Meet Theresia: Guillermo Santonja di Fonzo

By Emilia Campagna

November 30, 2023

Guillermo Santonja di Fonzo is a young talented musician from Spain who plays in the ranks of Theresia’s violins: his skill and dedication were recently rewarded when he was chosen, along with three other grantees, to take part in a major European tour of the famous period-instrument ensemble Il Giardino Armonico as a Theresia apprentice. We’re happy to introduce you to him through this enjoyable interview.

Guillermo, tell us about your musical upbringing, your training and your decision to focus on the historical instrument: how did it all come about?

I started playing the violin when I was 5 years old and went through the whole Conservatorio in Madrid with a wonderful teacher, Farid Fasla. I went to the German School in Madrid, so when the time came, it was natural for me to try to study in Germany. I ended up studying modern violin at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg with a fantastic teacher, Tanja Becker-Bender, to whom I owe so much. My interest in early music and historical performance practice was already there, mainly because my mother is a trained recorder player, so I had heard and played a lot of baroque music growing up. During my studies I gradually realised that the historically informed approach came natural to me, I felt much more at home with it. When I tried playing with gut strings for the first time, it was a moment of true epiphany. I told myself: “This is what I want to do in my life.”

What do you consider to be the most important moments in your musical and professional development?

As I mentioned, my first great musical influence was my mother. Our home was always very musical; from a very early age, we would organise house concerts where we would play baroque chamber music with my mother on the recorder and my brother on the cello. These early experiences certainly shaped my approach to music, which is an intimate one where listening to others is essential. During my studies in Hamburg, also Professor Gerhart Darmstadt, who had been a cello student of Harnoncourt and was in charge of the school’s small early music department, had a great influence on me. I attended his classes for most of my studies and always felt that he had new insights and information to share with his students. He made me discover the orchestra in a new way and gave me some performance opportunities that I will cherish forever and that were important in my development as a violinist. More recently, I took part in a summer academy (my first project with solo repertoire on gut strings) with Johannes Pramsohler of Ensemble Diderot, who generously lent me one of his baroque violins for the whole project. We performed Vivaldi’s entire Estro Armonico. If I had any doubts at all about going down the HIP route, that was the moment when I felt most clearly that it is the right path for me.

When and how did your journey with Theresia begin?

I auditioned for Theresia in July 2022, about which I had heard from a friend. I didn’t know much about the orchestra at first, but I thought it sounded great because I’ve always loved playing classical repertoire. Right from the start of my first project (an opera project with Alessandro de Marchi in Rieti and Rome, where we performed Le Astuzie femminilli by Domenico Cimarosa) I felt that I was experiencing something unique. Theresia Orchestra brings together many wonderful musicians, who happen to also be really good-hearted and hard-working people, and the musical result of our joint efforts to deliver high quality performances, as well as the time spent together on each and every project, is something I hold very dear. I think we-Theresians should be very grateful and I am proud to have been a part of it.

You recently toured with the ensemble “Il Giardino Armonico” with three other musicians of Theresia: how was that experience?

The recent tour with Il Giardino Armonico (IGA) with my colleagues and friends Lucas Bernardo da Silva, Matylda Adamus and Natascha Pichler was an unforgettable experience to conclude our learning path with Theresia through this apprentice project. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we grew up listening to the recordings of IGA and Giovanni Antonini, so to be part of the orchestra was a huge honour.

What was your favourite moment?

I am not sure I can pick just one moment, but it was very special to spend a week in Wroclaw, Matylda’s hometown, and for her to show us her favourite bars, spots and such. Also, the fact that we got standing ovations at each of our concerts made us feel that the music really resonated with the audience, which is a really rewarding feeling.

You have played at important music venues: which one impressed you the most?

In terms of venues, my favourites were definitely the first and the last: KKL Lucerne because of its beautiful location and amazing acoustics, and Bucharest because of the excitement it meant playing at the Enescu Festival in such a historical theatre as the Ateneul Român.

What are your plans now? Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I prefer not to think that far ahead; I just want to be able to continue making great music with inspiring colleagues and conductors, and to share these experiences with dear friends, among whom I hope to find many fellow Theresians along the way!

What are your passions besides music?

I really enjoy literature and cinema, not only as entertainment but also as a source of inspiration. I think it helps to connect with different emotions and develop empathy, which I think is essential for any musician. I also enjoy swimming and running, which helps me maintain a consistent level of energy to cope with my work and travel schedule.

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About Emilia Campagna

Journalist and musician, Emilia is a blogger for Theresia