work on, letting me question what my values are, what am I looking for, actually. With the (dream)project and all the sources that I have taken from, I am a bit more aware of how I want my work to interact with the audience and how I want to present and articulate it. Photography helped me grow in this aspect.’  

Of course, a photograph can be returned to, for as long as it’s needed. As can a place, and this concept is at the heart of his project, ‘The Hunters in the Snow’ the return; to ideas of home and old places. Alessandro: ‘The whole idea behind it is that because of photography, I had a chance to look anew at the places where I come from. Previously they kind of stayed as the places where I grew up. And when I went back I also “kind of assumed” that they would stay the same and just be waiting for me.’ A young man’s dream, but also, as Alessandro laughingly counters, ‘a nightmare! I thought, “Now I have a camera, let’s go back and look for some things.” And it really helped me, because I was trying to compose some images, to see if they would touch me, or see things that I hadn’t seen before. I started looking at things with my “new eyes”, given all the processes I had gone through living abroad, and I tried to find a connection with myself, right now. And of course these places have also evolved.

…My hometown, Valdagno, is a very small town in the province of Vicenza in the northeast of Italy. There’s a lot of nature, as it’s at the feet of the Lesser Dolomites. Mountains are really important to me and a part of my life since I was a kid. There is a very specific kind of environment there; a lot of greenery as the Lesser Dolomites are not as high as the main mountain range. With the camera, I was able to take a moment to appreciate them and understand what they meant in this specific moment: to break the memory line I already had.’ 

The move to “flat Holland” couldn’t be more contrasting: ‘the photos from Italy have much more a sense of stillness and there is a different kind of depth. In Rotterdam things are much more dynamic. I play around with blurriness and motion. That represents how I feel in these kinds of places, a certain dynamic feel, a lot more movement.’ Rotterdam is in fact Alessandro’s playground, as he will be performing at different locations within the city. This all part of his (dream)project to showcase the work he has been working on over the past year.

“Best foot forward…”
Making different kinds of art uses different parts of the body. One unglamorous, but essential body part in the story of his (dream)project are Alessandro’s feet. They covered the ground needed to get the ideas that would later be transferred to music. ‘Of course feet are super important. I don’t remember who originally said this, but you don’t take photos with your eyes or with your hands but with your feet. Because where you decide to stand is what will give the photo the right composition or distance or so on. And the movement and rhythm inherent in what I do to get a photograph is transferred to my hands when I play.’ Funnily enough, it’s not just Fongaro’s feet that play a part in the (dream)project. Alessandro: ‘There is one piece, ‘I camminatori’, which translates as “the pedestrians.” This is inspired by a realisation that the photos I was taking in real life have recurring subjects. One is people walking, but from the legs down. This piece came from trying to formulate the kind of clock-like rhythm you find with people walking in the street.

Tell us a story?
It seems that his (dream)project, The ‘Hunters in the Snow’ has a lot to absorb: how the body is used in making art, notions of what ‘home’ is, photography’s many perspectives, and the musicians’ interpretations of all of these elements. They need a vehicle of some sort. Here we can turn to the idea of a narrative. As mentioned earlier, Alessandro Fongaro sees creating a narrative in his music as his loadstar. Storytelling can be a healing, unifying thing that also, inherently, carries a lot of (embodied) memory. Fongaro, however, thinks it’s ‘important to make some kind of frame for the audience to build their own narrative. ‘I don’t want the audience to merge their storyline with the one I propose!’

Then there is a place to add; the stage. A stage is a temporary home, agreed? Alessandro; ‘You can see it like that, yeah! And on the stage, the idea of home also keeps shifting because the images will shift, going from a place in Rotterdam to a portion of the Dolomites. There are some elements in the photos which I think draw a thread through the work. Not just the contrasts but also things which unite them. In the end it will probably mean something different to me, after playing it.’ 

After all, the (dream)project’s storyline is ‘deeply connected with some places in Fongaro’s past. And for those who don’t have the same connections? Alessandro: ‘It can be interesting but then you tell a story that is kind of “unilateral.” I want the audience to see themselves in this narrative, by maybe questioning where they grew up, or feel in a certain place, or even if they are looking for that kind of feeling. I look for that myself, in the music I listen to or the films that I watch… then I can find myself as the protagonist within that artwork, and see myself in a new light. I don’t want the audience to feel the same emotions I have when I present this music, but I want to make sure that some elements can trigger something.’ 

Time to return to Hunters in the Snow. Alessandro: ‘If you go back to that painting, there is a specific element that really touches me; the fact that Brueghel bases the picture in a place that doesn’t represent his surroundings. There is this tension inherent in the picture that is about thinking about another place; and my story is that I grew up in a place that seems similar, but I’m not there any more. So I look at that painting through my eyes and with my story. I find that so interesting.’

Everyone’s talkin’ bout, pop music…
The (dream)project also draws on certain aspects of Italian pop music, specifically, a certain movement of singer songwriters, the likes of Fabrizio De André, Francesco De Gregori and Lucio Dalla. ‘First of all, these people are amazing writers. The texts they write are incredible. And they manage to translate that into music by making the right compositional choices. So their storytelling is super strong and the way they articulate feelings, using words, is unbelievable; they are masters. The musical choices they make to give a backbone to their stories are very peculiar, there are some elements in the melodies, arranging and harmonies, which are also really specific. With the melodic and harmonic senses of the material I developed for the (dream)project, there is a lot that comes from them.’

Popular, manufactured music for the masses seems to last, why is that? Alessandro: ‘You kind of give a frame for the listener to see themselves in a specific story. The choices made are very clear, whether it’s in the words or melody. You can use specific technical “tricks” that can achieve certain feelings, even if you go back to the music of Cole Porter, there are specific harmonic choices that “create” specific emotions. Those are important to be aware of when composing, and it’s interesting that this technical or theoretical aspect is so strongly connected to the storytelling aspect. You create memories with melodies and  harmonic progressions and pinpoint specific emotions for a listener. And I like to do that, too.’ 


Photo by: Eric van Nieuwland

What to expect?
A small sum up of the projects attached to Alessandro as Artist in Focus 2024. Imagine; A four day residency at Boerderij Driebergen, including Carmen van Mulier (NL)  and Jelle Roozenburg (NL). The artists will be writing, making music and creating throughout those three days. On the fourth day they will give a public performance. A concert at the Laurenskerk where Hayo Boerema (NL) will join Alessandro for a unique performance which will explore the encounter between the double bass and the pipe organ. A collaboration between Space is the Place, WORM and NSRT for a performance of Alessandro’s own project ‘Pietre’. Where for this occasion he’ll be working with Bo van der Werf (NL), Sun-Mi Hong (SK) and Nicolò Ricci (IT). A jazz cycling tour, with one of the locations being a boxing school. Alessandro’s interest in boxing led him to the idea of bringing jazz into the gym, a dynamic and energetic environment. Which he expects to give the performance a new feel for both the musicians and the listener. And in collaboration between Batavierhuis and NSRT, “Laboratorio del suono” is a one-day laboratory where Lucija Gregov, Alessandro Fongaro, and Mark Schilders come together for the first time to explore new sonic textures.

Alessandro is as excited as we are for his debut as Artist in Focus 2024 he says, ‘I feel that thanks to NSRT my development has been fast-forwarded while researching and exploring new possibilities to assemble the program that we will present.’

Would you like to see Alessandro play before NSRT starts this year? During jazzahead! and part of the partner country focus on The Netherlands this year, Fongaro will perform with his latest project Pietre (NL) ⁠on Apr 11 |  22:45 – 23:15 hr. | Hall 7.2 and on the Sunday 14 April | 12:45 – 13:30   hr. |  Velo Lab, Bremen during the jazz bike tour. Participants can experience a preview of Fongaro’s ‘dream project’ – ‘The Hunters in the Snow alongside violinist George Dumitriu. More information about Alessandro’s projects, collaborations and ticket sales will follow soon. Keep an eye on our website and socials for more information.

About North Sea Round Town
Fringe festival North Sea Round Town (NSRT) is a city-wide festival that continues to develop as an adventurous playground for rising jazz stars and beyond. For two and half weeks, the festival connects artists, makers, audiences, and the city of Rotterdam with over 325 concerts on 125 locations varying from (jazz) venues and public squares to churches, (former) swimming pools, art galleries, nursing homes and many more. The city forms a challenging scenery and the connecting factor for rising stars and contemporary acts on a local and (inter)national level. The keyword here is collaboration, because NSRT is a festival where everything revolves around joining forces with new young voices and collective making. Discover the best jazz, soul, R&B, funk, improv, electronica, hip-hop and pop in Rotterdam.

Stay up to date!

Follow NSRT on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify or subscribe to our newsletter.

Follow Alessandro on Instagram and Facebook.