‘It’s incredible to lead an orchestra in Italy, the place where music was born’

"There's a huge passion to make music in Italy, which makes it a great place to work and spend time," says conductor Alpesh Chauhan. At the age of just 28, Chauhan is the principal conductor of the main orchestra in Parma, the northern city chosen as Italy's Capital of Culture for 2020.

'It's incredible to lead an orchestra in Italy, the place where music was born'
Alpesh Chauhan is the principal conductor at Parma's Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini. Photo: Marcello Orselli

Despite still having a base in the UK, the role in Parma has given Chauhan the chance to get to know the city and travel to other parts of Italy for concerts. When The Local spoke to the conductor, he was in Verona for rehearsals, and he has upcoming concerts in Milan as well as across Europe in the UK, Netherlands, Spain and France. 

“There's so much I love about Italian culture and the longer I stay here, the more I learn about it,” he says. “I was interested to see how regional the food traditions are — you can drive 20 kilometres in any direction and the menus will change. I love the lifestyle, the wine, and just being in the place where music was born.”

Taking up the role in Parma came with challenges, including the obvious language barrier leading an orchestra mainly made up of Italians. But Chauhan says the players encouraged him to try to speak Italian as much as possible, offering translations for words he didn't understand, which has helped him learn the language impressively fast.

“When you learn a word in that situation, on the job, you always remember it,” the conductor explains. “It's very helpful that music has a lot of Italian words, so the hardest thing for me was finding the filler words — in music you just get the bare instructions. But when you go for a drink after rehearsals, I've found you learn so much just through listening and seeing how they put sentences together.”'

At the end of a performance. Photo: Luca Trascinelli


One big difference in the working cultures between Italy and his native England is the professional hierarchy, which Chauhan has found is stricter in Italy.

“In other countries, you have a professional relationship but it's casual enough for them to call you by your first name. In Italy, in the first rehearsal they all get on their feet and using the term 'maestro' is a sign of respect. I tell them they can call me Alpesh but they say that when I'm on the box, I'm the maestro,” he explains.

Despite the formality of the conductor-musician relationship, Chauhan says he has found a sense of community and loyalty in Italy which surprised him. In many ways, he says Italy's culture is “worlds apart” from Britain's, but he has found many similarities with India, where his parents are from. 

He finds that in both countries, once you have been accepted as part of a community — such as the orchestra — everyone in it will go the extra mile to treat you well.

Photo: Patrick Allen

“There's a real sense that people look after you, even at work it's extremely familial and people will do their best for you. Both Italian and Indian culture revolve around family, friends, being together with good company and good food.”

This familial atmosphere makes it easier to do a job that he says at times makes for “a very lonely life”. Chauhan says that most conductors never formally retire, but continue working and carrying out the travel that involves into their 70s, 80s, and beyond.

The nature of the job requires moving from place to place rather than sticking with one orchestra, but he notes that with friends in different cities and technology offering constant connections to friends and family, conductors today aren't as isolated as they may once have been.

READ ALSO: Meet the Italian 'father of disco' still behind the decks at 78

What's more, for Chauhan there's no possibility of doing anything else — he describes conducting as an “obsession.” 

There are no other musicians in his family, but he first discovered classical music when a cello teacher performed at his school, prompting him to sign up for lessons in the instrument. 

When asked what it was that drew him to the cello, the 27-year-old can't quite put his finger on it: “It was just something that really focussed me, like a fire burning inside me. I was always wanting to get my cello out and play, always looking ten pages later in my practice books to see what was coming up, so my music teacher had to rein me in and be methodical, explaining that I had to work my way there.”

The Parma orchestra. Photo: Gianni Cravedi

While playing in youth orchestras, he developed an interest in the role of the conductor and how they brought all the musicians and their music together, and one day came across a stack of old orchestral scores in a library cabinet at his school.

Chauhan asked the school's Head of Music if he could take home any spare copies of the scores, and was able to. “No-one really uses those in schools now; in music classes you just do basic keyboard exercises, usually. So I started studying them myself, all the time really — I'd be looking at them in other classes whenever I got bored.”

READ ALSO: Five great reasons why Parma is Italy's 2020 capital of culture

Having started out in youth orchestras while conducting on the side, Chauhan's career has since gone from strength to strength, including a debut at the UK's BBC Proms and conducting a BAFTA-winning film, before taking up the role at Parma's Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini at the start of this season.

He has concerns that other children from similar non-musical backgrounds might miss out on the opportunity to fall in love with music due to cuts to arts in the schools and funding cuts to orchestras and other cultural organizations.

Photo: Luca Trascinelli

“There's a sadness among the players here, because Italy has always had a great musical culture so they remember how it used to be. I thought this would be less of a problem in Italy, but the more I speak to colleagues here the more I realize it is an issue here as well, and the financial crisis has made things particularly difficult,” Chauhan explains.

In the UK, he has been involved in projects to promote music in schools, creating a film and educational resources based around ten pieces of classical music, and he hopes that similar projects can raise the status of classical music worldwide.

“You need to put instruments in the hands of children, you need schools and authorities to understand the importance of music. It keeps your mind healthy, it gives you things of incredible value: cooperation, creativity, patience, self-confidence and self-expression,” the conductor says.

“Music is as important as sport, but with sport you have immediate visible effects — you can see if someone's obese and you can tell if you struggle to walk up a flight of stairs. But music and the arts are a big part of positive mental health, and it's very sad to deprive a generation of this opportunity.”

READ ALSO: Italy puts 200,000 classic Italian songs online for free


For members


EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy is bringing in new rules from July that mean changes for freelancers on the 'flat tax' rate. Here’s what you need to know about the new ‘fatturazione elettronica’, or digital invoicing system.

EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s new digital invoicing rule for freelancers?

Italy has been slowly moving more of its bureaucratic systems online in recent years, and in many cases this has made it quicker and easier for residents to access services and get their considerable amounts of Italian life admin in order.

It was hoped that the new electronic invoicing rule would do the same for freelancers on Italy’s flat-tax regime, by doing away with the existing need to print out invoices and affix tax stamps by hand.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues: 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

But a close look at the details of the new rules shows that it probably won’t make life easier for those on the flat tax rate, who have so far been spared the bulk of that infamous Italian red tape – but now need to get to grips with a new online system.

Known as the ‘regime forfettario‘, Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme for individuals and small businesses was introduced in 2015 to encourage more commercial activity by slashing tax rates and simplifying bureaucracy.

New freelancers who choose this tax system generally pay somewhere between just five and 15 percent tax on earnings, regardless of overheads.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of Italy’s five percent flat tax for freelancers

Little has changed since its inception seven years ago, but freelancers using the scheme now need to be aware of new rules coming into force from July 1st, 2022.

How you invoice – how you send, receive and store receipts, therefore – is due to move from analogue to digital, bringing new requirements and know-how on digital invoicing software.

Here’s what’s changing for freelancers with the so-called ‘fattura elettronica‘.

Who is required to send electronic invoices?

While this was already a requirement for the self-employed on other tax regimes, those on the flat tax rate will now be included from July 1st.

They were previously exempt, but that changed under the PNRR (National recovery and resilience plan or piano nazionale di ripresa e resilienza) – the Italian government’s plan for using EU funding for post-pandemic economic recovery.

Digital invoicing is intended to fight Italy’s major problem with tax evasion, as well as to further automate accounting processes.

For now, not all freelancers under this tax scheme need to move to digital accounting – only those who received an income in excess of €25,000 in the previous year are required to comply with the new rule.

It will then extend to all freelancers using the flat-rate scheme from January 1st, 2024.

From that date, everyone subscribed to the ‘regime forfettario’ will have to switch to electronic invoicing and there are hefty penalties in place for those who don’t.

How will electronic invoices work?

Italy’s tax authority has defined a couple of notable differences between the digital or electronic invoice (fattura elettronica) and a paper invoice (fattura di carta) in its updated guidelines.

Firstly, the digital invoice has to be created using a digital device (a computer, tablet or smartphone), and secondly it has to be sent to the client via an ‘Interchange System’, the so-called Sistema di Interscambio (SdI).

READ ALSO: ‘Smart working’? Here’s what you need to know about going self-employed in Italy

Italy’s flat-rate tax scheme is going digital. Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

This electronic postal system checks whether the invoice contains the required data for tax purposes, as well as checking the verified e-address (or the so-called PEC address) of the recipient.

In doing so, the electronic invoice automatically checks that the VAT number (partita IVA), or the tax code (codice fiscale) depending on who you send the invoice to, really exist.

Once the checks are completed, the system sends the invoice to the client, which will trigger an alert to the freelancer with a delivery receipt, showing the date and time the document was delivered.

How can you send an e-invoice?

There are a few accounting software options on the market if you’re now faced with having to send electronic invoices.

Some charge a fee of around €1-€4 per month or come at a cost per transaction.

Platforms such as ‘Aruba‘ or ‘Fatture in Cloud‘, are competitive and may offer you a free trial before you deciding to buy.

The Italian revenue agency (Agenzie delle Entrate) has also created free-of-charge services to help send and receive e-invoices. These include websites as well as apps for completing the required steps, which are detailed in their guide here.

You can access their Invoices and Receipts (‘Fatture e Corrispettivi‘) portal to benefit from these free services.

You’ll either need a Spid ID (‘Sistema Pubblico dell’Identità Digitale‘), a Carta Nazionale dei Servizi (CNS) or accounting credentials known as Fisconline/Entrate, which are issued by the Agenzie delle Entrate.

You can also delegate this task to an intermediary, such as an accountant (commercialista) who would do this on your behalf, the revenue agency stipulates 

What about the Italian tax stamp?

Until now, freelancers issuing invoices under the ‘regime forfettario‘ have had to attach a €2 stamp, called a ‘marca da bollo’, to every invoice over the value of €77,47.

So what happens when e-receipts go digital and you can’t physically stick a stamp on a document? Well, that goes digital too and the Inland Revenue has issued a 16-page guide on how you need to go about it.

It seems the previously attractive ‘light’ accounting of this regime is about to get bogged down by time-consuming bureaucracy too.

Authorities will systematically check that the fee has been paid each quarter for all the invoices that require it.

As a general rule, you can see if there are any discrepancies by the 15th day of the first month following each quarter on their Invoices and Receipts portal.

You or your intermediary have until the end of that month to fix any accounting errors, but make sure to check with an accountant if you have any difficulties or need specific advice for your personal circumstances.

Once you receive your final stamp duty bill for each quarter, you can pay either via IBAN, which you set up on the portal, or by filling out an electronic F24 form – details of how to do that are included in the guide.

For further information and FAQ’s, see Italy’s Inland Revenue Agency website on the electronic invoice here.

Please note The Local cannot advise on personal cases and seeking expert financial advice is recommended.