NZSO's upcoming Travels in Italy concert reminds James Judd of performances in Ravello's Villa Rufolo
Thinking ahead to the NZSO's Travels in Italy concert, I'm happy to recount glorious experiences from my recent trip to Italy with Vadim Repin and the Asian Youth Orchestra.
In the spectacular amphitheatre perched high above the atmospheric town of Ravello - famous for hosting Wagner as he wrote Lohengrin, and infamous for hosting Stokowski and Garbo - the 13th-century, Moorish-style Villa Rufolo offers glorious views from its terraced gardens, and hosts high-level concerts during the Ravello Festival. We followed a stunning performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto by Vadim with Mahler's First Symphony played against the darkening backdrop of the sea, the persistent background music of crickets, and a certain concern for the offstage trumpets, now invisible in the dark, behind the stage and perched precariously on a platform behind which was a sheer drop down to the Amalfi coast. Although a distant splash was a tempting thought, it happily did not materialise and the players resumed their places on stage after the remarkable offstage fanfares.
Bassano was to have been a Mahler performed outdoors by the impressive castle with thousands of festival music lovers. However, when we arrived for the acoustic rehearsal in lovely sunshine we were informed there might be a storm by concert time. We expressed our willingness to risk a few drops of rain but the organisers would have none of it. That evening, the audience squeezed into the rain-check venue, its tin roof rattled by golf-ball hailstones accompanied by thunder and the sounds of fierce wind. The offstage trumpets would have been swept away but for those wise weather forecasting festival folks.
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Then to Merano, near Bolzano, not far from the Austrian border, an Alpine town in Italy's South Tyrol region known for its spas, art nouveau buildings and excellent wine, for a concert in a gem of a hall where our 110-piece orchestra just fitted on stage and played to another capacity audience. No storms, just a lovely hall and acoustic.
The final performance of this Mahler programme was in Berlin in one of my favourite concert halls, the Konzerthaus, an historic hall on the city's Gendarmenmarkt. It was the second time I had played there in the season, the first being a particular honour as I conducted three young Menuhin prizewinners in the Menuhin Centenary commemorative concert with the excellent Konzerthaus Orchestra.
It was here, following another powerful performance by Repin, that we came to the final Mahler of the tour.
The young musicians from 14 Asian countries had been together for two months and so the emotion of the performance of this great work for a packed audience in such a sensitive and colourful acoustic was absolutely overwhelming. That's what music is all about!
James Judd conducts the NZSO in Travels in Italy at the Auckland Town Hall on October 13.