Great Expectations

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Back in the UK at last after what has been a long, exhausting but utterly satisfying week, it has been a real blessing to step off the plane and feel – what is that strange sensation? – a cool breeze. Anghiari has been, like much of Italy, in the grip of a heat wave, and the temperature indicator near to my hotel registered a sweltering 45 C at one point. Quibble all you like about whether that is truly accurate or not, it certainly feels so when the heat is bouncing back off the tarmac and you are walking up the hill, and even the wind feels as if it has come from some desert.

At the end of the week, though, despite cloud and ominous rumbles of thunder, the weather was pretty much perfect for a spectacular and emotional performance of the Verdi Requiem to a packed and attentive audience in Piazza Baldaccio. By the end they were hanging out of the windows and crowding into the main road to watch and listen, and even the ambulance was advised by the Carabinieri that it might be opportune to glide silently down the hill without needing to use the siren.

The week before that was just as intense, of course, with so many highlights that it is difficult to choose the best of the best, but I reckon that the performance of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet on the basset clarinet (as Wolfgang originally intended it) will be something people will talk about in future years. However, it will take some going to top the Verdi.

Of course, it is not all about the music, and there is a decent amount of fun to be had as well in between the travelling, rehearsals and so on. I was very fortunate indeed to be allowed to play the organs (note the plural) of the Duomo in Florence on Tuesday, and the cramped and energy-sapping train rides were worth the eventual reward. There was also a healthy amount of socialising and laughter, mainly at Fernando’s bar, I must admit, and this year’s orchestra are a cheery bunch with, as ever, a superb, dedicating and untiring team behind them.

This morning, though, I am enjoying the rain in London, looking forward to being back in Somerset this afternoon, and planning what needs to be done. There is some short-notice rearranging of 1215: Foundation Of Liberty, and then some long-standing projects to finish, hopefully by or around the end of the month, so that I can deal with other things during August. We are also working hard to try to make the proposed November concert of 1215 financially viable, so please do get in touch if you happen to find any large amounts of change down the back of the sofa.

Anghiari is also a great opportunity to talk about music, and occasionally some of the music that is talked about is mine, and, of course, I need little prompting to go on about what it is like being a composer – maybe I should blog about it, ho ho. A couple of interesting projects were mooted, one in particular with a scope that borders on the ambitious, but which could be very exciting indeed. Beethoven meets heavy metal is the proposed sound of this piece, but Beethoven pretty much is heavy metal as far as I am concerned, so that should not be a problem. It was also heartening to see just how interested people are in what makes musicians, that strange breed, tick. Within that category I imagine that composers must be the strangest of the strange.

It was a long, hot and drawn-out journey home yesterday. I said goodbye to our wonderful friends in the town in the morning, and finally managed to get through the door of my London bolthole fourteen hours later, a fair old journey. It will take at least a couple of days to catch up on sleep, for at no point in the past week did I get my eight hours, but I need to be back at work straight away, as there are some immovable deadlines to hit.

I have been visiting Anghiari for around seven or eight years now, this being my sixth Festival, and I felt that something had changed. Maybe it was a small thing, an alteration of atmosphere, but I felt that I was an integral part of the town this year, rather than an interloper swanning in, doing their stuff, and then heading home. Meals were quietly bought for me behind my back, I was lured (kicking and screaming, naturally!) into bars to savour horrid herb-based Italian concoctions, favours were done, support was given (not just musical), and, of course, there were many, many hugs and much laughter, jazz in the square, corks popping out of Prosecco bottles, a visit from my wonderful aunt and uncle, people dancing, and more laughter.

I spoke to Fernando just after the Requiem had finished, Simon holding an eternal silence before letting the applause rip out, and after I had skipped to the bar. He told me that he and his staff had been crying during the performance, not just because of the music, but also because of the occasion, hardly able to believe that their small town had become the focus of such an extraordinary event. Even the following morning it was all they could talk about, and I suspect they may still be talking about it today, even though the orchestra has returned home and Simon is on his way to the other side of the world.

My relationship with Italy has been long and complex. When young I felt English in Italy and Italian in England, but, as I fell out of love with the country, tired with its quirks and foibles, I became more and more the Englishman abroad. On Friday evening, though, I briefly felt Italian again for the first time in many a long year, thinking of various people as the text of the Requiem brought back the dead, but especially of my Italian grandparents and what they might have thought to have been there, and all those emotions bubbled to the surface. I do not think I could live there, although I visit with a happy heart, but I really felt that this year I was part of the community and that the Festival was for us rather than them. You really should come next year and be part of this amazing event.

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