Nicola Piovani and the experience of cancer transformed into music

Nicola Piovani and the experience of cancer transformed into music

One of Nicola Piovani's concerts is entitled like a radiotherapy machine. “Cyberknife”, a rhapsody for clarinet and orchestra in three movements. He told himself why this morning at the Teatro Manzoni in Milan from a special stage, that of IEO for women, the appointment dedicated to the thousands of patients treated in the center born 29 years ago from the idea of ​​Umberto Veronesi. “I have been treated at the European Institute of Oncology several times, and during the radiotherapy sessions I was very impressed by these large objects. Last time, when I came back 16 years after the first one, everything had changed: I found myself in front of a monstrous car, a cross between a dinosaur and an oil pump. It had eyes, it circled around me, it looked at me, and then it stopped. I lived with this being for a few weeks and when I concluded this experience, one of the ways I found to metabolize it was to transform it into the language of music. For me this is the way… not the simplest, but the richest, with which I can say as many things as possible”.

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Maestro, how is the experience of a tumor transformed into music?
“As with all emotions, translating them into a language that belongs to us is a partly decodable process and partly not. It comes naturally to me to put on the staff what cannot be said in words. I don't think I know how this process works: I know it's the most direct way I know to translate the strongest and most unverbalizable movements of the soul”.

What tumor did he have?
“Prostate, with two total remissions. I have had various vicissitudes and every time I have experienced this: that the disease exists and there is a cure. Not always, but often. It used to be said that cancer is a disease that leaves the suitcase at home. But everything leaves the suitcase at home. I was lucky and found science to keep me not only alive but in serenity and happiness. I was able to be treated with cutting-edge techniques”.

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Has your idea of ​​cancer changed from before to after your diagnosis?
“Enormously. Until it came to me, I didn't really care what progress had been made. I experienced the news in a more tragic way than it actually was, because I had a linguistic arsenal from the past, made up of censorship, when the word cancer meant incurable disease. Then, when we put the cards on the table, we understood that it was a disease that shouldn't be overlooked but for which medicine exists, as for many other diseases. Cancer is a far from solved problem, but we are beginning to see a light in perspective. We need to remove the terminological taboo. For example, I noticed that in certain hematology departments there is great shame in using the word leukemia, which today is a curable disease, although this does not mean that everyone is cured”.

The relationship between science and society is complex. Do you trust science?
“When I was doing my humanities there was an important chapter on the conflict between science and faith. I have never experienced this conflict because I have enormous faith in science. Even the doctors I've frequented, for my personal affairs or for humanitarian activities, have a priestly quality about me that I like very much. We live in a time when civilization is filling up with shadows, ugly ghosts from the past that we thought were outdated are returning. And so there's almost the feeling that we're going backwards. But there is a bright constant in recent decades and it is the progress of science, accelerated by the possibility of sharing discoveries in real time all over the world”.

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And what does he not trust?
“If there weren't this aspect of our times, which is not profit but the lust for maximum profit, to get in the way of science, this would be even brighter. The dangerous trend is to shift everything to the profit side: it applies to medicine as to any other field. If this trend is not tempered by a political management that harmonizes private research with the well-being of the people, we risk slipping into an unpleasant situation. Science and treatments cannot be a privilege for the few".

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