The International Piano Academy "Incontri col Maestro" in Imola is a a school of advanced piano concert specialization situated in the beautiful setting of the Sforza Castle in Imola. The Academy was born in the early 1980s thanks to the initiative of Maestro Franco Scala and of his pupils at the Conservatory of Pesaro.

The merit of this group lay in its ability to rethink and renew the terminology of piano teaching, and open it up to novel experiences different from the traditional canons.

Powered by this refreshing perspective, the Private Music Association "Incontri col Maestro" was created in 1981 in Imola in the studio of Franco Scala, funded by the students themselves. The idea that inspired this Association, which can be defined as the original nucleus of the Imola International Piano Academy, was to educate the students through several "encounters with the master"; the pupils were learning through the comparison with the experience of some of the great exponents of international pianism, with their aesthetic, historical and technical interpretation.

The first guest of the new Association was Maestro Bruno Canino, who accepted the invitation despite the absolute novelty of this opening educational idea. Since then, the list of greatest musicians and international performers teaching at the Academy comprises Jörg Demus, Lazar Berman, Aldo Ciccolini, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Nikita Magaloff, Rudolf Firkušný, Alexander Lonquich, György Sándor, Marcello Abbado and many others. Many of them came back frequently to Imola after the official creation of the Academy, and some have even become official professor of institutional piano courses of the Academy. Another specific feature and innovation was the idea of structuring the meetings as monographic seminars, working on the complete works of Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Prokofieff and Scriabin.

At the base of this extraordinary educational approach there is an artisanal idea of teaching piano: "I never thought of myself as a teacher - says Franco Scala - but as a craftsman who runs a teaching studio, with talented young apprentices, where great teachers come to complete the work of a genial music picture.

This is a formula that already existed in the sixteenth century and that, even without straying over time, reflects the history of our city: how many small shops of Imola have become companies and then industries?

Many people are amazed that a piano academy was born in Imola, and perhaps this sentiment is understandable, because the product of our “workshop” is hard to understand: it is intangible, mysterious, precious, and you cannot touch it but only listen to it. However, in spite of everything, this product is appreciated all over the world.

It would be humiliating if the Academy were not be regarded as a creation of our city because, in general, the artisans are proud of their profession and of their origins. I would like to be considered one of them."

Thus, far from the major music centers and sheltered by the countryside between Emilia and Romagna, the workshop of Franco Scala was growing and consolidating its experience. The success of this revolutionary initiative, which actually upset the usual course of music studies, quite naturally led to the creation of an institute of advanced piano concert specialization with a more organized structure. in this way the International Piano Academy "Incontri col Maestro" was born in 1989, thanks to the local municipality, to the Cassa dei Risparmi di Imola, to Yamaha Music Italia and its President Antonio Monzino who granted the use of many pianos.

An ideal place to guest the Academy turned out to be the Sforza Castle, obtained thanks to the efforts of the former Mayor of Imola, Mr. Bruno Solaroli.

The Academy was officially opened in 1989 on March 6th with a recital given by Vladimir Ashkenazy, who had already participated in some meetings at the private studio and who also accepted the honorary presidency of the Academy, a position he still holds in addition to the Co-Directorship.

In the new location the Academy, despite engaging in more complex activities than it had in the past, wanted to maintain the same spirit that inspired the original teaching initiatives.

The activities continued to be based on seminars and masterclasses of famous teachers who ensured the persistence of the basic pluralistic principles.

However, at the same time, several classes of permanent teachers were established to allow a greater continuity of teaching. Among them, beside the director Franco Scala, Lazar Berman, Antonio Ballista, Leonid Margarius, Boris Petrushansky, Piero Rattalino, Riccardo Risaliti, Giovanni Valentini and Stefano Fiuzzi who activated the courses of fortepiano. Among the guest lecturers who inspired meetings and masterclasses we have Maurizio Pollini, Charles Rosen, Tatiana Nicolayeva, Paul Badura-Skoda, András Schiff, Rosalyn Tureck, Louis Lortie, Michel Dalberto, Andrzej Jasiński, Alexis Weissenberg, Michel Béroff, and Robert Levin.

Since then there have been also numerous seminars conducted by personalities of the music world, not directly related to the piano, as Alberto Basso, Paul Gallarati, Giovanni Carli Ballola, Gustav Kuhn, Quirino Principe, Riccardo Chailly, Giorgio Pugliaro.

Through this work, which combines innovation and continuous training, the Imola Piano Academy soon reached an extraordinary international reputation, gained over the years thanks to the victory of more than 60 first prizes in international piano competitions. To name a few: the Prize "Arthur Rubinstein" in Tel Aviv, the Prize "Franz Liszt" in Utrecht, the "Ferruccio Busoni" in Bolzano, the "Rina Sala Gallo" in Monza, the "Queen Elizabeth" in Brussels, the "Van Cliburn" in Fort Worth, Texas, the “Paloma O'Shea” in Santander, the "Leeds Piano Competition," the "UNISA" prize in Pretoria, South Africa, the "Maria Canals" prize in Barcelona, and the "Mozart Competition" in Salzburg.

The students of the Academy are constantly invited to play at prestigious festivals and concert seasons around the world, and recently performed at the White House in the United States and at the Sala Nervi of the Vatican in honour of Pope Benedict XVI.

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