Old and New

GIUSEPPE PENNISI returns to the Chigiana Festival


This summer Siena suffers because the Palio has been cancelled due to the pandemic, but the city is full of foreigners thanks to the Chigiana International Festival and Summer Academy which started on 5 July and ends at the beginning of September 2021, with important international collaborations, such as the Salzburg Mozarteum. I have already talked about this festival on 8 July in this magazine. Now that the Festival is in full swing, I was back there for two days.

The tourists are back. Above all, the city is full of musicians, not only those attracted by a festival now among the first in Europe but also full of young people who follow master classes at the Academy. They come from thirty-nine countries and offer every evening a concert in the Art Caffé in the courtyard of Palazzo Chigi Saracini at aperitif time. In short, in Siena these days even the stones sound.

On 26 July 2021, before the festival's concert at the Teatro dei Rozzi, in the courtyard of Palazzo Chigi Saracini the Japanese quartet 'Integra' (playing music by Ligeti and Dvořák), the American Balourdet String Quartet (playing Beethoven) and the Italian Quartetto Eridiano (with Mendelssohn) alternated, while my wife and I were enjoying Campari and sodas.

The actual concert at the Teatro dei Rozzi was performed by three internationally renowned musicians - David Krakauer on clarinet, Clive Greensmith on cello and Ciro Longobardi on piano. The common thread was klezmer music - ie of the Jewish tradition of Eastern Europe - as heard and reproduced by composers who at the advent of Nazism asked for refuge and hospitality in the United States - von Zemlinsky and Martinů - or who were born in the USA from families who emigrated before the World War II - Krakauer. They are pieces either in Italian premiere or rarely performed in our country. The concluding piece was a 'sudden' by Krakauer who received real ovations; I was in the world premiere. The theatre was full, within the limits allowed by the anti-Covid provisions, with a young and international audience (including numerous participants of the specialization courses of the Academia Chigiana). Klezmer, recently heard in Rome (by a Lithuanian ensemble) as part of the summer season of the Roman Philharmonic Academy as well as reported in this magazine on 3 July 2021, has an undoubted charm: in Italy we know that of musical comedies such as Fiddler on the Roof but we rarely listen to the one that inspired high level composers. A great success.

David Krakauer, clarinet, Ciro Longobardi, piano and Clive Greensmith, cello
David Krakauer, clarinet, Ciro Longobardi, piano and Clive Greensmith, cello

On 27 July, the aperitif was enlightened by adaptations for clarinet of pieces from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia performed by the Italian Arianna Pizzi and the Japanese Takahiro Katayama. Subsequently, in the Vanvitelli auditorium of the Church of Sant'Agostino, there was a great concert, with numerous instrumentalists specialized in contemporary music and live electronic music. A piece by Bruno Letort (commissioned by the Accademia Chigiana), performed in world premiere, is inserted between two compositions by Steve Reich; of these, the second - City Life - was already known in Italy and is considered one of the masterpieces of American music of the end of the last century. It was composed in 1995. It fits into an American context but - few remember it - had its beginnings in Italy, in the sixties of the last century, for example with the work GRA (Grande Raccordo Anulare) by Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum.

At the time, many international composers were living and working in Rome because they were attracted by the avant-garde music Festivals, organized by the Accademia Filarmonica Romana. Among others, Maurice Kagel, Luc Ferrari, David Bernham, John Phetteplace, Allan Bryant, Robert Ashley, Cornelius Cardew, Alvin Lucie, Ivan Vandor as well as of course Rzewski and Teitelbaum lived, played and above all experimented in the Italian capital. At that time, Rome was an exciting place for those who wanted to go 'beyond Darmstdat' and, in part, the foundations of what would become IRCAM (the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music) of Paris were laid there. Those who in those years were passionate about contemporary 'high' music and lived in Rome, felt at the centre of the world. GRA was revived by its authors, no longer young, in December 2009 by the Istituzione Universitaria dei Concerti.

Like GRA, City Life tells about a changing city: New York, which suffered the trauma of the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and goes towards a new life. Reich's musical poetics, described in his book Music as a gradual process, is based on the slow - sometimes very slow and almost imperceptible - progressive phase shift. It is almost made to measure for a short score - about twenty-five minutes - in five movements, each of which represents a different New York mood at the end of the last century. It is a complex score, well performed by Vittorio Ceccanti, the ensembles and the live electronics group. The most recent Radio Rewrite opened the evening. It shows Reich's all-round poetics as it translates two successful rock songs by the group Radiohead into gradualist minimalism. A true exercise in style performed with elegance by Vittorio Ceccanti and the complexes.

Performers at the concert on 27 July 2021 in the Vanvitelli auditorium of the Church of Sant'Agostino in Siena
Performers at the concert on 27 July 2021 in the Vanvitelli auditorium of the Church of Sant'Agostino in Siena

Armilia, Mysterious underground city located at North Obscure Pole by Bruno Letort is based on a serialized science fiction tale very fashionable in Belgium: the complicated story takes place in tunnels and underground caves. The piece can be assimilated as a symphonic poem of the type fashionable at the beginning of the twentieth century, but with the lexicon and musical grammar of the present day. The keyboard ensemble that has the task of making the atmosphere of icy paths under the polar cap was very good.

Copyright © 30 July 2021 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy






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