Southbank Sinfonia is the resident orchestra at the Anghiari Festival in Italy. Our blogs – both during the festival week and upon our return to London – hope to bring you a new perspective on our performances and orchestra life.
When you’re working long days in Tuscany, there’s one thing you should never forget: water. After even a few minutes basking in the glorious Italian sunshine, there’s nothing more welcome than a drop of the stuff to keep you at your peak for the day’s performances. In many ways, it’s the fuel that keeps the orchestra going out here; it’s your best friend. That and pizza.
Day one of the Anghiari Festival was brilliant, with hundreds of eager ears welcoming us in the Piazza del Popolo for the inaugural evening concert. All went to plan; more of the same for day two please.
With brilliant sunshine greeting us in Anghiari and the stunning convent of Cenacolo for an early evening chamber concert, things started out well. Next on the schedule was a late evening concert in nearby Monterchi.
Orchestra set up? Check.
Soundcheck completed? Check.
Audience in place? Check.
Then it happened. Our one time friend turned on us. Water suddenly became the enemy.
As drops of it started falling from the sky, our outdoor concert was suddenly not looking like such a clever idea. Almost as quickly as you could blink, the stage had been cleared, instruments brought under cover, and ‘the plan’ was a distant memory. But with the audience enjoying the cooling effect of the shower rather more than our wooden instruments, it was time to unleash Plan B.
It’s often the case in music that the most memorable performances come from unusual circumstances and here as the orchestra squeezed onto a covered balcony 20 feet above the piazza, the ingredients for something special were being inadvertently sewn.
Having not rehearsed or soundchecked in the space, nobody really knew whether Plan B would succeed. With musicians and audience venturing into the unknown, and an adjusted programme order to fit the new dimensions of our impromptu stage, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony awaited.
As the sound drifted down from the balcony, the packed piazza was instantly mesmerised.
First it was by Som Howie’s brilliant playing, then in the Shostakovich it was a spell-binding performance of incredible musical intensity billowing down and around the ancient town. The atmosphere was magical.
By the end of the piece the rain had stopped, it too exhausted by the music it had just heard. But with clear skies and a fair bit of running up and down steps by the admin team, within 10 minutes the orchestra had moved back to its original position and a second half now able to include the full band could commence.
In many ways, these kinds of concerts are the most exciting. Although it is hugely demanding, exhausting and stressful having to switch to a Plan B, there’s something about the extra adrenalin and musicians venturing into the unknown that helps bring the audience to the edge of their seats. And that’s what great music should always be striving to do.
That said, as for water? We’ll take it in the bottled variety for the rest of the week please.
p.s. This blog was written very late on Sunday night. Sadly the heavens opened just in time for Monday night’s concerts too. Plan B is proving very useful this week!