GIUSEPPE PENNISI reports on a
three-day musical party near Lucca in Tuscany
Financial stringency is a serious toll for music festivals. Especially in Italy where they have always been strongly supported by central and local governments. Some (such as the Puccini Opera Festival) risk being cancelled, while others (the Sferisterio Festival) can expect drastic curtailment.
One of the first major festivals of the spring/summer season, the Montegral Festival (18-20 May 2012) in the Convento dell'Angelo in the hills near Lucca, was transformed into a three-day international birthday party. Also a new important recording will, in a few months, be one of its products.
The Convento dell'Angelo in the hills near Lucca. Click on the image for higher resolution
The Montegral Festival (see Artistic Freedom, M&V, 31 May 2011 and Under the Tuscan Sun, M&V, 10 May 2010) is the introduction to a series of festivals organized by the conductor and composer Gustav Kuhn: the Tyrol Summer Festival in Erl in July (mostly opera), the Alto Adige Festival in Dolbiacco in September (symphonic music) and again the Tyrol Winter Festival in Erl in January (again opera). There's further information at www.tiroler-festspiele.at and www.altoadige-festival.it. The Montegral Festival is held in a former convent transformed into a musical academy that has trained some of the best singers and instrumentalists now performing in Europe and the USA. It also combines classical music (Rossini, Schubert, Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Schumann and Chopin) with contemporary (Causton, Pesson, Deraco, Dufourt, Coluccino and Sciarrino). There are also, every year, a few world premieres. Artists are, by-and-large, young, but some of the 'old crop' (now at the Met, the RHO, the Vienna Staatsoper, Carnegie Hall, etc) come back for the Festival.
Gustav Kuhn. Photo © Tom Benz. Click on the image for higher resolution
This year, some of the Italian sponsors either pulled back or curtailed their financial support due to recession. The main sponsor, the Col Legno recording house, stood steadfast. And two celebrations were combined: the twenty-five years of the Montegral Academy's activities; and Mrs Kuhn's birthday on 19 May. Thus, the Festival became a three day musical party for a group of friends. For about sixty artists (some coming from the most important theatres and concert halls of the world and some young and up-coming, mostly housed in the Convent), nearly sixty guests (hosted in nearby villas) and two Roman Catholic priests, one Italian and one Austrian for the Sunday bilingual office.
In three days and three nights, there was plenty of music, so let's focus on three points: Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle, the world premieres and contemporary music offerings and the new after-lunch chamber opera.
For several years, Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle, as originally conceived with two pianos and a harmonium, has been a standard feature of the Sunday Mass concluding the Festival. This year, the friends gathered at the Convento dell'Angelo had a very special privilege: on Friday and Saturday, they could witness the recording sessions for a new Col Legno critical edition, and on Sunday listen to the entire composition during Mass. The Petite Messe Solennelle is a very well known concert piece. However, the conductor (Gustav Kuhn), the soloists (Anna Princeva, Michela Bregantin, Jacques Le Roux and Andrea Silvestrelli), the instrumentalists and the chorus gave a very innovative interpretation of the score. They showed the links between Rossini, on the one hand, and Beethoven and the German early Romantic composers on the other. A fascinating reading which, when the record is in the shops, deserves to be studied by musicologists.
The world premieres were three minimalist pieces by Tristan Schulze (for organ), Girolamo Deraco (for kettledrum) and Osvaldo Coluccino (for piano). They indicate how the minimalist school is still going strong. In a late night concert, the virtuoso Alfonso Alberti gave us all a good overview of recent trends in piano music (Causton, Pesson, Dufourt, Coluccino and Sciarrino). We learnt a lot and applauded a lot.
On Sunday, after Mass and a bountiful lunch, a minimodramma ('minimal musical drama') was fully staged. It is a twenty minute chamber opera Amor che nullo, with libretto by Debora Pioli and music by Girolamo Deraco. The interpreters were a soprano (Leonora del Rio), a baritone (Giulio Boschetti), and two pianists (Emanuele Lippi and Mauro Fabbri -- doubling also as an actor). Andreas Leisner was the stage director. In short, He and She meet on a train. He is a poet who has decided to change his life and is escaping from wife, child, home town and friends. She is a newly fired business manager. They have a short love affair until they reach the final station of the train ride. This work is quite enjoyable: the four hands piano gives the rhythm of the train (as well of the love story) while the singing actors slide from conversation to declamation and arioso.
In short, a marvelous musical birthday.
Copyright © 30 June 2012 Giuseppe Pennisi,
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