From Tallis To Garibaldi

Most of my working life has been spent in Greenwich, now upgraded to “Royal” status because of the former presence of a monarch’s palace there.

In fact, Henry VIII was baptised in the local parish church of Saint Alphege where I attended a lunchtime piano recital given by students from the Trinity College of Music.

The royal palace was replaced by the seamen’s hospital which in turn was occupied by the royal naval college. This has now moved outside London and its premises, probably the finest renaissance buildings in the UK (and designed by Wren and Hawksmoor) are now the campus of the University of Greenwich.

The recital included works by De Falla played by Sofia Sarmento from Portugal and Schubert’s complete Moments Musicaux played by Italian Filippo Di Bari.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing both young performers and wish them well in their future careers. St Alphege, of course, has a long and noble musical history since the time when that “father of English church music” Thomas Tallis, was organist there. Part of that organ’s keyboard has survived to this day.

Greenwich, although so familiar and pleasurable to me only disappointed in one respect: the ghastly new display of the famous tea clipper the “Cutty Sark”. How anyone could submerge her fine hull in a glass and steel cocoon, completely destroying her fine line is anybody’s business.

From Greenwich we made our way to the Italian Institute in Belgrave square where an unusual musical recitation, “Garibaldi in London” was given composed by Marcello Panni who has worked extensively as composer and conductor and has written several operas staged at La Scala, Florence, Rome and Bonn.

Garibaldi was memorably quoted by Tennyson as “having the divine stupidity of a hero” and was both feted and feared by the British establishment: feted because of his romantic exploits in uniting cultivated Britons’ favourite country of exile, and feared because, as Queen Victoria correctly said, he was also a revolutionary.

The music was lively in a sort of post Weill-jazzy idiom and aptly described the ambiguity of Garibaldi’s one and only visit to the British Isles in 1864.

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The recitation did not include one incident which I recollect was depicted in the “Illustrated London news” of the time. On his way to the Crystal palace to address working men’s associations Garibaldi passed my old school, Dulwich College watched by hundreds of enthusiastic boys. Seeing the horses in some difficult when approaching the steep hill leading to the palace the Dulwich boys tied ropes onto the carriage and helped pull Garibaldi’s retinue along College road for quite some distance.

 

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July Music Events for Lucca Province

LORENZO MALFATTI VOICE ACADEMY VOICE IN CONCERT

This year, too, the “Lorenzo Malfatti” voice academy from Pittsburgh is returning. Fifteen students were selected earlier in the United States to perfect their talents with singing, recitation and drama lessons at the “Boccherini” Music Institute with teachers Sean Kelly, Reed Woodhouse, Franc D’Ambrosio and Barbara Paver, some of whom have already worked in previous years with the University of Cincinnati. The students of the “Malfatti” academy will perform on Wednesday 16th at 9 pm, in Piazza Cittadella 22nd and on Tuesday 22nd at the Praetorian Palace. The program includes music by Monteverdi, Mozart, Puccini, Handel, Haydn, Rossini, Bellini and Tosti. Their final concert, “Celle under the Stars”, is on Friday 25th at Celle di Pescaglia. Free admission.

FRANCESCO CIPRIANO’S MUSIC FOR ELISA ZADI’S EXHIBITION

“Cluster”, the contemporary music association, continues its activities with the sound-track to Elisa Zadi’s exhibition, “Sacred Myths and Stories of the men and saints”, at the Fondazione Banca del Monte di Lucca from July 5th to 27th. The exhibition will use the original soundtrack composed by Francesco Cipriano, titled “O crus ave”, for baritone, chorus and piano and recorded recently in Berlin.

FESTIVAL OF SACRED MUSIC IN SAN PAULINO

On Saturday 5th (9.15 pm, Church of San Paolino) the thirtieth Sacred Music Festival organized by Polifonica Lucchese and its conductor Egisto Matteucci will be held. The program, titled “Mater”, includes contemporary choral pieces written in honour of the Mother of Christ and will be performed by the Harmonia Women’s Choir (see photo) and the Piccola Harmonia choir from Venice, conducted by Nicola Ardolino. These two choirs have been awarded many prizes in competitions.

LISTEN TO THE PEACE ORGAN AT SANT’ANNA DI STAZZEMA

The eighth year of the “Peace Organ of Sant’Anna di Camaiore” festival is dedicated to the memory of the wartime massacre at St. Anna di Stazzema. On Sunday 5th, organ recital by Hansjörg Albrecht (see photo) who, on Monday 6th at 9.30 pm in Marina di Pietrasanta, near the Teatro la Versilia, directs the great “Remembrance Concert” with the Munich Bachchor and the Orchestra Regionale della Toscana. On July 13th, we return to Stazzema with the world premiere of “Music for a Church” for two trumpets and organ by Jan Müller-Wieland, with Hannes Läubin, Max Westermann and Luca Scandali. On the 20th there’s a recital by organist Gerhard Weinberger while on the 27th there’s a performance by Edoardo Bellotti. All concerts are free entry and start at 6 pm.

AMERICAN CHOIR AT SANTA MARIA NERA

Wednesday 2nd at 9 pm in the Church of S. Maria Corteorlandini there’s a choral concert with the American choir, California Central Coast Chorale, conducted by Sean Boulware. The program includes music by Mozart, Pitoni, Vecchi and Palestrina. The evening will be introduced by “Il Baluardo” choir, conducted by Elio Antichi.

IAM FESTIVAL WITH 14 CONCERTS AT CASTELNUOVO GARFAGNANA

On June 22nd, in Castelnuovo Garfagnana, the IAM festival starts with musicians from five continents. The program (see next page) includes, on Tuesday, July 1st (9.15 pm, Capuchin Church of Castelnuovo), an evening of performances by the teachers; Thursday 3rd (5.30 pm, Saletta Suffredini Castelnuovo) recital by student Alexander Bolotin. At 9.15 pm (Capuchin Church of Castelnuovo) an evening recital by the teachers. Friday 4th (5.30 pm), at the Palazzo Ducale in Lucca, a special “Students’ Gala” with free entry. Saturday, 5th, from 5.30 pm onwards, students’ outdoor concerts in the centre of Castelnuovo Garfagnana. Sunday 6th (9.15 pm, Teatro Alfieri Castelnuovo) evening with the Orchestra of the “International Academy of Music”. Monday, 7th (9.15 pm, Teatro Alfieri) final concert with the students.

PIEVE A ELICI CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL RETURNS

CONCERT FOR SONJA PAHOR

On Sunday 6th, in the church of Pieve a Elici, the Versilia chamber music festival returns with a performance by the La Scala Quartet of works by Mozart, Beethoven, Webern and Ravel. On Saturday, 12th, Francesca Dego (violin) and Francesca Leonardi (piano) play Beethoven.

On Sunday, 20th pianist Giuseppe Albanese returns to play music by Mendelssohn, Schubert and Liszt. The festival ends on Sunday 27th with a performance by a trio consisting of Elisa Eleonora Papandrea (violin), Monaldo Braconi (piano) and Alessandro Carbonare (clarinet) who play Stravinsky, Gershwin, Poulenc, Stefano Priolo and Kuttenberger. All concerts start at 9.15 pm. Please note that on Monday 7th (9 pm) AML is programming a concert at the Auditorium del Suffragio (Lucca) , with the “Boccherini” institute, to commemorate the pianist Sonja Pahor who died in July last year. Performing will be many artists and former colleagues of the Conservatory. Free admission. More information available on phone no:  0583 469960.

FRANCIGENA INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

In July, the fourth year of the Francigena International Arts Festival, with events scattered along stretches of the Via Francigena in the province of Lucca, returns. This is the programme: 8th (9.15 pm Auditorium “Da Massa Carrara” in Porcari) Atmos Quartet; 10th (9.15 pm Park Hotel “Villa Ariston”, Lido di Camaiore) Maurizio Mastrini at the piano; 18th (6 pm Porcari) Concert Orchestra Training Course for secondary schools; 18th (9.15 pm) Villa Bertelli of Forte dei Marmi) Orchestra della Toscana; 18th (9 pm Piazza Ricasoli in Altopascio) Fulbrook Jazz Concert, Orchestra and Dance Bands; 19th (9.15 pm Puccini Theatre of Altopascio), Orchestra della Toscana; 22nd (9.15 pm Piazza Ospitaleri of Altopascio) La Finta Semplice by Mozart with the orchestra and soloists of the “Mascagni” music institute; 23rd (9.15 pm Montecarlo) Parkstone Concert Band and Chamber Choir; 25th (9.15 pm Polo culturale “Artemisia” in Capannori) Eros Pagni and Gianni Quilici; 26th (9.15 pm Cloister of Palazzo Carmignani, Monte Carlo) St. Andrea Collegiate choir, Department of Ancient Music Ensemble FIAF, Fontegara consort. Finally, on 3rd, 11th, 19th, 26th and 30th (6.30 pm) at Altopascio’s Medici loggia there are performances by “I Giovani Talenti della Francigena”. Info: http://www.francigenafestival.it

DONIZETTI’S “L’ELISIR D’AMORE”

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LuccaOPERAfestival is staging Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in Lucca in the Cloister of San Micheletto on 18th and 19th July at 9 pm. The cast is made up of young artists: Marco Ciaponi tenor, soprano Michelle Buscemi, and basses Mattia Campetti and Roberto Lorenzi. The Bruno Maderna orchestra will be conducted by Jonathan Brandani. Direction is by Stefania Panighini. The performances are made possible thanks to the contribution of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca, UNESCO Club Vienna, Mc Donald scholarship trusts (Melbourne) and with the collaboration of the Municipality and the Province of Lucca. For reservations: luccaoperafestival@gmail.com

ORATORIO DEGLI ANGELI CUSTODI

In July concerts in the Oratorio degli Angeli Custodi continue. The previously announced concert on Saturday 6th (From Argentine Tango to film music) has been postponed. Sunday 20th, young pianist Aldo Lucca Dotto will play music by Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. Saturday 26th will be devoted to contemporary music by young composers who are winners of the Counterpoint competition from America. On Sunday 27th there’s a recital by flautist Linda Di Martino Wetherill and guitarist Fernando Maglia. All concerts start at 9 pm; Tickets from € 5 to € 12: Info: http://www.iconcertidegliangeli.com.

CORSANICO FESTIVAL 2014

On Monday 7th, at 9.15 pm, in the church of St. Michele Arcangelo, the thirty-third “Corsanico Festival”, an international classical music festival organized by the “Vincenzo Colonna” friends of organ music, starts. The festival opens with the “Cheltenham Choir” conducted by Gordon Busbridge, with organist Alexander Ffinch (free admission); Friday 11th, an evening dedicated to movie soundtracks with the “Nello Salza Ensemble” (admission € 10); Friday 18th, “Music Régia” with the King’s Peterborough Orchestra, conductor and organist Nicholas Kerrison (free admission); Tuesday 22nd, guitar duo Flavio Cucchi and Shinobu Sugawara will perform a repertoire ranging from contemporary music to Boccherini (admission € 10); Saturday 26th, “I Solisti dell ‘Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina” will play baroque music. Concerts continue through August.

NINETEENTH “CITTA’ DI CAMAIORE” ORGAN FESTIVAL

Starting the nineteenth “Città di Camaiore” organ festival on Wednesday 23rd in the Church of the Badia di Camaiore there’s an organ recital by Adriano Falcioni. Monday 28th, in the Collegiate Church of S. Maria Asssunta, an evening “In memory of Don Angelo Bevilacqua” with Angelo Spinelli’s Requiem Mass for male voices and organ, with the men from Lucca cathedral’s  “Santa Cecilia” choir conducted by Luca Bacci (organist Julia Biagetti). The concerts, which continue in August, are at 9.15 pm. Entrance fee: € 5. The event is promoted by the “Marco Santucci” association and the comune of Camaiore in collaboration with the Bank Foundations of Lucca.

“PUCCINI” FILHARMONICA FROM COLLE DI COMPITO

The “G. Puccini” Filarmonica from Colle di Compito performs a  “Concert under the Stars” on Thursday, 3rd in the Piazzetta del Santuario at Colle di Compito. The band will play light and modern pieces, many arranged by Carlo Pucci and will be accompanied by lively majorettes (see photo). The concert will be repeated on July 10th at the Centro Culturale Compitese (via Fonda 1). Free admission.

THIRTY-SIXTH CAMIGLIANO CHORAL FESTIVAL

Saturday 12th (9.30 pm Parish Church of Camigliano) will be the first evening of the 36th Camigliano Choral festival, sponsored by Camigliano’s “G. Puccini” choir with the patronage of Capannori. The “Puccini” Choir, conducted by Luigi Della Maggiora, will open the evening, followed by the “Voci del Serchio” choir conducted by Ugo Menconi (with a popular Italian and international repertoire) and the “Coro del Noce” from the Trentino conducted by John Cristoforetti (see photo), who will delight us with traditional folk songs of the mountains. Free admission.

IL CANTO DEGLI ALBERI (THE SONG OF THE TREES)

Throughout the summer, the Botanical Garden of Lucca will have weekly concerts and events sponsored by the City in collaboration with institutions and associations. Friday, July 4th, concert for the bicentenary of Adolphe Sax’s birth, with the Timeless Saxophone Quartet and Hector Bonafè. Friday 11th, evening “Arti sotto l’albero”, Italian and South American music by Alessandro Orsi; 18th, guitarist Edoardo Pieri and flautist Filippo Del Noce will perform (see picture) and on Sunday 20th there’s “Gioco di specchi” by Stefano Massini, a theatrical performance directed by Ciro Masella with Marco Brinzi and Ciro Masella. Friday, 25th, “Journey into film music” with pianist and arranger Luigi Nicolini.

MASSAROSA MUSIC FEST

This year will be the start of Massarosa Music Fest, an event organized by the “Republica di Lucca-Città stato” and dedicated to young students throughout Tuscany (artistic direction by Julia Matteucci). From July 22nd to 27th teachers of flute, clarinet, guitar, cello and double bass, will supervise participants in individual courses of study and practice of traditional chamber music at the Massarosa Comprehensive School in Via Cavalieri di Vittorio Veneto. After the opening concert of the Massarosa Music Fest (22nd at 9 pm) where all the teachers perform, other concerts will follow where the students will participate as soloists or in chamber music groups. Info: http://www.larepubblicadilucca.wix.com / massarosamusicfestfest

INVITATION TO DINNER WITH PUCCINI

The “Catalani” Circle of Friends of Music is organizing for Saturday, 12th at 7 pm an evening entitled “Invitation to dinner with Puccini – Concert,” followed by a “Puccini” dinner, at the Puccini Restaurant Piazza Cittadella, based on Luccan dishes loved and appreciated by the Master. Soprano Valentina Piovano and tenor Alessandro Fantoni sing Puccini, Lehar, Rota, Catalani, Pietri, accompanied on the piano by Marco Ferruzzi. The “Catalani” Circle is organising on the 26th a trip to the Torre Del Lago theatre, to see Puccini’s La Bohème. Information on 347 9981851.

SUMMER CAMPUS FOR SYMPHONY SCHOOL (SCUOLA SINFONIA)

The activities of the symphony school summer campus continue with “Music Weeks in the company of …” from 8.30 am to 3 pm and aimed at children aged 5 to 12 years. The daily lessons provide preparatory courses, choir, theatre and music, individual instrument lessons, group music and English language learning. The summer camps in the month of July will be: “Catalani” week (June 30-July 4) “Boccherini” week (7-11 July), “Donizetti” week (14-18 July), and “Mozart” week (21 – July 25). Information: tel. 0583 312052 or: scuola.sinfonia @ tin.it

SACRED DIPTYCH FOR THE OPENING OF THE “SANTA CATERINA”

For the inauguration of the Church of Santa Caterina di Lucca, returned to the city after its restoration, on Wednesday 9th at 9 pm there’s a preview entitled “Dittico Sacro”: a theatrical video divided into two minimodrammi composed by Girolamo Deraco on libretti by Deborah Pioli: “Vidi Arcana Dei” for reciting soprano and bass drum, and “Stabat Mater” for soprano, narrator and video premiere. The show will make use of multimedia installations by director Nino Cannatà and will be performed by soprano Maria Elena Romanazzi and percussionist Matteo Cammisa.

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Her Majesty’s Goose at Kew

We decided to visit Kew palace. Whether one wants to visit the Royal botanical Gardens (world heritage site since 2003) or not, one has to enter it to arrive at Kew palace. But who wouldn’t want to see these fabulous gardens at any time?

A visit to the Royal Botanical gardens at Kew and its Palace is a delightful way to spend a sunny afternoon in London. (And London has been particularly sunny while I was there). As life members of the Arts fund we were able to enter them at half price (and Kew palace for free), which is a considerable saving since the standard admission charge is £15 – a far cry when to get past the turnstiles one placed just one penny in the slot – not centuries ago but as recently as 1971 (if I remember correctly). This means that the admission price has increased at least 30,000 times! Having said this, a visit to Kew was worth every penny, inflated, decimal or not!

Kew has not only the largest collection of plants in the world; it has the best example of Victorian iron and glass building in Decimus Burton’s  palm house, the best example of chinoiserie in Sir William Chambers’ (he of Somerset house) pagoda, indeed the best of so many things.

From the Victoria entrance we headed for the palace which was actually used not so much as a “palace” (it’s only the size of a large house) but as a nursery for King George III’s children (of which he had fifteen who survived sired off Queen Charlotte who died here in 1818).

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On our way we spotted a goose that had chosen a slightly exposed nesting place. Perhaps she enjoyed classical architecture!

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A detour to the water-lily house revealed the most delicate wonders:

Kew palace must be one of the smallest of royal palaces and was George III’s favorite residence. For me the highlight was its herb garden which was beautifully laid out and provided some of the remedies which the king’s physicians tried on his madness, (remember the film starring the incomparable Nigel Hawthorne?), which has now been diagnosed in retrospect as bi-polar syndrome.

Nearby were the kitchens with a delightful vegetable garden outside which also grew artichokes.

The King’s bathroom would definitely be in need of an upgrade should any royal visitors take up residence here again.

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All the palace rooms were delightfully presented and our visit was made much more alive by costumed attendants:

Kew palace was once also the scene of fetes champetres including this one which featured a giant swan..

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It was clearly the scene of much music making – some of which continues today:

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We found the palace very well-displayed but the only thing I wished for was that the brick work should have been stripped of its red paint to more clearly expose its unusual (for the UK) Flemish bond which has also given the building the alternative name of the Dutch house.

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Back in Kew Gardens we explored the tree walk which was only opened in 2010. It was definitely not for vertigo sufferers since there was also a slight sway on it but what a great way to climb trees without the effort or the possibility of breaking one’s neck!

My visits to Lucca’s botanical gardens, still continuing to be very delightful, will never be the quite the same again although, at least, I’ll be more able to afford its entrance fee of three euros!

In the evening at the Punch tavern in Fleet Street we enjoyed a Beckenham historical society supper together with the company of an old school mate. Let us say that the company was rather better than the food…although the beer made up for that.

 

Immaculate a Capella at Loppia

During the Christmastime of 1984 BBC’s Radio 3 produced a wonderful set of broadcasts with the title “Octave of the Nativity”: ten liturgical reconstructions of the Masses for that season, with introductions by Cormac Rigby. The Masses reconstructed dated from early plainsong to the most complex high renaissance polyphony and included choirs from the continent. The high Mass from St Peter’s Rome, however, did not feature the Sistine Chapel choir. Upon enquiry I found the reason why that choir wasn’t asked to sing was that it was not considered of “recordable quality”. The BBC was correct. I still have in my possession a vinyl record of the Vatican choir dating from the 1960’s and it sounds absolutely terrible. Much of the reason is that it sings like a collection of operatic soloists rather than a homogeneous entity and the respect due to period performance practises are absolutely nil. I wonder if it has since improved.

In the 1970’s British choirs brought themselves up-to-date with genuine performance practise – for example, reducing formerly mammoth numbers in Handel’s Messiah – and spawned a number of smaller vocal groups. I particularly enjoyed the Consort of Music under Anthony Rooley and Harry Cristophers’ the Sixteen.

It would have seemed on the borders of impossibility to imagine that, in this current age and place, in one of the remotest valleys of Central Italy, I would have been able to hear a local vocal group that could compete successfully with the stratospheric standards of the greatest English choirs.

In the immaculate setting of the Pieve di Loppia (for more on this marvellous building do see my post on it at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/the-loppia-lo) the “gruppo vocale Gli Stereotipi” (web site at http://www.stereo-tipi.it/Stereo_Tipi_Gruppo_Vocale/Home.html) performed a recital of music ranging from the strictest renaissance a Capella, through baroque pieces, visiting the English shores with Purcell, the German heartland with Rheinberger and contemporary America with Whiteacre to finish up in South Africa.

The group consists of Lia Salotti, Serena Salotti, Valentina Simonelli, Giulia Manfredini, Andrea Salvoni, Morando Bertoncini, Martino Biondi, Gioele Tomei.

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I have been involved in music making with several of these members: in particular, Lia Salotti who runs the Civic School of Music at Borgo di Mozzano (Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Scuola-Civica-di-Musica-MSalotti-di-Borgo-a-Mozzano/283857698298922) who got us up to scratch for the memorable concert we gave at the convent of San Francesco at Borgo for Christmas 2012.

I was stunned again at Loppia by the near-perfection of the Stereotipi’s performances. Period stylistic practises were fully adhered to, difficult enharmonic changes were steered through with aplomb, and the togetherness of the voices was extraordinarily pleasing.

Moreover, the introduction of a theme to the recital “From Dawn to Dawn” was genial. Each piece described the journey from dawn to noon to evening and night, waking up the following morning in a resurrection of life itself. The Stereotipi realise that every recital can be even more effective if it has a coordinating theme to lift it into almost philosophical as well as musical heavens.

Here is their rendition of Rheinberger’s “Abendlied”

Several members of the group have visited and studied in the UK and it showed. In particular, I noted the beneficial influence of such groups as the Cambridge Singers. Here are the Stereotipi in one of their star items, Lotti’s “Miserere”:

I am so glad that one of the Stereotipi’s members, Andrea Salvoni, is our choirmaster with our San Pietro and Paolo di Ghivizzano choir. He knows what he wants from us because he has achieved it singing with the Stereotipi, one of the finest “gruppi vocali” I have heard in Italy so far.

Hearing the high standards of the “Stereotipi” (which title I find a playful use of the word since they are quite the opposite of stereotypes!) I do not feel that brits need suffer from culture shock when they listen to these singers upon return to Italy from Evensong in one of the great English cathedrals. More and more choirs and vocal groups in Italy are approaching “recordable quality”, thanks to the much higher standards of musical training, and this country should be proud of that. Only recently I received a comment about our own choir from stern critic, Francesco Cipriano, the editor of LuccaMusica music events magazine, where he affirms “some choirs from the remotest villages in our mountains can stand comparison with and even in some cases surpass many northern choirs”.

It’s true that DOC music should be played or sung to best effect by DOC musicians. But if Italy, with Colombini, can produce a very valid rendition of Elgar or Vaughan-Williams then the Stereotipi can produce an effective performance of a Purcell anthem too.

It remains obvious, however, that when it comes to their own music Italian musicians have now got the idiom very much more fluently under their belt than musicians from other countries. I expect Vivaldi today to be played by the likes of Fabio Biondi and certainly I’ll be glad to hear more Monteverdi and other Italian madrigalists from the excellent “Gli Stereotipi.”

Do look out for their next recital (consult their web site) and help to ensure the venue gets packed as it deserves to be (and shamefully wasn’t at Loppia, probably because of poor publicity) when these guys and dolls are performing!

 

 

 

Republic or Monarchy Day?

June the 2nd is Republic day in Italy, commemorating the 1946 referendum which decided, with a majority of over two million votes, in favour of a republic instead of the previous monarchy. It is a national holiday with most shops, institutions and facilities closed.

It is also Armed Forces Day and there is an impressive parade of Italian military might down the Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome. Looking at my friends’ comments in facebook this parade has certainly divided opinion. Some write it’s a big waste of money, which could be better spent elsewhere (especially on culture), others say it’s a stirring and impressive spectacle which should make one proud of living in this country..

Each year Italy’s Republic day concentrates on a particular theme. In 2012 the day was dedicated to those affected by the earthquake in Emilia. In 2013 it was dedicated to families and firms in economic difficulty and this year the theme was a commemoration of world war one which broke out one hundred years ago.

Whatever one may think about the day’s emphasis I am sure there is no difference of opinion when Italy’s Unknown Soldier is remembered by the laying of a wreath on this day by the president of the republic:

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Few could remain unimpressed by the tri-colour fly-past of the Italian air force:

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June 2nd happens also to be the anniversary of H.M. the Queen of England’s coronation in 1953. (I can just about remember that auspicious event – Bromley high street was closed to traffic and there was a lot of bunting and celebration). The 61st year of Elizabeth II’s coronation was celebrated in typically ebullient style by Lucca’s premier musical anglophile Maestro Andrea Colombini (wearing his now famous union jack waistcoat) in the beautifully restored church of the Servites within the walled city.

This was the concert programme:

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Homage to Republic day was paid by the opening performance of the Italian national anthem (which sounds a lot better when played with a full symphony orchestra and chorus, as on this occasion)..

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Elgar, Vaughan-Williams, Handel, Grainger, Parry, Arne and some, traditional tunes followed. Colombini has clearly got the peculiar English musical idiom under his belt and I could hardly fault the performances which gained in high spirits what they occasionally lost in accuracy. I especially loved the way the second movement of Ralph (pronounced correctly by Colombini) V-W’s folk song suite was performed and I was very glad, too, that Elgar’s Imperial march, composed for another Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, was played, with the brass section coming to the fore. Perhaps one day Colombini might choose the neglected, but wonderful, Coronation march written in 1911 for King George V’th crowning when the Servites’ church beautiful organ is fully restored (the march has an organ part). “NImrod” brought out (naturally!) the highest emotions and I am not ashamed to admit I was close to tears when I heard Colombini’s rendering of this majestic and moving item.

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We are lucky to have Colombini. Not only will his performances of English music bring tinges of nostalgia to ex-pats but, more importantly, they will finally destroy the myth that England is a land without music. I’ll never forgive the otherwise great German poet Heine (another of Bagni di Lucca’s illustrious visitors) for declaring about the English:

“These people have no ear, neither for the beat nor indeed for music in any form, and their unnatural passion for piano-playing and singing is all the more disgusting. There is verily nothing on earth as terrible as English musical composition, except English painting.”

Humph! Colombini has certainly put an end to that myth – the Italian part of the audience were as enthusiastic about what they heard as the English. (I also thought of the headmaster of the school in Genoa I did an EU teacher exchange with in 1995 who worshipped English music and showed me with pride his recordings of the complete symphonies by Bax, Rubbra and V-W himself). With an ending fully worthy of any last night of the proms I exited not into the streets of South Kensington but into the almost empty vie of Lucca.

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Yet, as is surely appropriate, Italy’s republic day had the last word as I crossed the bridge over the Serchio on my way home.

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Snippets from the evening’s concert follow:

 

Guardian Angel Music

 

The Concerti degli Angeli Custodi started their new season for this year with an inaugural concert on May 7th. I missed that one and the second one too. However, I was determined not to miss last night’s concert held in the baroque jewel of a chapel which is the oratorio degli Angeli Custodi. (Full season’s concerts at http://www.iconcertidegliangeli.com/oratorio.htm.)

Meaning “Guardian Angels”, the chapel reflects the seventeenth century’s increased interest in protecting spirits. I’m sure we all have had moments in our lives when we felt there was someone looking over us who we could not see!

The chapel is richly frescoed and there is a delightful series of paintings illustrating the help guardian angels are willing to give. The whole chapel does, however, need some considerable restoration and it is a great idea that it has been put to use as a concert venue since the public will be made more aware of another of Lucca’s lesser known wonders and contribute to its repair.

Last night’s concert celebrated a twinning between two choirs from Lucca and Berlin respectively, was the focus of the premiere of two works, gave us an insight into Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” (which will be on at Montecarlo’s Teatro degli Rassicurati from 13th to 15th June) and introduced us to that opera’s Norina, the stunning young soprano from Melbourne, Australia, Michelle Buscemi, of Italian origin.

Buscemi was indeed the star of the evening. Finalist in Australia’s most important singing contest she has, since 2006, sung important roles from Florence to Melbourne. Wearing a concert gown which the immortal Callas originally wore, Michelle proved brilliant both in serious and comic roles with a great stage presence and fine acting skills adding to a strong and flexible voice, fully in harmony with the nuances of Italian opera.

I particularly enjoyed her rendition of Puccini’s “Salve Regina”, an early work, “Ebben ne andrò lontana” from Catalani’s “La Wally” (also memorably sung by Callas) and “Puccini’s “O mio Babbino caro” which was give added poignancy by the fact that, since Michelle’s dad (and mum) had just arrived in time from down under to be present at the concert, there was a touching embrace between daughter and father at the end of the aria.

The two premieres could hardly have been more contrasting. Francesco Cipriano’s “O Crus Ave”, a choral work (first performed in Berlin earlier this year – this was its Italian premiere) was a solemn piece beginning with a majestically reflective modal introduction, then moving into a second section with ample space for Mattia Campetti to solo before the choir. Then an interlude for the piano (played by Cipriano) followed; virtuosistic but remaining in an elegiac mood and concluding with the choir. The words come from a Latin prayer which is especially said during the celebrations of Lucca’s Volto Santo on September 14th. The words praise the Cross as an instrument of salvation.

The other piece, an actual world premiere, expertly sung and acted by Maria Elena Romanazzi (who has also trained as a classical dancer) was a cheeky piece, very much in the contemporary idiom with clear Berio influences. I didn’t understand the words but was I meant to?

The concert didn’t want to finish. The last piece was meant to be Verdi’s “Va pensiero” but encores followed, including Neapolitan songs,and the toast from “La Traviata”, before the performers were allowed to leave, after having given us a most entertaining and revealing evening. Most applause, however, went to Michelle Buscemi who must certainly be watched closely as she conquers one operatic stage after the other. Clearly, that Callas gown she wore is bringing her good luck!

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O for a beaker full of the warm South

Birdsong, literally the most heavenly music there is, has divided even composers. Mahler, for example, was obsessive about not having any extraneous sound disturb him while composing his symphonies during his summer break in the Austrian Alps and ordered his domestic servants to shoo away birds from the log cabin he used to write in. (He had a softer spot for cows and their bells, so magically transported into his sixth and seventh symphonies, however).

Messiaen, on the other hand, was enraptured by birdsong, famously writing his Catalogue d’Oiseaux, a set of seven books of piano pieces based on intensive hearing and transcriptions of birdsongs which also enter into several of his other works, most notably in his Quartet for the End of Time.

Respighi went one better, actually introducing a recording of a nightingale in the score in his “Pines of Rome”. Since he wrote the piece when only 78rpm shellac records were available, it must have been quite a scratchy song at its first performance.

For me the most haunting piece of music ever written is Cantus Arcticus by the Finn Rautavaara who uses pre-recorded birdsongs as an integral part of the score. The strange, ethereal whining song of arctic swans migrating is quite unforgettable and conjures up the desolation, freedom and strange beauty of the polar regions.

Instrumental music imitative of birdsong enters into all periods. Baroque-wise, one just has to think of Daquin’s Cuckoo; romantic-wise it’s the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony and that piece which used to wake up Radio Three listeners in the seventies Vaughan-Williams’ “The Lark Ascending.”

Last night I too was woken up around 2 am by bird song. It sounded so exquisite that I opened all my windows to hear it. The bird, of course, was the nightingale, as outstanding as a singer as it is dull to look at.

Darkling I listened and heard a precise chaconne-type pattern based on two notes. The chaconne’s variations were astounding! The bird sang for much longer, of course, than my little excerpt. Each variation was decorated with acciaccaturas, appoggiaturas, slides, trills, portamenti, staccati and everything that enters the realm and vocabulary of musical ornamentation.

It was like some goddess was speaking through this bird. Indeed, in the Greek myth of Philomela, the raped girl is turned into a nightingale and sings her lament. (Actually it’s only the male that sings). Shakespeare refers to this myth in several of his writings. For example, in Titus Andronicus, when Lavinia is raped and has her tongue and hands cut off so that she cannot speak or write her rapist’s name:

Ravish’d and wrong’d, as Philomela was

More pleasantly, Shakespeare compares his poetry celebrating love to the nightingale’s song (Philomel) in sonnet 102:

Our love was new, and then but in the spring,

When I was wont to greet it with my lays;

As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,

And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:

 

Of course, the greatest and best known of poems to this blissful bird is Keats’ Ode – one of the few poems I still remember by heart. (I am so glad I am today living in the “warm south”!)

If you can’t remember it then here is the complete text:

 

ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

         But being too happy in thine happiness,—

                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

                        In some melodious plot

         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

 

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been

         Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,

Tasting of Flora and the country green,

         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South,

         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

                        And purple-stained mouth;

         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

 

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

         What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret

         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,

         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;

                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

                        And leaden-eyed despairs,

         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

 

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

Already with thee! tender is the night,

         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

                Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;

                        But here there is no light,

         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

 

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,

         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet

         Wherewith the seasonable month endows

The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;

         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;

                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;

                        And mid-May’s eldest child,

         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,

                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

 

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time

         I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

         To take into the air my quiet breath;

                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

                        In such an ecstasy!

         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—

                   To thy high requiem become a sod.

 

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

         No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

         In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,

                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

                        The same that oft-times hath

         Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam

                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

 

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell

         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well

         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades

         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,

                Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep

                        In the next valley-glades:

         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

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