Music

Andrea Bocelli: ‘The darkest periods amplify the glimmers of light'

The legendary classical musician has dedicated his latest album to God, who has been helping him find hope following a hopeless year

Image credit: Giovanni de Sandre

Celine Dion once said: “If God had a singing voice, he would sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.”

Fitting, then, that the undisputed heavyweight of the classical world has dedicated his new album, Believe, to the divine.

Bocelli, 62, has long put the pow in power ballad; his voice, like the creator it celebrates, both epic and intimate. One of the iconic moments of the year was Bocelli outside the Duomo in Milan in April, performing Amazing Grace to an empty square on Easter weekend.

In an exclusive interview, the legendary tenor tells The Big Issue about the role music plays in connecting us to our spiritual side.

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Have you found hope in the most hopeless of years?

Fear, someone wise once said, is probably the only thing we should be afraid of. The challenge is to keep your calm and not lose your optimism.

Avoid the waste of energy and resulting attack on your immune defences that a panic and stress response produces. The darkest periods amplify the glimmers of light. Each crisis is a challenge as well as an opportunity – and also a great responsibility.

For people who are not religious, can music convey a sense of what faith means to people who believe?

I’m sure of it. Music is an expression of the sacred, a bridge across which faith can be revealed to us beyond the veil of our noisy, everyday lives. Music, like philosophy, originates from wonder. Regardless of our religious preferences we can demonstrate our ability to live in harmony with the world, to live poetically – and therefore to live for good.

What are your earliest memories of music that helped you comprehend the divine?

I remember some popular traditional melodies, which I associate with my grandmother and the elderly family members of Casa Bocelli, when we participated in the sacred processions of my hometown in Tuscany.

I remember the candlelight and that sense of warmth that permeated the holidays. I remember the sound of the church organ, magical sounds that seemed to me an invitation to reflect and ask myself those questions that are crucial for every human being.

Andrea-Bocelli_credit-Mark-Seliger
Andrea Bocelli wrote his Big Issue Letter to My Younger Self in 2019

The album is called Believe. Believing in God requires a leap of faith – is that leap of faith important?

If I come across a building when I am walking, I always wonder who built it. To those who think that no one created it, I would argue that nothing stands up by itself.

Maybe I won’t find out the architect’s identity, because there are structures so ancient that the creator’s name has been lost over time. But someone, for sure, must have built it… In this way, I believe that rationality and logic can lead to God. It is basic reasoning that allows us to choose the right path, at the first and fundamental crossroads, to believe or not to believe.

Personally, I chose the path that seemed most logical to me, the one that my intelligence, however limited, identified as a path without alternative.

In 2016 you sang Nessun Dorma in the stadium to celebrate Leicester City’s miraculous Premiership title. Is ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ on Believe included in tribute to Liverpool’s stellar year?

One can’t deny that it is one of the most passionate and beloved anthems in the history of football! However, it has the gift of being a song that brings people together. I included it precisely because it is a song full of hope, a declaration of love for the wider community. It is the promise of a golden sky after the storm.

In different songs, is it always the same God? For example, taking two tracks from Believe, is it the same God being praised in Amazing Grace as in Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah?

Cohen’s Hallelujah is not strictly religious, but it is full of religiosity, a real hymn to life. As for Amazing Grace, it is a Christian thanksgiving hymn whose strength shakes and moves at every level.

I believe that God is one, even if there are many names by which he goes. On the other hand, music is a mysterious gift that often transcends the intentions of those who create it: there are works initially conceived with a particular message that is soon overtaken by an entirely new interpretation.

The most striking case is the famous Ave Maria by Franz Schubert, which was a piece of music originally something quite different, a lied [art song] based on verses [of The Lady in the Lake] by Sir Water Scott.

Believe also includes an unreleased song by Ennio Morricone, who died this year. Can music make a person immortal?

This piece was written shortly before the maestro died and I think it expresses his poetic side very well.

I agree that great creative minds have the privilege of being able to continue to “speak” to future generations and enliven the world. Quality music brings timeless emotions into play, with an intensity capable of breaking down any cultural and generational barrier.

How do you feel about your voice being listened to 100 or 1,000 years in the future?

Honestly, I have some doubts about the idea that in 100 years someone will remember my voice! Our earthly transit is a small segment for each of us… For sure, a great composer has the privilege of being remembered for centuries, but not me. Whatever most of us do in life, we ultimately play a small part that is destined to diminish over time.

Do you miss performing live in front of an audience?

I miss it greatly. Maintaining a direct relationship – a real and intimate relationship with those who appreciate my music – remains a fundamental part of my life as an artist. I yearn for the energy that is established with the audience in a concert hall or in an arena.

The live streams that often replace a concert event these days are an interesting alternative for those who create art and for those who benefit from it. The wonder, the strength and the energy of a crowd are, however, something very different.

How will you be spending Christmas?

I am very fond of and attached to Christmas traditions. I like that warmth, that intimacy that the Christian holidays evoke.

I hope to be able to spend it with my family and loved ones, in the desire to remind myself, and all of us, of the profound religious meaning that these holidays offer.

Andrea Bocelli’s Believe is out now on Sugar/Decca Records. @stevenmackenzie

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