A Long Musical Summer
GIUSEPPE PENNISI attended the
Chigiana International Festival in Siena
Siena is a well-known medium sized city of arts in Tuscany. Few non-Italian music fans will be aware that over the last two years, Siena has suffered a major financial and economic earthquake due to the mismanagement of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS — Italy's most ancient bank and the third largest Italian bank in terms of activity). To salvage this institution, following a European Union authorization, the State had to become a significant shareholder and to provide fresh capital. For decades, Siena has had an important musical academy, the Chigiana Academy, named after its founder, Prince Chigi, and, over the last thirty years, financed largely by the MPS. In the music world there was apprehension that the MPS troubles may have an adverse effect on the Academy, providing world-class master classes, and on the small Festival, which runs for a week in July.
The new President of MPS believes that music can be a lever for development, however, and has selected an energetic artistic director. Thus, the newly named Chigiana International Festival and Summer Academy lasts from 10 July until 31 August and the activities of the Festival and the Academy are tightly integrated. Also, rather than presenting new original productions, the festival imports successful concerts and operas seen elsewhere in the world but not in Italy. Thus, on a small budget, Siena offers a long musical summer.
I saw and heard the following: Schubert's Winterreise, in a special production which premiered at the 2014 Aix en Provence Festival and toured to Vienna, Amsterdam, New York, Antwerp, St Petersburg, Moscow, Luxemburg and other European cities; Hanz Werner Henze's El Cimarrón in a production by the Lausanne Contemporary Music Society; and a string concert by the young Academy artists.
In the small, aristocratic and very elegant Teatro dei Rinnovati on 16 July 2015, Schubert's Winterreise was a perfect fit. This astonishing cycle of Lieder is like a dramatic monologue, a tale told in twenty-four songs, to poems by Wilhelm Müller. The singer becomes the protagonist of this bleak story about a young man jilted by his beloved, who now fancies someone else. Bitter, despairing and longing for death, he leaves her house at night and wanders on a snowy path by the river where they once enjoyed time together. His tears freeze on his face. He passes a graveyard, which in his mind seems an inviting inn. He finally encounters a pathetic man playing a hurdy-gurdy and asks to join him. Imaginative directors have sometimes tried to stage the song cycle, although this is not at all what South African artist William Kentridge has done. Instead of dramatizing it, he strengthened the meaning with twenty-four videos carefully selected from his archives and developed over the period 1994-2012. This was a great idea and a grand performance thanks to superb baritone Matthias Goerne and sensitive pianist Markus Hinterhäuser (who will become the artistic director of the Salzburg Festival in 2016). This one time, sold out performance was a tremendous success.
El Cimarrón by Hans Werner Henze is a small opera featuring a baritone (Maurizio Leoni), a flutist (Luciano Tristaino), a guitarist (Luigi Attedemo) and a percussionist (Maurizio Ben Omar). The plot is based on the real life story of Estéban Montejo, a Cuban slave who lived for one-hundred-and-thirteen years. He escaped from the sugar cane plantation, lived several years in the mountains, became a salaried worker after the abolition of slavery, then realized that, for sugarcane cutters, the situation was no different, and finally joined the Fidel Castro revolution. The larger Teatro dei Rozzi had many rows and many boxes empty on 17 July. The performance was good, but I felt that it lacked a good Afro-American or Caribbean baritone who also had acting skills, whilst Maurizio Leoni is a slim, elegant singer, but read the libretto and score throughout the performance. The audience applauded without enthusiasm.
On the afternoon of 17 July, in the Academy's elegant neoclassical concert hall, three groups of young string performers received genuine and well-deserved ovations. The concert by the Trio Frangioni-Mizera-Corrado (Shostakovich's Trio for piano and strings, Op 8), the Zerkalo Quartet (Jörg Widmann's Quartet for strings No 1) and the Noûs Quartet (Dvořák's Quartet for strings, Op 51) was really fascinating, especially Widmann's composition.