Blog / The Social Instrument

The Social Instrument

Posted on 20 Feb 2019 by ACO

In this excerpt from our concert program, Australian author and poet Fiona Wright speaks to Italian violinist Lorenza Borrani about the adaptability of the violin, her strong connection with the ACO musicians and her commitment to working with orchestras who are bold, experimental and democratic in their search to find a common truth within music.

“You can read all the books about performing practice and how the music we play today was meant to be played at the time it was written but in the end it all has to pass through the filter of our personal taste and interpretation.”


It's almost accidental that Lorenza Borrani is a violinist, although watching her play, eyes half-closed, leaning in to the instrument and swaying with it, trembling with it, this is hard to fathom. She looks not so much like she is dancing with it as swooning into it, her dark hair cascading down her back.  

Borrani first wanted to play the trumpet and auditioned, as a five-year-old, for the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole in Florence with this “exclusive wish”. They told her, simply and bluntly, that she was too young. To choose a different instrument, right there and then. “I had no idea,” Borrani says. She had “never thought of an alternative”. But hanging on the wall in front of her, beside the door, was a picture of a violin, with the declarative caption IL VIOLINO. It seemed like a good answer, an “emergency exit from the question”. And so the violin it was.

The violin, Borrani says, is “a super social instrument”. Almost always, it is given several parts in any piece of ensemble music, and also tasked with leading the orchestra. It’s flexible, too: “Solo, chamber music, symphonic, opera, everything.” Despite the accident of her first encounter with the instrument, she soon learnt to love it – the instrument itself, the specific art of playing violin, and “the amount of different repertoire and music you can do”. Borrani plays a Venetian violin, a Santo Serafino from 1745, and I can’t help but imagine the hands that such an instrument must have passed through before ending up here – and everything they may have pressed upon it.


Borrani keeps, as the screensaver on her phone, a photo of the card that the musicians of the Australian Chamber Orchestra gave her at the end of her previous Australian tour. It has been there since 2016, she says, because being here, playing with this orchestra, is one of the happiest memories she has. “Both the musical journey and the human connections,” she explains, “went very fast very deep.” She calls the memory “very precious”, and has been looking forward to returning ever since.

Borrani has a real interest in working with orchestras that are democratic, orchestras that share responsibilities as well as opportunities for the interpretation and organisation of the music. “Democracy is a lot about sharing responsibilities,” she says.

Borrani is the principal leader of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, which is sometimes referred to as an “antiorchestra” for its participatory and experimental ethos, and a member of Spira Mirabilis, an orchestra that works with no conductors, little rehearsal, and no fixed set-up – playing with however many musicians the piece demands and in unorthodox public spaces, giving “guerrilla concerts” for broad and often unsuspecting audiences, who may well be entirely unfamiliar with classical music.

It’s tempting to draw parallels between these orchestras and the ACO, an organisation working in a country so far away from the established cultural centres of classical music – and also a little freer, perhaps, from the hefty histories and traditions that may weigh them down. It’s easy to imagine that this is the reason that those connections, for Borrani, went so fast and deep.


Borrani says she feels “at home” and “the most welcome and useful” in orchestras that have this democratic kind of ethos, and these innovative, exciting organisations are also places where there’s more room for collaborative and even conflicting interpretations of the music. “You can read all the books about performing practice and how the music we play today was meant to be played at the time it was written,” she says, “but in the end it all has to pass through the filter of our personal taste and interpretation, and so that’s why people who read the same books can get to so many different conclusions … It is very fascinating,” she adds, “how everyone can get to a personal truth that probably has very little to do with the truth. If an actual truth exists.”

It is Borrani’s role in this tour, as orchestra director, to determine the music’s interpretation, to find a common truth, and yet she sees the most important aspect of this as remaining flexible, because “being able to integrate all of the inputs that can come from the musicians is a huge enrichment”. She refers to her role as one of “sharing”, of respecting that “every group is different” and of trying to minimise the leading that is actually required by making sure everyone is on the same page by the time the playing begins. Her vision for the orchestra is social, much like the violin.

The full interview is available in the concert program for our upcoming national tour, Beethoven & Prokofiev, commencing 7 March. For full details on venues, dates and tickets follow the link below.