Thursday, June 25, 2009

Final concert and goodbyes

{Thursday, June 25, 2009; on the train from Milan to Assisi (via Florence)}

Ciao everyone –
Our last day (yesterday) was filled with as much activity as any since our arrival. Last night was the final concert, which we shared with Voces8 (our good friends from England) and we had a lot of preparing to do. Normally, the festival format for shared concerts is simply that one choir does the first half, the other choir does the second half, and there’s really no expectation to do any combined pieces. But Voces8 and The Rose Ensemble decided we wanted to do a true collaborative concert and I believe that the festival organizers (and the audience) really appreciated this.

Barney, the Voces8 director, had left the festival earlier in order to participate in a competition in London, so I planned the program with his brother, Paul, who also sings in the group. Many of you may recall that The Rose Ensemble and Voces8 did a concert together in the Twin Cities last winter, so we were able to “resurrect” some of this repertoire for last night’s show. We all got together for a groggy morning meeting (thankfully there was a cafĂ© next door) and had a really productive rehearsal. Within two hours we had worked up five pieces (kudos to the new Rose folks Carrie, Scott and Matt for their excellent sight-singing skills) , and then Paul and I met over lunch to plan the program order.

After lunch, several Rose Ensemble members met with Stefano Buratti, a dear friend of The Rose, who is not only a board member of the festival but a fine double-bass player. We taught him three tunes (“Namolokama La,” “Still Water” and “Jesus the Light of the World”). After this, Isacco and I were off to the post office where I mailed a box of all the books, CDs and other gifts we received from the various presenters throughout the festival. My suitcase simply couldn’t hold all this and I certainly didn’t want to haul it around for the next five days. All I will say here is that mailing a package in an Italian post office is an entirely unique experience…

After this adventure, we were off to Maison du Chocolat (our favorite gelato place) where we had plans to assemble as many Rosies as possible. Not only were there 8 of us but there were Bulgarians as well (including a particularly beautiful one, I might add), Cubans and our new friend the proprietress (Giancarla?) was clearly pleased. We sang a song for her and then she insisted that after the evening concert we convince the bus driver to bring the whole group in for free gelato (she promised that she’d keep the shop open late).

More errands took up the rest of my day and after a quick dinner we headed to the music school in Legnano for our final concert. The festival considered this somewhat of a private concert, and although the public was technically invited tickets were virtually impossible to get. In fact, the festival grapevine reported that 2,000 people requested tickets (the hall only sat about 275), which made us a little sad. One reason was because we consider Legnano our “home town crowd” in a lot of ways and we were excited to sing for all the people; the other reason was that CD sales had been disappointing up to this point and a bigger crowd could have helped us sell a few more. All this aside, the concert turned out really well. We began the show with a group piece, William Byrd’s “Sing Joyfully.” Because of the Voces8 schedule (they had a gig in Milan around 5:00) we didn’t actually get to rehearse on stage with the full group and test the acoustics, but we took it all in stride and hit the ground running. The Rose Ensemble then performed a set of four songs - two of which featured Stefano Buratti (the crowd cheered wildly when I introduced him to the stage) , who played really well. It was so fun to have a walking bass line on this rep, as it adds so much. Following this was the combined group’s performance of “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” from William Byrd’s Great Service. After a short intermission, the combined groups sang the glorious 16-part motet “Crucifixus” by Antonio Caldara (a rarely performed piece), which was followed by a set of jazz tunes by Voces8. As a show-closer, the combined groups sang “Jesus the Light of the World” (we taught this to Voces 8 about 10 minutes before show time), and the audience enthusiastically joined in as well. Our encore was another combined piece, the impressive double-choir motet “Jubilate Deo” by the Venetian Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli. (I forgot to mention that I conducted the group pieces, but if any of you are familiar with my conducting, you would want to forget about it as well.) We were called out for a second encore, and I asked Voces8 to go first (they sang a cool arrangement of “Good Vibrations”). Several in the crowd were screaming for “Laudar Vollio” so The Rose Ensemble performed this is as our final encore. The crowd sang loudly on the refrain, which was just about the coolest thing ever. Here we were, this early music ensemble from the US singing a 13th-century Italian song to Saint Francis, and not only was the crowd shouting out the title but they all joined in singing. Makes me love Italians even more than I already do…

Back at the hotel, the bar was actually open (usually not, for some reason) and Voces8 along with a handful of Rosies took their places with tall cold pints of beer (I don’t recall seeing beer much at all this trip, but there it was). The lobby was filled mostly with Bulgarians (who with Mark had assembled an impressive spread of meats, cheeses and wines), Cubans and a few Rosies. Stefano was there with his special prosecco, Isacco was there with his huge smile, Francesco was there socializing like only he can, and the Bulgarians and Cubans were dancing. It all felt quite natural, really, and even after some fairly intense rug burning with the Bulgarians, at 2:30am I found myself sad to have to begin to say goodbye to everyone.

Most of the Rosies are now on the plane back to the States. However, a good handful are off on their own adventures: Tim is off to Morocco to hopefully take an Arabic course until August, Matt is travelling to San Francisco for a Chanticleer workshop, Scott’s headed to Milan to hang out with friends for a couple weeks, Kris is going to Asti and Carrie and I are now on a train to Assisi. I’ll be there until Saturday (my little Franciscan pilgrimage) and then I’ll meet up with Paola of Hasta Madrigalis in Rapallo (by the sea) for dinner with her friends. We’ll then head to Asti where I’ll stay in Clara’s country home for a couple days and then I’ll meet up with Kris and fly home on the 30th.

The view from the train is incredible. Olive groves, vineyards, terra cotta roofs, the “pre-Alps” with little villages tucked safely’s all so darn lovely. Carrie and I are munching on crusty bread, prosciutto and room-temperature pecorino and sending you all our best greetings.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Festival winding down

{Thursday, June 23, 2009; on the road from Brescia, Italy} Ciao everyone –
Kris and I are sitting in the bus after a long day and I thought I would write a little about the last couple of days. The bus is fairly quiet except for the most unusual soundtrack our bus driver is supplying. So far today we’ve heard Bryan Adams, Barry Manilow, the Beach Boys, Lionel Ritchie and that all-star hit from the 80s, “We are the World.” Seems like a complete clash of cultures after having just performed in the most gorgeous old monastery chapel (more on that in a bit).

You may recall that The Rose Ensemble was given two free days (June 21-22) and everyone made the most of them. You already know about my adventures with my German friend, Ellen, but here’s a rundown of several others in the group: Tim, Kim, Linda and Matt went to see our friends in Asti (they say that they sat around at the most gorgeous country home and loved every minute of it); Kris and Ginna went to Venice and I hear they had a lovely time, finding a cute little 12-room hotel run by a young couple with two kids and a grey kitten; Kathy went to Switzerland for a day; Roy and his wife Amy walked the Cinque Terre; and Carrie went to the beach at Lago Maggiore. Not bad, I’d say. Hopefully, some of them will post photos and/or share stories…

Today, however, we were back to work. We shared the concert bill with our new friends in the Bulgarian women’s chamber choir from Sofia. We all piled in the bus (yes, ALL of us) at 5:00pm (for a 9pm concert) and drove west toward Venice to the lovely town of Brescia. Because of the small, narrow medieval streets leading to our performance venue, the chapel of the St. Christopher Monastery, the bus parked a considerable distance away and we had to walk. We were a bit piled down with our outfits and gear, but we managed (it wasn’t nearly as hot today, which was good). On our way up the steep stairs to the chapel we discovered that the festival mascot (the huge red treble clef) which is placed outside of all the concert venues, had somehow fallen down the stairs. Good thing the festival is almost over!

To say the chapel was merely beautiful simply wouldn’t do it justice. The frescos on the walls and ceiling (although in disrepair) were truly impressive and added such elegance to this gorgeous room. Our dressing room (the sacristy) had some of the worst mildew I had ever seen, so several of us threw on our concert outfits as fast as we could and spent the rest of the evening either watching the Bulgarians perform or sitting outside in the courtyard (we could still hear them singing just fine). Oh yeah – I forgot to mention that because of our early departure, we weren’t able to eat dinner at the cafeteria in Legnano, so we were supplied with what everyone here calls a “packet lunch,” Throughout the festival, this has been the same thing and has become quite dreaded, I must say. It’s two hard (and mostly stale) white rolls with super-greasy slices of either ham or salami (no butter or cheese), along with a piece of fruit. Mmmmmmm.

Anyway…the Bulgarians sounded really great and we went on stage just after 10:00pm (which we were all joking about, saying how nice it was to sing at such a reasonable hour, in comparison to the other shows we did earlier in the festival). We did short versions of our Slavic and San Francis programs, but with a special surprise we had been preparing all week. Mark (our international relations expert), who has been doing an excellent job of socializing with the Bulgarians, decided it would be fun to teach them the chorus and last verse of our final number, “Laudar Vollio.” You should have seen the audience when all the Bulgarian women joined us on stage! And the piece sounded just great. I was a little skeptical in the rehearsal, wondering if we would be together with so many people singing, but it turned out really well and the crowd just loved it. And then for a special last number, The Rose Ensemble and the Bulgarian choir sang a very special Orthodox piece called “Mnogaya Leta,” which basically asks God to bless the Bulgarian people. We are told that everyone in Bulgaria knows this piece, so we were happy to learn it and sing it with the fab Bulgarian women. The cool thing about this piece is that it begins with a massive bass solo than rises higher and higher until a final high note, which is when the full choir enters. Mark rehearsed for hours with the Bulgarians, learning the Church Slavonic text and sang this solo with such passion. Having all the voices singing together was really special for us and the audience.
Back at the hotel at 1:30am. Ciao –

Monday, June 22, 2009

Late nights of singing (and dancing)

{Saturday, June 20, on the bus from Turate, Italy}
Hi everyone –Well, the concert last night went well. Even though it was a secular program the festival held it in a VE
RY reverberant church. I should also mention that we were scheduled second-to-the-last (not third, as I had previously written) but given the fact that the Cubans went last and ROCKED the place, we were happy with our spot. One could say that our set was much simpler than all the other choirs. While Voces8 sang elaborate arrangements of jazz tunes (very well, of course) and the Norwegians and Bulgarians sang all sorts of atmospheric arrangements of folksongs, The Rose Ensemble sang several pieces from our Hawaiian and American shows. I’m glad we did this because I believe the raw and organic nature of this repertoire speaks for itself. The audience clearly enjoyed our performance and although the festival organizers probably had hoped for a bit more flash from us, I think our program balanced well the rest of the evening.

Back at the hotel, a very large party started in the lobby once all the groups arrived
back from the concert. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much dancing. The Cubans set up a little stereo and started tearing up the floor (they are all incredible dancers) and taught a large collection of Bulgarians, Americans and one Norwegian several moves. This went on for quite some time and just as things seemingly couldn’t get steamier, the Bulgarian women popped in a CD of traditional music and started doing all sorts of cool line dances. So intricate and beautiful but they looked HARD. And so much energy. Mark said it best at about 3:00am: “There’s a reason why you never see an overweight Bulgarian.” (I must say that I definitely worked off a day’s worth of risotto dancing with those gals…)

Today was a simply gorgeous day in Legnano. It had rained most of the night but the clouds cleared in the morning and the humidity dropped way down. Ellen (my friend from Germany who is visiting me for a couple days) and I had lunch with everyone else at the good ol’ cafeteria, Il Giardino (where the lunch ladies are becoming increasingly impressed by my Italian vocabulary of food items), a
nd then we decided to head to the community swimming pool. It was packed but still fun. On the way home, I was happy to discover what looked like an abandoned villa. The yard in front was completely overgrown and the entrance was gated and locked, but I was happy to stumble upon this place. I’ve decided that I’m going to buy it! Do you approve?

Tonight The Rose Ensemble gave a concert at a little theatre in the town of Turate, which is about 45 minutes outside of Legnano. The acoustics in the room were much better suited for spoken word and we spent most of our rehearsal time just trying to find a decent place on stage. We soon learned that the space was simply dead and that there was nothing we could do but sing pretty and hope that the audience could hear. The hall was packed solid and it turns out that many people there have been following us from concert to concert during the festival. That feels so good and I must say that there was a delightful warmth from the crowd tonight. They sang (rather loudly) on “Jesus the Light of the World,” and I have to say that I think we sounded pretty darn good tonight. This was the kind of space that forced you to sing well and be ultra-mindful of tuning. As a result I believe we had some great musical moments in spite of the room’s acoustics. A lovely post-concert reception (the best we’ve seen here) was prepared for us and we were presented with an absolutely lovely picture commemorating our visit to the town. The frame alone is a work of art and we were informed that the artwork on the picture is an original (the artist was there and was noticeably proud).

Federico, our guide (we call him Fede) has been doing a great job taking care of us over the
past few days. He’s very young and I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into, but he’s been helpful, and has been doing an excellent job of selling CDs after concerts and doing some light translating. Fede is a kid who looks right at you when he talks to you is always ready to offer a big smile.

We arrived home to a hotel lobby full of Cubans, Bulgarians and Norwegians and there were cheers when we walked in the door, but I simply can’t stay up again tonight. I have SO much work to catch up on (the office is probably ready to kill me for the delay in returning several emails) and I’m just plain tired. The Rose Ensemble has an official day off tomorrow (our first since we arrived) and several are going to Asti to see our friends from the Italian choir, Hasta Madrigalis, who we met in France last summer. Ellen and I will stay in Legnano and revise our plan to take over the world.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Choral Marathons

Ciao everyone – It’s another beautiful but hot day here in Legnano. The wisteria has started blooming and the hedges of jasmine are so fragrant (especially at night). There are red and blue hydrangeas everywhere (they’re HUGE) and in spite of the heat, everyone you see rarely actually looks hot (except for us, the Brits, the Norwegians and the Bulgarians; obviously the Cubans are doing fine). People here look good even when they’re going to the grocery store and there are more shops for shoes, purses and suits than one can imagine. Clothing is pretty darn pricey here, but the simple things seem to be cheaper. For example, a really great latte costs a mere 1.2 Euros (an espresso is only 85 cents) and you can get a decent bottle of Prosecco at the grocery store for about 3 Euros. Even the gelato is reasonably priced at about 1.5 Euros for a good-sized cup; a huge slice of pizza is only 2 Euros. Speaking of gelato, we have all discovered the BEST gelato we’ve ever had. It’s made in small batches by the sweetest woman at a tiny little place called Maison du Chocolat. She specializes in different kinds of chocolate gelato but each day has other flavors like mint, melon, raspberry, white chocolate and a killer pistachio. We’ve all decided that we’re going there tomorrow not only to eat gelato but to sing for her. I didn’t eat any gelato yesterday but I went there with Mark and Linda after rehearsal and I practiced my Italian with the proprietress.

Last night was another “choral marathon” with all five choirs singing sacred programs at the stunning Church of the Redeemer. As usual, the church was HOT, there was no oxygen, most of the other choirs went over their allotted times, we were LAST on the program, and ended up entering the stage at about 11:30pm. I wasn’t surprised, of course, but just once we were hoping to do one of these programs a little fresh. That said, I got smart and grabbed everyone and took them outside the church to get some fresh air about 15 minutes before we went on. We were sad to miss part of the Norwegians' program but we needed to be together and just breathe. It helped a lot, I think, and we gave a very high-energy program. The crowd cheered as we were announced and we hit the ground running with the impressive 12-part Magnificat by the Polish Renaissance composer Mikolaj Zielenski. All of our selections went well but I must say that the women’s chanting of “Alme Presul” was a complete standout. They have mastered this piece and chant together so well that their sheer unison singing is as impressive as any well-tuned chord. I’m really proud of them for working so hard on this piece.

Voces8 (from England) sounded great as usual, in spite of Dingle (their bass) being under the weather. And the Cuban choir really rocked the house. They sing from their heart on every piece and I just love watching them perform. The Bulgarians also sounded nice (they were first on the program and were very fresh) and their choral sound was lovely but I must say I prefer when they let loose on the folk style.

Speaking of folk music, tonight is another choral marathon but this time it’s secular music (strangely set in a gorgeous church here in town). We are THIRD on the program (YAYAYAYAYAYAY) and we had a great rehearsal this afternoon. We’ll do some Hawaiian and American music, with me and Mark on the ukuleles and Mark also on the 12-string. Ginna will trade in her vielle for her fiddle and the men have decided to perform barefoot. Should be fun.

My dear friend Ellen just flew in from Berlin this morning and I’m looking forward to spending my free time with her over the next couple of days. She’ll be coming with us to our concerts and we’ll sneak away for meals together. It’s strange to hear her German accent! Ciao –


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Concerts in Canegrate and Brugherio

Artistic Director Jordan Sramek writes:

{Thursday, June 18, 2009, Legnano, Italy} Ciao everyone! All is well here and we’ve been singing our hearts out. Everyone is in great spirits and we’ve acclimated to the schedule and the never-ending stream of schedule changes. In other words, we’re just going with the flow. Carrie, Scott, Matt and Roy (“the new folks, ” as the veterans refer to them) are doing great and the group is sounding tighter and tighter as the days progress.

Two nights ago we performed in the town of Canegrate in the Antica Chiesa Parrocchiale Santa Maria Assunta (‘The Old Parochial Church of the Assumption of Mary’). The presenters (hosts, really) were quite insistent that we perform a program of more popular music, stating that the priest was liberal and didn’t mind secular music in the church. But the second we entered this magnificent old church we knew that our sacred program would be much more fitting. The bus driver had gotten slightly lost on the way there, and because of some logistical challenges in the space (long story, but let’s just say there was no bathroom and we were forced to use the single-seater in the bar across the piazza), we had virtually no time to rehearse. We also had to gather everyone to move the altar (not a big deal, really), but then the organizers asked if they could please open the doors to the audience, and once they did there was a massive flood of people literally running for the front seats. It was quite a scene, really. Here's a photo that Lisa Drew took while we were getting settled into the space during our 8-minute rehearsal (!)

The concert went very well, I must say. It was again our ½ Slavic / ½ St. Francis program, which worked very well in this deep and often-heavy acoustic. The space accentuated the lower men’s voices much more, causing the women to have to put out a little more volume, but we attained a richness to our sound that I just loved. Anliz and Tristan attended the concert and said we sounded great. Some guy recorded the concert and none of us knew who he was, so I’m going to try to track down the recording (I dunno – maybe it’s already on that massive black market of choral programs in Italy). The church was stiflingly hot by the end; the audience was fanning itself wildly through most of the concert and we were simply dripping wet. We were cheered to two encores and I decided to appease the presenters by offering spirituals for both: J David Moore’s gorgeous arrangement of “Been in de Storm” and our new collective arrangement of “Balm in Gilead” with a descant written by Monte Mason of the Gregorian Singers in Minneapolis. The presenter was clearly pleased and I don’t believe there were any hard feelings in the end.

Yesterday we moved from our first hotel, Una, which was really nice (had a killer breakfast, too) but a 45-minute walk to the center of Legnano), to Elitis, which is right in town and the same place we stayed last year. Elitis is definitely a step down in terms of comfort and accommodations, but this festival is “tiered” so that the majority of the groups performing are all together in the middle of the festival and then only half the groups are here at the beginning and the end of the festival. We are now entering the last week, so the five remaining choirs (USA, England, Bulgaria, Norway and Cuba) have been placed in the same hotel. I was lucky to be on the 8th floor in the old place and I’m now on the 6th floor in the new one. I say this because I walk the stairs each day and I get a little leg workout (I end up walking up and down the stairs up to ten times a day, so it’s great). Elitis is LOUD and without much consideration for those of us who arrive back at our hotels at 2:00am each night. Similarly, our breakfast here was scheduled for 8am, which makes no sense, but it’s a small breakfast room and they have to revolve the schedule to avoid a traffic jam each morning. Our lunches and dinners are served at a cafeteria-style place called “Il Giardino” which is about a 4-minute walk from our hotel. Each meal features at least two pasta choices, a risotto of the day, several meat and fish options and some type of vegetable. Dessert and wine/beer are extra but very reasonable. We’re not starving but several of us miss Provence (whoops, should I have said that here?).

Last night we performed just outside Legnano in the town of Brugherio. I’m not quite sure how old the church was. There was an old foundation stone that said 1659 but surely this church was newer and some of us estimated 19th century. In any case, this was a grand church that reminded many of us of a small version of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis. We again gave our Slavic/Francis concert and the church was packed and really hot (a theme is starting here, no?). Two encores again and a very enthusiastic crowd. Many more CDs sold, which was good news, and Francesco Leonardi, one of the organizers of the festival was in attendance (he liked it, by the way). I couldn’t seem to get a good shot in the church but Mark did and I’ll try to send it tomorrow. In the meantime, I attach a photo of our changing room (woo hoo). A lovely little reception thrown by our friends in Voces 8 was waiting for us back at the hotel, and that was so nice. In fact, the Norwegians, Cubans and Bulgarians all arrived back from their concerts about the same time and many stayed around to socialize. The mingling of languages and the sheer force of conversational sound was something to behold. I particularly enjoyed talking with two Bulgarian women, with whom I compared the similarities of the Czech and Bulgarian languages. I would say a word in Czech and they would see if they could guess it and then say the word in Bulgarian. Sounds kinda dorky, I know, but somehow it was really hilarious (perhaps the Prosecco helped). Ciao–Jordan

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First days in Legnano, Italy

Artistic Director Jordan Sramek writes:

{Monday, June 15, 2009, Legnano, Italy} Ciao tutti! Well, it’s been an interesting trip so far. Sorry that it’s taken me this long to send some word to you but things have been a little nutty here (if you’ve read any of my past European tour blogs you’ll know why). Before anything, I should probably give you some basic information to bring you to up to speed on this festival.

The Rose Ensemble is performing in and around Milan at the international choral festival called “La Fabbrica del Canto.” This is actually the same festival at which we performed last summer and we’re happy to have been invited back (not a common thing, so it’s a feather in our cap). There are nine other groups performing here (choirs and small ensembles from Germany, England, Cuba, Latvia, Norway, Bulgaria, Belarus, Japan and Brazil) and over the last couple of days we’ve been able to catch a few tunes from each (they are all really good).
I, Linda Kachelmeier and Ginna Watson actually arrived in Legnano two days earlier (Legnano is a small city near Milan where the festival is headquartered) in order to work with Isacco Colombo, a wonderful early wind instrument player who will be playing with us on some of the concerts here, and also on our new St. Francis of Assisi recording which we’ll make later this summer. Things went fine with our arrival and the ensuring rehearsals but I can’t say the same for the rest of the group. They were due to arrive on Friday but their flight was delayed out of Minneapolis (due to weather), causing them to miss their flight and get stranded in glorious New Jersey for a day. As a result, they didn’t arrive in Milan until Saturday morning, the day of our first concert.

It would have been fine if the concert had started on time, but this is Italy after all (nothing here is even remotely on time) and we soon learned that the concert was actually a showcase of all the choirs. We were scheduled 9th on the program (urgh) so we didn’t actually start singing until about 11:15pm. The church was stiflingly hot and seemed like all the oxygen had long been sucked out by the time we got on stage. In spite of our great fatigue, we sang well and the audience clearly enjoyed our performance. By the time all the choirs got packed up and we were brought back to our hotel, I recall that I rolled into bed about 2:30am.

Sunday featured a morning rehearsal (groggy but productive) and then we were off to Milan for a version of the same “concert marathon” but this time featuring secular music. Unfortunately, even though we were transported from our hotel at 3:00pm, due to the fact that we were scheduled LAST on the program, we didn’t get to perform until 11:30pm. Again, we sang well, but I wondered how much better we would have sounded just a tad less tired. I was also impressed by my colleagues’ cheerful disposition over the last couple of days. (I think I was crabbier than anyone.)

The venue in which we performed this evening is actually a deconsecrated church of a former monastery called Monastero Santa Maria della Misericordia (Our Lady of Mercy) in Missaglia, which is about an hour outside of Legnano. This cute little town is nestled in the foothills of the Alps and the drive in was quite lovely. There was still about a 90 minutes of sun left and the pink-orange glow in the clouds cast a gorgeous light on the green hills and on the little buildings all painted those wonderful Italian hues of yellow, pink, tan and beige. The driver got a little lost but by this time we were used to things like that (I suppose I shouldn’t say more than this here).

We sang a full-length concert featuring a first half from our collection of Czech, Polish and Russian music (much of which was actually influenced greatly by Italian polyphonic styles) and a second half of music dedicated to Saint Francis (San Francesco). The programs said something different, however, as the festival printed our secular program (Hawaiian and American) for the audience. If we had known, I suppose we could have adjusted and performed some of this music but we didn’t have any of the instruments with us and we were all looking forward to performing with Isacco for the first time. He played cornamusa (early Italian bagpipes), pipe and tabor, recorder and shawm. The group is having a blast playing with him and I can’t wait for everyone in the States to hear this cool new addition to our “merry band.” I addressed the audience (in Italian), welcoming them and explaining the two parts of the program, and was rewarded with thunderous applause. Don’t get all excited, though, as the people here applaud if you even think in Italian let alone attempt the language. That said, Isacco said they understood every word and that my accent was much better than the Germans or the Japanese (um, you can judge for yourself how good that really is). Others commented that they had never heard Americans sing so flawlessly in Latin. In fact, I met a well-known Gregorian chant scholar at the concert who said the same thing. Wow!

I must say that this was indeed one of our better performances, but when you find yourself in the fantastic acoustics of a 16th-century monastery chapel, there is a certain obligation you feel to sing well. While the women were singing “Alme Presul,” a 14th-century Bohemian chant, I was offstage and actually wandered a bit down the stone hallway into the glorious courtyard. It was an absolutely gorgeous, warm night and the organizers had placed votive candles all along the short wall that hugged the perimeter of the arched walkway. Two huge trees stood in the middle, under which a lovely reception of salami and prosecco had been set up. I stood there for about a minute, all alone, looking at the flickering candles and listening to the women chanting as it echoed within the cloistered walls. I wondered how many thousands of religious folk had walked here while listening to the various offices being chanted. It’s one of those moments I wished to share with someone but one I won’t forget. Here’s a picture of all of us (post-concert) under one of the archways featuring a fresco of our beloved San Francesco.

Our evening ended in a rather strange way, which I will only briefly be able to explain here. Words actually escape me at this point but perhaps others in the group will venture to write about our meeting with the Count of Missaglia, who invited us to come to his “castle” in the middle of town to view the 13th-century chapel situated on his property. This gorgeous little chapel ended up being built on 2000 year-old Roman ruins, which we were soon to learn was only the beginning of a rather lengthy tour of his virtual museum of a villa. Think everything from a collection of weapons that would rival that of any army general, to coins from 22 AD (Tim and Carrie got to hold one), to Nazi flags, to 17th-century paintings and furniture. Oh yeah, I mustn’t forget about the columns from a 7th-century BC Pagan temple shown here. We arrived back at the hotel at 3:00am. Ahem.

The weather here has been pretty hot but after all that cold Minnesota weather in early June, most of us have welcomed the Italian sun as a long-lost friend. Speaking of friends, I should mention that our dear friends Paola and Clara from the Italian group Hasta Madrigalis came to see us the other night (these are the Italians we met in Burgundy last year). My French lovelies Anliz and Tristan are also here now and I’ve been attempting to connect with them, but because we aren’t staying at the same hotel it’s been difficult. They will be coming to our concert this evening, which is right outside of Legnano, and there is a rumour of an after-concert party at our hotel. And, of course, Voces8 from England is here and we’ve been having a nice time with them as our schedule has allowed (the bus rides have been utilized for socializing).

Speaking of schedule, I should apologize here once again for the delay in sending some word of our activities. Our days here are truly busy. When we’re getting back from gigs at 3:00am and we have morning rehearsals to sneak in before lunch, I barely have enough time to eat, have a quick business meeting and walk back to the hotel (a good 45-minutes) before I have to get ready for the evening’s concert. I’ll try to do a better job of staying in touch. Ciao – Jordan

Minneapolis to Milan

Rose Ensemble bass Mark Dietrich writes:

After an unexpected delay in New Jersey (not really all that bad), we made it in on Saturday morning. The downside of course is that we were all pretty well wrecked, and we had to keep it together long enough to sing here Saturday night. We took part in "Choral Marathons" Saturday and Sunday night. I'm glad they just went ahead and called them that, since it would have been the case in any event. There are two groups of five choirs at the festival, one for the first week, and one for the second. For these few days we all overlap. So both of these events featured ten groups, theoretically limited to fifteen minutes a piece, although this seems to have been interpreted very broadly. All went well though, and we've already made new friends here.

I know it's a bit hackneyed to talk about music being the universal language (I'm still holding out hope for Esperanto, but that's another story), but it really is true here. Most of these choirs cannot speak with us poor monoglots very well, but we can sing for each other, and we all know what that means. With such a foundation, and a liberal sprinkling of pidgin and pantomime, we manage to communicate well enough, and our respect for these performers is clearly mutual. It's a great setting for us. We're looking forward to getting started on our own shows tomorrow. I'll send more news when we have some. And maybe get Jordan to send some pictures... -Mark