A concert violinist and Uber driver has begun composing his own music during lockdown.
Raffaele Pagano, 34, from Newbury, East London, said that while Covid-19 restrictions meant he could no longer perform at concerts, it also gave him space from the composers that he’s spent his life studying, allowing him to focus on producing his own music.
He has also taken to playing his violin in his car while working 70-hour weeks for Uber, a job he took on to support himself after his musical career was uprooted by restrictions.
Averaging five star ratings in over 500 jobs, Raffaele has been recognised as one of the taxi giants most amiable drivers.
Rafaelle said: “Fortunately with my violin next to me I never felt tired and am often inspired by the wonderful people that ride in my car.
“The different energy, lives and cultures of my passengers are a source of energy and inspiration for my playing and composition. My music is made from real life and real emotions.”
The Italian virtuoso left his native Naples in 2014 to pursue a career in classical music in the UK, where the pay is more reliable, but the market is more competitive.
The trip proved to be a success when he met one of his heroes, a much-revered Chinese violinist and conductor called Hu Kun, who took the promising young Italian under his wing.
Raffaele said: “He took me as his student and taught me for two years all the little secrets of the great soloists.”
Finding his feet in the bustling new city, he began playing with a number of orchestra’s, and eventually joined the London Arte Chamber Orchestra in St Giles, near Trafalgar Square, and became their lead violinist in July 2019.
Just as his soloist career began to take off, the Western world went into lockdown, shattering Raffaele’s chances of playing a 40-minute solo to Beethoven’s violin concerto – a long-time dream of his.
He was faced with an unusual dilemma, as for the first time since he could remember, he was not playing his instrument for seven to eight hours a day and had to look for a job.
Raffaele said: “When lockdown started, and all my concerts and musical activities were cancelled, I started to work with Uber full time.
“It was hard because in lockdown there were very few people and I used to sometimes wait a couple of hours before getting a job.”
Instead of writing off the time behind the wheel, Raffaele buckled in his violin to ride shotgun.
Then one day, when he heard news that another of his musical heroes, this time an Italian movie music composer, Ennio Morricone, had died, he was moved to play something on the spot.
Raffaele said: “So I saw my violin on the left side. I had one of his melodies clearly in my mind and I stopped my car. I will never forget, I was in Berkley Square near a fish restaurant, and I took my violin and played and recorded something from the heart.
“That was my first time in the car.”
He is now no longer shy about playing in his car and has come to see many benefits.
He said: “I have a half electric car and with the windows closed it becomes like a soundproof studio recording.”
On top of the stresses of lockdown, things took a turbulent turn for Raffaele when his love life fell apart.
Turning to his usual source of comfort, he was distressed to find that focusing on the music of other composers, even his favourite titans like Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, was not bringing him solace.
Raffaele said: “So I closed my eyes, I stayed in silence listening to the vibes of my heart and I started to hear a melody, my first melody, I couldn’t believe it was mine.”
What followed was his first musical composition, which he premiered at a free outdoor concert that he hosted with friends in Brockley Park.
When the opportunity came for a soloist to play something at the end, Raffaele introduced the piece and, to the surprise of his friends, attributed it to “an Italian composer called Raffaele Pagano.”
He said: “It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. I felt my legs shaking like I was nine when I was playing my first concert.”
While he is grateful that lockdown gave him the solitude he needed to create something himself, he is excited about things reopening – especially concert halls.
He is due to play in a virtual concert next week, and tickets can be found here.