From Copyright to Conducting, Alvise Casellati ’01 LL.M. Makes his Mark

The challenge of interpreting music finds parallels in the law.

Alvise Casellati ’01 LL.M. conducts Opera Italiana in New York's Central Park.
On a recent Tuesday evening beneath a blue sky filled with white clouds, Alvise Casellati ’01 LL.M. led a symphony of 56 musicians and a cast of four soloists through a selection of arias by Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini in a free concert in Central Park.

The July 6 performance marked a New York debut for Casellati, 44, who divides his time between the city and Milan, where he returned in 2012 after eight years serving as general counsel to a real estate investment firm in Midtown Manhattan.

Casellati grew up in Italy playing music. At the age of 10, he entered the Cesare Pollini conservatory in Padua, Italy, where he studied violin and graduated a decade later while in his third year of law school.

He chose to attend Columbia Law School for his LL.M. year, both to study copyright law with Professor Jane Ginsburg and to live in New York City. As a Law School student, he published an analysis of the European Union’s 2001 Information Society Directive, which sought to harmonize protection of copyright across the bloc.

“When people learn my background, they say three letters,” says Casellati. “Wow. They’re very surprised.”

In 2007, Casellati dedicated himself anew to music after a health scare sent him to the hospital. He turned out to be fine, but the experience was a wake-up call. “I took it as a warning that I should devote my time to music,” he recalls.

Casellati enrolled at The Juilliard School, where for four years he studied orchestral conducting at night and worked as a lawyer by day. Along the way, he served as an assistant to legendary conductor Piero Bellugi, who advised Casellati to take up the baton professionally after Casellati conducted a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony before a full house at Lincoln Center.

A video of the Lincoln Center concert and word of Casellati’s conducting led executives of the famed La Fenice opera house in Venice to select Casellati, who still worked as an attorney, to conduct the official concert of the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification.

The performance before a full house aired throughout Italy in March of 2011. The success of the engagement in such a storied venue convinced Casellati to embark on a career that has included five seasons of appointments leading symphonies from the Italian Riviera to Shanghai.

He returned to La Fenice this past September. (Travel tip: He’s slated to conduct there again in the spring.) “Not even in my wildest dreams would I have imagined quitting my job as an attorney to pursue a musical career,” says Casellati of his change in plans.

Though he no longer counsels clients, Casellati attributes his musical ascent in part to his training in the law. Thinking like a lawyer, he says, gives him a method to draw on in conducting, which presents the challenge of whether, and when, to depart from the score. How do you reconcile, musically, a passage in La Bohéme that embodies the depths of sadness if you know that Puccini wrote it at a time of great happiness in his life?

“You start with what’s on the paper, and when that’s not clear or when there is uncertainty, you may help yourself to other sources,” Casellati explains. “An attorney has the tools of interpretation that help put everything in context. The precision you need to analyze music is the same precision you need in analyzing a contract or text of law.”

Casellati says his legal training also lets him spot and solve problems in advance, which helps with managing orchestras. He cites an observation by conductor Riccardo Muti that music demands a balance of passion and logic. The passion is what you put into the performance to convey a feeling, but both the act of analyzing what you do in the run-up to rehearsal matters as well, Casellati says.

“The law really helps the music,” he adds. “The music only helps the law when the lawyer is stressed and needs some soul-feeding.”

Back in Central Park, Casellati revved the ensemble and the audience with the finale of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” the program’s penultimate piece. A sea of attendees held smartphones in the air and shouted “Bravi!” amid the applause.

“It’s Mozart in the Jungle,” said Paul Asaro, referring to the Amazon series about a New York symphony. Asaro and his friend Chuck Livinksi came in from Westchester with their wives to see the show.

For Italy’s consulate, one of the event’s sponsors, the concert represented “a wonderful way to show the world the passionate love between Italy and New York City,” Francesco Genuardi, the consul general, told the crowd.

Afterward, members of the orchestra weighed in on working with Casellati. “His rhythm is fantastic,” said Xinou Wei, the concertmaster. “He has a great understanding of the tradition.”

“He’s really musical,” added Gowoon Choi, first violin and assistant concertmaster.

“He knows his arias,” commented Peri Mauer, a cellist.

Casellati and Ginsburg remain friends. She and her husband have attended performances by Casellati in both Genoa and Venice, where last year they heard him conduct Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino at La Fenice.

The fandom shows signs of enduring. “I’m proud to be a groupie of Maestro Casellati,” Ginsburg says.

Further reading

Hitting the High Note


Posted on July 17, 2017