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Paolo Arcà was born in Rome in 1953. Besides his regular schooling, he received his music diploma from the Conservatoire of Santa Cecilia in Rome, where he studied Composition, Piano, Orchestral Conducting, Choral Music and Choir Conducting. He did his graduate training in composition at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome and the Accademia Chigiana of Siena. 

He has been active in many sectors of the music environment in Italy as a composer, teacher, and artistic director of operatic foundations and concert societies. He has also worked in publicity, radio and television. 

In 1992, he won the first prize at the international composition competition "France Culture-Musique Contemporaine" of Avignon. His compositions have been presented in several concert series and music festivals in Italy and abroad. Arcà's music is characterized by a great communicability, which finds its perfect dimension in the genre of musical theatre. His operatic debut was Angelica e la Luna, a one-act opera, which was performed in Ferrara in 1985 at Arteforum. His second opera, Il carillon del Gesuita, was commissioned by the Festival of Fermo and first performed in July 1989. The opera was also staged in Rome in December 1990 within the season of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana. The Biennale of Munich commissioned him Lucius asinus aureus, which won the SIAE prize for opera in 1990. It was also performed at the Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte of Montepulciano and again in Frankfurt on the occasion of the Frankfurter Feste. The Ente Lirico Arena of Verona commissioned him a fourth theatrical work, Gattabianca, a story tale in two acts. It was performed in February and March 1993 at the Teatro Filarmonico. His debut as a composer for ballet was Valium, with the choreography of Luciano Cannito. This was commissioned by the Teatro alla Scala and presented in May 1993 as part of the project "La coreografia italiana contemporanea" (Italian contemporary choreography). Arcà's output consists also of symphonic and chamber music. His most important pieces are: Triplo Concerto for violin, cello, piano and orchestra (1988), first performed by the RAI Orchestra of Rome; Il canto di Orlando for choir and orchestra (1991), commissioned by the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome and conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli;Fiesta for band and orchestra (1992), performed at the "Eventi musicali del Novecento" (twentieth century musical events) of the RAI Orchestra of Rome; Skool for piano and wind instruments (1994), commissioned by the Teatro d'Opera of Rome; Sturm und Drang(1995), presented at the Maggio Musicale of Florence with the stage direction of Luca Ronconi. In 2001, he participated to the commemorations for Giuseppe Verdi held by the Società Aquilana di Concerti with Dame, Zingare, Conti e Guerriglieri, for recitative and ten instruments on a text by Vittorio Sermonti. 

He has published listening guides to Turandot and La fanciulla del West by Giacomo Puccini (Mondadori, Milan, 1983 and 1985), and edited the volume Opera: Quattro secoli di Teatro musicale (Edizioni Olivares, Milan, 1997). From 1988 to 1991, he was director of "Musica e dossier". He is professor of Composition at the "G. Verdi" Conservatoire of Milan and of History and Methodologies of Musical Direction at the Faculty of Humanities at the Università degli Studi of Parma. He is a fellow of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana. 

He has always been interested in arts administration: from 1991 to 1994, he was Artistic Director of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana; from 1997 to 2003, he was Artistic Director of the Teatro alla Scala of Milan, where he organized the 1999-2000 season, dedicated to twentieth century music, and the Verdi year in 2001; from 2000 to 2004, he was Artistic Consultant for the Fondazione Toscanini of Parma and Artistic Director of the Orchestra Filarmonica Toscanini; from March 2003 to February 2006, he was Artistic Director of the Teatro Carlo Felice of Genoa, and from September 2005, Artistic Director of the Arcimboldi Theatre of Milan. In March 2006, he was named Artistic Director of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Since November 2007 he is Artistic Director of the Società del Quartetto in Milan.