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I Hear a Symphony

One of the absolute best things about living in Anghiari are all the many entertainment options available on a regular basis.  Now, I’m from a very small Southern town and I can tell you that this is something unheard of where I come from.  Our idea of big fun was to ride around the courthouse square, two, three, four or more to a car, windows rolled down and radio blaring.  Sometimes you would pull over and chat with another car.  Always you were on the lookout for cute boys (or girls).

Every Wednesday night in the summer here there are concerts all over town.  There are maybe four or five groups playing in piazzas, on streets, in courtyards – you name it.  All free and open to everyone.  The main piazza turns into almost a carnival with pasta making lessons for kids, balloon vendors, magicians, bands, artists stalls, and food and drink galore.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if I had had such a smorgasbord of options one night every week during the summer when I was a kid and teenager, I would have thought I was in heaven.

But that’s nothing compared to the third week in July when the Southbank Sinfonia comes to town.  For an entire week there are world-class musicians performing their hearts out several times a day.  This organization offers fellowships to graduate musicians from all over the world.  They get the chance to play as part of an orchestra in front of audiences.  And we get the chance to meet these gifted and spirited young people and listen to them play under the stars.

The Red Carpet

The relationship between Anghiari and Southbank is a long one, going back some 20 years.  We have always heard about it, and were finally able to attend for the first time last year.  This year we were honored to have been asked to participate in some of the activities welcoming the musicians and guests.  The festival kicks off on a Saturday and the Friday night before there is a progressive dinner of sorts where musicians, staff, and guests are hosted by several families in town for dinner, then everyone goes to a nearby villa for dessert, a concert, and fireworks.  It’s a spectacular night and we were asked to host a group for dinner.

I’m not quite sure how we were tapped for this honor, but I think this means we are full-fledged members of Anghiari society.  Just kidding there.  I’ve never lived in a place with LESS of a societal pecking order.  Regardless of how it came about, we accepted with enthusiasm and then did what most people do when in a similar situation – we panicked.  We quickly regrouped and set out a game plan and executed a flawless, and I must say, quite lovely, dinner party.

We have very limited space in our little Italian home – the real star of our space is the terrace.  But with the heat wave, no one wanted to be out there at 7:00 in the sun.  So we created a cozy bistrot inside and just about the time we were leaving for the next stop of the night, it became beautiful on the terrace.  Too bad, but it all worked out.

The highlight of the evening, by far, was the dessert party at the villa after dinner.  This villa is up in the mountains and the directions read like something from my childhood.  Turn left after you pass the field with cows on the right.  If you pass the barbed wire fence surrounding the pond you’ve gone too far.  We snaked up that mountain, caravan style, like some big motorized caterpillar, all covered in the fine white dust that hasn’t been tamed by rain in weeks.

And then we arrived.  Magnificent is a word for it.  It’s a big stone farmhouse perched on the edge of this mountain with views that will take your breath away.  I say farmhouse, but actually there is more than one building.  I’m not sure how many because I was too awestruck to take a proper inventory.  The terrace is expansive.  I say terrace, but actually there is more than one terrace.  The garden is exquisite.  I say garden, but actually there is more than one garden.  The infinity pool stretches out on a lush green lawn overlooking the Tiber Valley.  I did only see one pool – but there could be others.  This place was amazing.

It is owned by an American couple.  Rumor is that they bought these buildings from a small village slated to become reservoir and had them moved up to this choice location.  One of them has been a major benefactor of the Southbank Sinfonia for many years and a few years ago hatched this idea of hosting these guests with this moveable feast-type event.  I’m so glad he did.  It made me proud that Americans are so involved in this community in such a meaningful way.  I thought I was doing my part by hosting a few people in my humble home.  But his commitment goes far beyond that.

We sipped, we nibbled, we ogled, and we simply enjoyed the cool mountain air and the expansive views.  Then, when we thought it could get no better, a jazz combo from Southbank set up at the end of the garden near the pool and played a set under the stars.  To top that off, a fireworks display launched above us all providing a big exclamation point to the whole evening.  Wow.

Who Knew Classical Music Could be so Exhausting?

The next day the performances started.  Two each day open to the public and many others done in private homes, at luncheons, on terraces for small groups.  The two public ones were generally held at 6:15 and 9:15.  That gives you plenty of time for dinner in between.  So we would have our cold supper (too hot to cook) and amble up to the piazza for the 9:15 performance.  It would last until 11:00 or so and then we might join a group for a drink in the other piazza or go home to our terrace to enjoy the night breeze.  But Millie, who stayed home snoozing through all the concerts, would wake up right on time at 6:00 every morning raring to go.  We’re not used to such hours.  By about the third day, we were tired.  We had to sit out a couple of the late concerts to catch up.  Boy, are we out of training!

These musicians are all young, fresh out of college and taking life by storm.  That’s the only way they could maintain the schedule they had for the week.  Add in the after hours partying and you saw some pretty tired faces some days.  Also, that week was the hottest of the year when all of Europe, even the world, was gripped in a heat wave.  So that didn’t help with the energy factor.  But when it came time to pull those bows across the strings, they were on their game.

Pomp and Circumstance

The graduation song, you know.  What I didn’t know was it is a very popular patriotic song in Britain.  Composed in 1901 and used for King Edward VII’s 1902 coronation, it’s on par with America the Beautiful as far as stirring national emotions.  One night the concert was held at a nearby church and this piece was played.  I was sitting next a lovely British woman and at the break I told her it was played at every graduation in the US – college, high school, even kindergarten.  She didn’t know that but informed me about the royal connection and mentioned that it is a favorite of King Charles and that got us talking about royalty and the like.  Turns out she KNOWS King Charles!  I mean, really.  She was not in any way bragging (like I would have been), just casually talking about how his public image is so different from what he’s like in private.  Which made me think she must have been in some small groups with him.  She also talked about what a good influence Camilla has been on making him more comfortable in public situations.  Wow.  Six degrees of separation, indeed.

The other evening performances were held in Piazza Popolo at the top of town.  This is the oldest part of town, the heart of where this settlement started about 1,000 years ago.  Watching a live orchestra you understand how interdependent they all are on each other.  The strings get all the glory, but without that punctuation by the horns, or the surprise emphasis of the percussions, it would all be rather flat.  Listening to this perfect combination of sounds in the theater of the great outdoors, surrounded by these magnificent buildings, is a sensory experience like nothing I’ve ever had before.  As I looked up at the heavens, stars flickering, I hoped these long fallen composers heard their notes being played by these fresh, young talents.  Keeping them all alive.

The British Are Coming

Because Southbank is based in London, most of the supporters who flood in town for this week are British.  They love the opportunity to both support the orchestra and spend a week in Italy.  I will tell you that the Brits are a ton of fun and any party you invite them to will be a success.  We met so many wonderful people this week and look forward to establishing friendships with many of them.  We even learned a lot about British accents and how some try to hide their less than “posh” accent.  (Posh is actually an accent.  It is exactly what is sounds like – that very proper, dripping with titles accent.)

We met people from Guernsey, London, the Scottish Highlands, and all points between.  Our little village was filled with people speaking the King’s English and we were proud to both be able to talk to them and tell them this was our home.  We met orchestra members who were absolutely delightful young people with extraordinary talent on the cusp of their careers.  It was a wonderful experience from start to finish and we couldn’t be happier that they chose Anghiari as a partner.

I’ve already started thinking about the menu I’ll serve next year and how best to pace myself to keep up with the Brits.  Until then, we bid them all a hearty cheerio and send them off with an extra large gin and tonic.  Ta-ta, loves!

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