Roll Over Beethoven

Anghiari Festival

Most of Western Europe is suffering through an unprecedented heat wave this summer and Italy is no exception.  Here in Tuscany, not only is it hot – temps in the high 90s, often exceeding 100 – but it’s dry.  We haven’t any rain to speak of for about two months.

You get used to being covered in a fine mist all the time.  Sometimes it’s a full-out sweat, where your clothes cling to you and are moist to the touch.  These are two-shower-a-day days.  You just can’t get into bed with all that residue on your body.

But in the evenings, when the sun is starting to melt into mountains to our west, a luscious breeze strikes up and the temperature miraculously drops to something in the 70s.  Very manageable.  This magic moment can occur anywhere from 6:00 – 8:00, but it always comes.  It’s when we fling open the windows that have been shuttered against the dry heat all day and let the house breathe again.  It’s when we go outside and revel in the deliciousness.  It’s when the music starts.

Mercoledi in Anghiari

Every Wednesday in July and August Anghiari hosts a night of music.  Called Wednesdays in Anghiari, every week there are several live bands playing all over town.  The piazza is transformed into a market with artists selling anything from earrings to rosary beads.  There are activities for the kids – like a pint sized pasta making class where all the kids had on tiny chefs hats.  There’s cotton candy and balloons and a true carnival atmosphere.

The music starts at about 10:00, usually later.  They say 9:30, but that’s 9:30 Italian time.  People wander from stage to stage, taking in this band for a while before moving on to the next one.  We generally find one we like and stick with them all night.  And that one usually is playing American blues or rock.

These bands are good – surprisingly good.  Steve and I have decided that we could make a living teaching these singers how to sing the English lyrics.  They have all the words right – although sometimes you can tell they have to restrain themselves from adding a vowel on the end of words.  But since they don’t really speak English, sometimes they sing in too sterile a manner.  The really good ones have nailed it.  One of the things that America has contributed to world is blues and rock music.  Makes me very proud.

It’s a great mid-week activity that gets you out in the wonderful summer evening.  After having been barricaded in the house during the heat of the day, we emerge from our shuttered cocoons like some kind of burrowing animal.  We find a seat, have some wine, and sing and dance our hearts out.  Italians look at us very strange for having wine at 10:00 at night.  They only drink wine with meals, but our American habits are hard to break.  I guess we could do like the Italians and have beer or cocktails, but we prefer wine.  Besides, we’re used to being looked at strangely.

Under the Stars in Citerna

Bank in Citerna, ItalyA town near here, Citerna, has a series of concerts on Friday nights in the summer.  They have a theme each week and recently it was Blues.  We drove over for that one.

Citerna is one of the cutest towns around with a view from their piazza that will take your breath away.  It’s a flyspeck of a town with one street and few alleys radiating off, but it has a covered, arched walkway around its perimeter that is wonderfully cool and breezy to stroll through.  Their big claim to fame is an original Donatello sculpture that sat inconspicuously in a church until an art historian stumbled upon it a few years ago.

This blues band was good – really good.  Only four members, they cranked out some really good music.  The harmonica-playing lead singer was funny – not that he meant to be.  When he wasn’t singing or harmonica-ing, he was walking around the stage, bending over to check his play list, getting some water, putting his reading glasses on then taking them off again, getting his harmonic mic too close to his singing mic and causing feedback.  He was the bumbling professor of blues bands.  But he was good and the evening was wonderful sitting on that magnificent piazza overlooking the Tiber valley listening to American blues.  Both my worlds intersecting into a perfect union.

The Anghiari Festival

The music festival to end all music festivals is the Anghiari Festival.  This is a series of outdoor classical music concerts.  They have it every year, but this is the first time we’ve been here for it.  It’s a collaboration with the Southbank Sinfonia, a London-based fellowship program that offers recently graduated musicians the opportunity to play with an orchestra in front of live audiences.

For this week of concerts, there are usually two performances each day.  One is at 6:00 and the other at 9:00.  This is such an Italian timetable.  The first one is early enough not to interfere with dinner and the second one is after dinner (dinner is usually at 8:00, so you might have to rush a bit or eat a little earlier).  Both are usually outside, although there are a couple in various churches.  And even though you are still sweating, after 6:00 it’s much more pleasant out and by 9:00, it’s downright balmy.

A Kick-off Luncheon

Lunch under the wisteria, Anghiari, ItalyThe first day of the festival, and our good friends the Sassolini’s hosted a lunch in their garden for the musicians.  They were kind enough to invite us and it was a very casual affair with long tables set up under the trees (covered with Busatti linens, of course) and a buffet table with paper plates.  A small group played a couple of pieces before lunch and we all milled around the garden listening to this beautiful music.

There was a long table set up under a wisteria arbor off to the side of the garden and this is where we had lunch.  Completely shaded, gentle breeze blowing down the alley created by the old wisteria vines, and full of happy people.  This is the kind of setting that I still can’t believe I’m part of.  After almost a year of living here, sometimes I am dumbstruck by the situations I find myself in.  This one was straight out of a magazine shoot on Tuscan dining.  And there I was at the table, being served antipasto, chilled pasta, roast pork, and roasted vegetables, by a crew of efficient and adorable Italians.  Wine flowed along with the conversation and we met several people instrumental in the Southbank Sinfonia.  Many Brits, most of whom spoke very good Italian, making us the outliers yet again with our pitiful language skills.

Under the Stars

I’ve been to many outdoor concerts with all kinds of music.  What I have never done is go to one in a medieval village.  There is something very mystical about listening to these wonderful musicians in this ancient setting.  The music they play is all classical, but not all old.  I love hearing the great composers’ works on the cobblestone alleys as it bounces off the stone buildings.  These buildings, this village, are older than this music.  But it is timeless, as are these buildings, and as you listen to these artists coax these impossible sounds from their instruments it feels right.  You feel the music in a way that you just can’t in a modern symphony hall.  Many will disagree with this – after all, you have children laughing, people chatting as they stroll by and pause for a moment, church bells ringing, and birds cooing overhead.  In the symphony, they give you cough drops so you won’t make a peep.  Here, it’s casual, it’s approachable, it’s music for the people.

Music, art, architecture, vistas – these are all sensory experiences that touch you on a spiritual level.  They awaken something inside you that sometimes you didn’t know was there.  Often we take them for granted and don’t appreciate the role they play in making us more in tune with the world around us and bringing us such joy.  I marvel at these young people with their violins, cellos, trumpets, bassoons, and other instruments.  I am in awe of how they all come together to create this harmonious cacophony of sound that weaves images in our minds and soothes our souls.  And I love that they are all at the beginning of what I hope are very long and productive careers.

Talent amazes me and is a gift from God.  People who have a talent and know what it is have a duty to use it and share it with others.  It’s what makes the world a better place.  And we have played witness to some incredible talent the past few weeks.  Whether it’s blues, rock’n’roll, or classical, it all works the same magic.  Making you smile.  For those few moments when you’re drawn into the music, the world is a beautiful place and you have no cares.  What power that is.

The week ended with the final program of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  Here’s a very bad clip from the performance – try to watch all the way through to see the opera singers in the windows above the orchestra.  It was a great finish to an outstanding week and we will miss our twice daily concerts.  But today is Wednesday, so we’ll see what music comes our way after dark.


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