The energy is vibrant, the creativity flowering, the ideas luminous, the sounds incantatory: the Bagni di Lucca Art Festival is, without any doubt, the best thing to have happened in this corner of the Earth for decades.
When I think back, passing the gloominess of closed-down shops in the freezing temperatures of a deserted early winter morning and comparing it with last night’s colourful street frontage converted into little art galleries each with something novel, exciting and often inspiring to offer, with the groups of artists and art lovers discussing, looking at and thinking about this resurrected part of town and what it is contributing to the revitalization of the whole area I truly believe that dreams can become reality so long as you sincerely believe in them.
People will look back at this arts fiesta and compare it favourably with the activity of left-bank artists’ quarters of nineteen-twenties Paris or the constructivist garrets of the Russian avant-garde or even the ateliers of many a renaissance Italian town – I do not exaggerate.
Every form of art is here: from sculpture, through photography and painting to poetry and music. And it was to music that I gravitated to yesterday evening, to a quite magical recital on ethnic percussion instruments from every part of the blue planet. The concert was titled “Labirinto Sonoro” and was an impromptu performance by a member of the Fondazione Luigi Tronci di Pistoia.
I’d never heard of the Fondazione before although I thought I knew musical Pistoia well, attending concerts from its magnificent organs and listening to its churches’ great peals of bells. But that’s the connection, as I discovered. For Luigi Tronci is a descendant of that glorious combined family of organ-builders the Agati-Tronci, founded in the eighteenth century, who brought new standards to their instruments, who even made the organ in our local parish church of San Gemignano and who built the finest organ in the whole of Tuscany, that of the protestant church of the Fosso Reale in Livorno, (now sadly in a dilapidated state and awaiting the advent of a Maecenas of neo-gothic Italian style).
And the connection between percussion and organs? Metal. Pistoia, Lucca‘s troublesome neighbour, already famous in renaissance times for producing the deadliest pistols (that word derives from the city’s name) has a long tradition of being able to fuse the finest metals, starting from the high-quality ores found in the Apennines mountains surrounding it (remember the Mammiano iron-foundry and the suspension bridge mentioned in a previous post of mine?). With this remarkable technical skill, Italy’s last functioning bell-foundry, Ufip, produces the country’s finest campanile chimes, makes its most tuneful organ pipes, and supplies Europe’s symphony orchestras, rock groups (ever gone to the Pistoia Blues festival?) and jazz bands with the best percussion (especially cymbals) around. Even Puccini consulted them for the gongs he was going to introduce into the instrumentation of that transcendental work Turandot.
The Fondazione has expanded its collection of percussion to include non-metal instruments and non-European ones too. The underlying philosophy in including an item in its collection is that it must be essentially a percussion instrument and crafted from the finest materials.
As for the recital itself: it was incantatory. Starting from the first sound of rock hitting rock (so familiar to Cro-Magnons making their flint heads) the performer, (who also paid homage to Puccini’s use of percussion and mentioned the fact that he used this same hall to practice in), graduated to differently-tempered gourds immersed in basins of water, an Indian dumdum pot with all the resonance and flexibility of a kettledrum, to a west African xylophone with clay pot resonators, to a totally unearthly American Indian sky-drum to eventually finish on one of the oldest and most difficult instruments to sound effectively – the Australian aboriginal didjeridu, which he played with virtuosistic skill and, taking it around the concert hall (formerly Ponte’s cinema and now its parish hall), got us to feel the vibrations emanating from its eucalyptus trunk. That was quite an unearthly experience and I felt I was communicating with the ancestral spirits that still inhabit the world’s most ancient continent.
Here are some videos of the music for you to judge for yourself:
For all this and a lot more I witnessed on that day I can only praise all those persons who had the vision to realise the festival, all the volunteers who made it possible and all those who had faith in the project.