This article appeared in The Town Courier.
Alessandra Cuffaro clearly recalls the first time she heard a violin. The 3-year-old was watching a black-and-white television movie about the life of Nicolò Paganini, “the most famous violin virtuoso of all time.”
“After all these years, I still remember many images of it and the amazing effect that the sound had on me,” said the Kentlands resident, now a highly skilled violinist herself. “I knew since then that I would have refused to do anything in my life without having that incredible piece of wood on my shoulder and in my arms.”
Cuffaro and her husband, Maestro Simeone Tartaglione, came here from their native Italy about six years ago, to expand his employment opportunities. Agrigento, their historic hilltop city on Sicily’s southwest shore, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“I grew up surrounded by the majestic Greek temples and other remains of ancient cultures,” she said. “When you walk through the large Valle dei Templi, you find your soul absorbed in the monumental 25-century-old temples standing against the beauty of the Sicilian blue sky and the warmth of the welcoming Mediterranean Sea. It’s breathtaking!”
“When you are born and raised in such magical place,” Cuffaro added, “your mind forms though the deep roots of history and wonder toward the infinite possibility of dreams and achievements, limitless feelings that were always the background of my childhood.”
While Tartaglione leads five orchestras in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, Cuffaro has continued her illustrious career as a violin faculty member at The Catholic University of America. She gives private lessons to students, ranging from age 4 to doctoral candidates. The two classical musicians — who met as teenagers playing at a mutual friend’s wedding — will perform together at Musica Viva Kentlands’ first free classical music concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 23 on the lawn of the Kentlands Mansion.
On the program will be Antonio Vivaldi’s “Summer” from the “Four Seasons” and Franco Mannino’s third movement of “Concerto Op.447, No.2” for violin and orchestra. Mannino has described Cuffaro as “a sublime interpreter of my music… and also of the music of others!”
Before coming to the U.S., Cuffaro had a substantial reputation as a soloist in her native country, especially for being the first Italian woman to perform Paganini’s “24 Capricci, Op. 1” in concert. “At the time of my premiere, only five women in the whole world had played all 24 Capricci in concert,” she said, explaining that she embarked on learning the pieces “because my beloved teacher one day told me, ‘You are my best student. I want my best student to have this experience.’”
The “Capricci,” Cuffaro said, “is the quintessence of hard, complicated, at the limit of the technical difficulties of any kind that has ever been written for violin.” Why? “Firstly, because of the long, accurate preparation, but also because of the ‘athletic performance’ and the fatigue that comes playing in each of the 24. It’s like running the 100 meters in Olympics Games 24 times in a row and running to win each time, every run!” She has now performed this feat 23 times.
Cuffaro’s playing – including more than 700 solo performances with orchestras and chamber groups plus national and international competitions — has earned considerable critical acclaim as well as prizes. During a 2017 concert tour, in fact, she said, “I was called by the most famous violin maker in Cremona, Bernard Neuman, to perform in a segment on CBS News, because of the particular beauty and warm color that characterizes my way of playing.”
Life in the Kentlands has been a good fit for the transplants. “We are extremely happy in the U.S.A. We are raising our two wonderful girls, cherishing every stage of their growth with love and protection,” Cuffaro said.
About her husband, Cuffaro said, “We grew up together; he is my past, my present and my future. He was at my side in many crucial moments of my career and in my life. He is the best pianist and the best orchestra conductor that in my long career I have ever met — and believe me, I know many.” In their leisure, the couple also play tennis.
Although the violin has long been Cuffaro’s passion, she said her “dreams were never about performing or being a performer. It was later that a persistent, irresistible voice started screaming into my mind, ‘It is just so beautiful, you can’t keep it just for yourself.’ This is the only reason I still perform; it is my need to share with others the incredible, beautiful voice of the violin.”