Extraordinary Artistic Freedom
The Francesco Siciliani Prize
at Sagra Musicale Umbra,
by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
at Sagra Musicale Umbra,
by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
The highest point of the Sagra Musicale Umbra 2014 (Tolerance and Enlightenment, 22 September 2014) was the very special concert in the Upper Church of the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi on 13 September for the award of the 'Francesco Siciliani Prize'. The prize is awarded every other year after a world-wide competition. The idea was that of HE Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, Chairman of the Pontifical Council of Culture. In 2011, at an international seminar on 'Music and Faith', Ravasi stressed the importance of contemporary music dealing with religious and spiritual themes. The subject for competing composers in the first round was the Credo. In the second round, ie this year, it is the Pater Noster. The composition must be for chorus with only organ accompaniment.
Francesco Siciliani (1911-1996) was a very prominent musicologist, composer and musical organizer. He was born in Perugia (where he was musical director of the Sagra Musicale Umbra from 1947 to 1992); he was also artistic director of the San Carlo Theatre in Naples (1940-48), of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival (1948-57), of La Scala Milan (1957-66), of La Fenice Opera House in Venice (1993-96) and he was President of the National Santa Cecilia Academy. His main composition is 'a dramatic action' with a religious subject, Adventus.
The competition is quite special. Some one hundred and fifty scores have been received, mostly from Europe (including about ninety from Italy) but also from the USA, Asia and even Africa. Two years ago, approximately two hundred compositions were received, almost entirely from Italy. The Sagra intends to make a major communication effort to make the next competition (2016) known all over the world.
After a preliminary perusal by the artistic secretary Marcello Filotei and the Sagra artistic director Alberto Batisti, three finalists were selected and their compositions were performed in the magic atmosphere of the Basilica, with the walls decorated by Giotto's frescoes representing St Francis' life.
A rather special chorus had been invited for the concert: the St Jacob's Chamber Choir from Stockholm Cathedral, directed by well known American conductor Gary Graden, with Finnish organist Markus Wargh at the organ. Thus it was a very international team.
It just happened that the three finalists were Italian and from the same area, Veneto, where there is a strong and deep-rooted tradition of choral composing and singing. All the compositions had been sent in sealed anonymous envelopes and only after examination by the artistic secretary, the music director and the panel, the 'mottos' labeling the works were used to identify the authors — their names were in a different set of sealed envelopes. The three Pater Noster settings by the three finalists — Leonardo Schiavo (born in 1983), Andrea Venturini (born 1959) and Federico Zattera (born 1967) — were sung in the first part of the concert, following a choral improvisation for choir and organ, two organ works by J S Bach, a choral prelude (BWV 636) and the Toccata in D minor (BWV 538), and a Credo by Giovanni Bonato, the winner of the 2012 competition.
During the intermission, the prizes were awarded. The main prize was awarded by an international panel consisting of Ennio Morricone, Filippo Maria Bressan, Vincenzo De Gregorio, Gary Graden and Alberto Batisti. There were also prizes awarded by music critics and by the audience in attendance. On 13 September, I cast my vote as a music critic and my wife as part of the audience. The votes were cast on an iPad with instant counting. Whilst the panel gave the Prize to Andrea Venturini (the oldest of three finalists), both the music critics and the audience awarded their Prizes to Leonardo Schiavo (the youngest).
The second part of the concert included a rarely performed Pater Noster by Giuseppe Verdi and also one by Igor Stravinsky. We also heard Enrico Miaroma's Farewell on a text by Rabindranath Tagore and Toccata for Madiba for organ by the South African composer Surendran Reddy.
More significant than commenting on the specifics of the concert is the general impression that the artistic secretary, Marcello Filotei, gained from examining nearly three hundred and fifty scores. As already detected last year at the European Union prize for young composers in Bucharest (Trends and Tendencies, 15 September 2013), there are no longer any dominant schools and, in Filotei's words, 'composers live in a time of extraordinary artistic freedom. There is a large variety of approaches; the most interesting are those that, especially in religious music, develop a new language by merging previous trends and tendencies'.
Finally I cannot fail to flag the importance of the 7 September 2014 concert I attended in the St Francis Museum in Montefalco. The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Tetraktis Percussion Ensemble, the Perugia Chamber Orchestra (conducted by Lorenzo Fratini) and the pianists Marco Scolastra and Filippo Farinelli performed rare compositions about fights against tyranny (Darius Milhaud's La Mort d'un Tyran, Jan Ladislav Dussek's La Mort de Marie-Antoinette Reine de France, Ildebrando Pizzetti's Requiem and Luigi Dallapiccola's Canti di Prigionia. Especially impressive were the compositions by Pizzetti and Dallapiccola.