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 café 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.

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