The idea of creating a structure free from any editorial constraint with which to explore, above all, the fantastic world of music that has never been performed (a passion very far from the philosophy of commercial labels) led him to buy with his savings in Amsterdam in 1988, a couple of Brüel & Kjær 4003 , omnidirectional microphones.
The feature of these extraordinary microphones is the return of a pure sound that is very faithful to the original. It was with these microphones, still in perfect condition and used since then in every recording, that all the Compact discs of the E lucevan le stelle catalogue were recorded, as well as an endless series of live concerts. The citation of the famous Puccini aria E lucevan le stelle is used because the idea behind the project is archival research to make artists who were Stars at the time of their activity shine again today.
From the very first steps, the production team was family-friendly since sound recording was carried out until 2007 by Marco’s brother, Paolo Mencoboni, also a musician, while the other brother, Riccardo Mencoboni, was the director of the firm’s output until 2017.
The graphic part was followed at the beginning by the graphic designer Luigi Ricci from Macerata.
The very first CD recorded and printed by the small new company was CD EL 942302 Musica nelle Marche al tempo del Ridolfi. In this work, pages of different composers of the incredible musical repertoire of the Marche Region were recorded; music whose existence nobody was aware of. The big commitment in this project made by all young artists who met in that period and who got involved in the recording, resulted in a very inspiring work which was connected, graphically and philosophically, to an important exhibition held in the Marche Region in 1994 and fully dedicated to the painter Claudio Ridolfi. You could visit the exhibition listening to the tracks of the CD and buy it at the end of the visit. But the numbers of CDs sold would have never covered the initial investment (not even a fraction!). Effective, original and powerful action had to be taken. The idea which emerged was to knock on the door of the big companies in the Region, and try to convince the bosses to use this beautiful and innovative recording as a company present for Christmas. This would come in luxury packaging, sealed elegantly with the company’s logo on the sealing wax. Hopefully this should have helped.
In the very hot summer of 1994, Marco Mencoboni, driving an old red Volkswagen Polo, knocked on the door of more that 200 important industries without any prior presentation:
-Good morning may I speak to the boss?
-Do you have an appointment? (normally answered the security)
–No, but I am Marco Mencoboni! – was the answer showing the cover of a promo CD.
This had to be a bit confusing for security who, by the way, would pick up the phone and phone inside to check.
In a way this was like presenting oneself as someone everybody knows, let’s say, like:
-Hi, I am George Clooney, may I speak to the boss?
Of course, nobody would have posed any further question in front of such a popular person but Marco Mencoboni was not George Clooney, and more than 95% of those attempts dramatically failed.
But 5% worked; and he made it through security right up to the CEO, explaining the reasons for his visit.
In that way, very important connections were established, with people that became in the blink of an eye, a new vast world of possible supporters, friends and sponsors. Just one element of the story was wrongly calculated: the final number of CDS that had to be sold in order to recover and pay back the initial loan. In fact, he should have sold twice as many CDs because all the expenses related to the business plan had not been taken into account! This is the risk that an artist faces when he tries be an entrepreneur without any business knowledge. A page advert was taken out in the newspaper in order to thank all the people that helped the project in that first year. The financial debt remained a threat for more than 20 years but its presence was also a daily stimulation to act and produce beauty, a thing that has never stopped since then.
In 1996, the meeting with the great graphic designer Massimo Dolcini from Pesaro marked an important turning point in the whole graphic communication of the structure. Massimo Dolcini and his studio conceived a new logo designed by Leonardo Sonnoli and Massimiliano Patrignani, imposing a modern design which aptly also communicated the ancient content of the recordings, a choice that led the label to win the TDC 44 International Award for typographic excellence in 1997 , thanks to its very special design. Since 2007 the communication of E lucevan le stelle has been curated by visual designer Doretta Rinaldi.
During these two years, I heard about Jesper Christensen who taught basso continuo at the Schola Cantorum in Basel and whose great knowledge about styles; periods and different schools in accompaniment made me want to meet him. These were issues to which Leonhardt had never given much importance and in fact we had never spoken about the basso continuo. I therefore made my way to Basel to meet Christensen and was seduced by his knowledge and ability to convey beauty. I immediately asked to start studying basso continuo and chamber music with him.
In that year, I also recorded my first CD together with violinist Luigi Mangiocavallo and cellist Claudio Ronco. This production was devoted to the Sonate Accademiche of Francesco Maria Veracini and the influence of Christensen’s teaching was evident in my playing, especially in the slow movements. My big mistake was to give one copy of that CD to Gustav Leonhardt.
Suddenly, for unexpected bureaucratic reasons, the Sweelinck Conservatory discovered that during my six years of regular harpsichord studies nobody had asked me to follow basso continuo lessons and go through an exam so they wanted me to go through an exam before my final concert.
My basso continuo exam was then set for 2 April 1990 at 10pm. I was scheduled to be the last in a long list of students taking the exam and I had explained to Leonhardt that, traveling from Italy, I could not bring a musician with me. He reassured me that the school would organise an instrumentalist I could accompany directly during the exam, as my skills were such that I could accompany an instrumentalist even without rehearsals. I accepted that challenge, but when my turn came and I entered the classroom, Gustav Leonhardt and Bob van Asperen were there, but there were no musicians to accompany, although I had seen at least ten violinists and flutists leave the room while I was waiting for my turn. Leonhardt explained to me that unfortunately they had not been able to find anyone to play for me and I was very surprised. On the table was a large volume of Bach cantatas with a bookmark on the first recitative of BWV 214, tenor key for the voice, and no figures for the accompaniment. They gave me a pencil saying: Put the numbers! I had never done such a thing in my life, perhaps I had never even seen the recitative of a Bach cantata and in any case, I do not think that any other student of the Amsterdam Conservatory had ever been subjected to an exam of that type. I should have refused the test but I plucked up courage and started analysing the scores and writing. My heart was beating fast as I listened to their amused comments and, of course, some of my harmonisations were wrong. Leonhardt remarked that he was surprised that someone as good as me was having trouble taking that test but admitted that as it was not an orthodox exam, I could retake it. However, the only possible opportunity to bring the commission back together was on 19 June in the afternoon, the same day I was scheduled to play my final concert in the morning at 9am.
I received a rather high evaluation (8/10) for my final concert but in one of the only existing cases in the whole history of the Sweelinck Conservatory, and probably in the history of teaching in public institutions, the job was still not done, because the complementary basso continuo exam was waiting for me in the afternoon.
(This could be compared to a medical student who, after discussing his thesis at university would be asked to go through a small arithmetic exam, usually held in his first year.)
As was easily predictable, the commission gave me a zero which invalidated my diploma, inflicting upon me an additional and severe public humiliation.
Another strange event was the Italian National Teacher Selection in Trieste (1992) where I participated together with a hundred harpsichordists, obtaining the lowest evaluation of all (4/10).
The next time I entered a school as a student was in 2009 and the motivation was to follow the lessons in renaissance polyphony by Prof Diego Fratelli at the Conservatorio in Lecce. The studies ended two years later with the highest possible note cum laude and opened up to me a fantastic world of knowledge that would give a decisive turn to my musical sensitivity.
In summer 2011, when I found out about the future birth of my first daughter, I remembered my incomplete exam thirty years earlier and wrote to the Amsterdam Conservatory to see if there was a possibility to officially validate my diploma. After having recovered all the original documentation in the archives, the management of the conservatory granted me the possibility of repeating the exam in front of a new commission in order to validate my diploma. This meant a series of trips to Amsterdam and close contacts with the lovely basso continuo teacher of the school, Therese de Goede.
23 years after the first exam, only one teacher, Bob van Asperen, who was on the jury of my previous exams, was still in charge and expected to be part of the commission. Leonhardt had passed away in 2012. Bob van Asperen was the only person who knew the whole story of my exams in 1990 but he never showed up at this new exam. The exam was held on 14 January 2013 and was successful. However, only a few minutes after its conclusion, (and to the surprise also of Therese de Goede and the commission), I was summoned to a small room by the Director of the Conservatory who informed me that the UM diploma no longer existed, and therefore it was impossible to issue it, even though all the exams had now been passed successfully. Beside the table where the conversation took place, I noticed a big photo of Gustav Leonhardt placed there probably a few minutes earlier: he seemed to be glancing at his former student, with a rather satisfied look. “It’s there by chance!” said the director!