13 December 2016

Roberto Benzi

French-Italian pianist and conductor Roberto Benzi (1937) who began his career as a musical whiz kid. He conducted his first concert when he was only six years. In the early 1950s he starred in two popular films by Georges Lecombe.

Roberto Benzi
French postcard. Photo: Rotophoto (?).

Musical whiz kid

Roberto Benzi was born of Italian parents in Marseille, France, in 1937. There his father taught solfege. Roberto's musical gifts, in particular his ‘perfect pitch, were apparent from an extremely young age.

At three years old he began to learn solfege and at four, the piano. He conducted his first concert when he was only six years old. A year later, his parents decided to move to Paris to allow their child the best musical education as possible. Roberto then studied orchestral conducting with André Cluytens and in 1948, the only 11-years-old boy started to work as a orchestra conductor.

The musical whiz kid also appeared in two films during the early 1950s. He had a starring role in Prélude à la gloire/Prelude to Glory (Georges Lacombe, 1949). The film pretended not to be a biography of Benzi, who was named Roberto Luigi in the film. Luigi is a street kid and not a music teacher's son, like Benzi. Luigi is a complete autodidact who meets an old conductor, while Benzi had a musical training since he was 3.

D.B. DuMonteil at IMDb: “Georges Lacombe's film is interesting, enhanced by Claude Renoir's camera work. All that Roberto has to do is act naturally because he plays his own role, even if the story is different. No ham acting, but spontaneity and mainly a phenomenal talent: it is something to see this little boy conducting musicians some of whom could be his grandfather! The raison d'être of the film is the last fifteen minutes when Roberto, after refusing to become a performing animal, conducts a Liszt piece.”

Prélude à la gloire was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival in 1950. The film was followed by L'Appel du destin/Call of Destiny (Georges Lacombe, 1953), in which Benzi costarred with Jean Marais. These films enjoyed an immense success throughout Europe, and inspired several young people to embark upon musical careers.

Roberto Benzi
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 157. Photo: Studio Harcourt, Paris.

Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau

When Roberto Benzi was fourteen, he went to study at the College of Françonville, near Paris.

In 1959 he conducted with great success the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet at the Paris Opera. Since that time he has been engaged at a great number of opera houses.

At 22, he made is first recording and since then he has recorded numerous works for the Philips label. He was guest conductor of many famous European orchestras, such as the Orchestre National de France, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam.

Benzi was the founder and resident conductor of the Orchestre de Bordeaux-Aquitaine from 1972 to 1987. In the Netherlands, he was musical and artistic director of the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra (Het Gelders Orkest) from 1989 to 1998, and artistic supervisor and conductor of the National Youth Orchestra (NJO) from 1991 to 1995.

He was married to French mezzo soprano Jane Rhodes who passed away in 2011. Roberto Benzi is a Chevalier (Knight) of the Légion d’honneur, the Ordre National du Mérite, the Palmes Académiques and in the Netherlands, Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau (Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau).

Roberto Benzi
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 262. Photo: Studio Harcourt, Paris.

Sources: RobertoBenzi.com, D.B. DuMonteil (IMDb), Wikipedia (French and Dutch) and IMDb.

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