This August, the charming Italian town of Lerici played host to the fourth edition of its annual Music Festival, attracting an audience of over 3,000 to a series of concerts featuring 14 open-air performances and marking a triumphant return to Italy’s cultural calendar.
Despite the difficulties and disruptions caused as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lerici Music Festival — Italy’s first post-quarantine large-scale music event to be held in 2020 — bravely defied the odds, welcoming an enthusiastic audience to the shores of the Ligurian Sea for a celebration of culture and the arts.
Concerts were held 3–16 August, welcoming a host of well-known Italian musicians including Anna Tifu, Alberto Bologna, Gabriele Pieranunzi, Gaia Gaibazzi, Francesco Fiore, Giuseppe Bruno, Gloria Campaner, Costanza Principe, Beatriz Rana and Mario Stefano Pietrodarchi, and featuring a varied programme presenting solo pieces, chamber works, masterclasses and orchestral concerts.
We spoke with a selection of the festival soloists about their experiences performing at Lerici, as well as with the event’s Artistic Director, conductor and pianist Gianluca Marciano.
Conductor, Artistic Director and Festival President, Gianluca Marciano
Maestro Marciano, what was your experience of the quarantine and how did you spend the time?
“Despite the pandemic my thoughts constantly returned to music. I spoke to many colleagues from all over the world, worked on new ideas and made plans so that when the restrictions finally lifted, we would be prepared.”
In the spring of this year the situation in Italy was arguably dire. What made you decide to host the festival and what restrictions on events were there at that time?
“I never lost hope, even during the worst moments of the pandemic in March and April. I was abroad in Armenia in fact, but I was constantly in touch with colleagues and friends in Italy and of course I kept up to date with the national news and kept track of events very closely. I made the final decision to hold the festival at the end of April as soon as we had received the first set of government guidelines stating pandemic regulations for outdoor and indoor events. Restrictions were very strict, ranging from the distance required between persons onstage and in the audience, to the requirement to disinfect everything before and after concerts. These limitations meant one music stand per musician, masks, gel, information posters, audio and video messages and a limited number of guests at concerts. There were also restrictions on the venue: 200 spectators allowed indoors and 1,000 outdoors including attendants and the press. These guidelines allowed us to take the first steps in planning the festival, but it was still unclear who would be allowed to travel and from where, when the festival would happen and what form it might take.
“All of these difficulties did not stop us however, and in fact inspired us to actively look for solutions. A radical change in the programme and even a change in performing format, establishing contact with so many incredible musicians in Italy, building a new outdoor venue, looking for new partners and supporters – all of these became the key to our success.”
Lerici is a place of astounding beauty, famously admired by Shelley, Byron and Wagner. Aside from the incredible surroundings, what else makes it suitable for holding a music festival?
“Lerici is a beautiful city with breathtaking views and surrounded by nature from the sea to the mountains. The warm colours of the typical Ligurian houses, the fine wines and culinary traditions, the monumental Castello di Lerici and the stunning surrounding villages such as Tellaro have all inspired artists from around the world for centuries. This is why Lerici and its surrounding areas are called ‘Golfo dei Poeti’, the ‘Bay of Poets’, something which I think already makes for a very good reason to hold a festival there. Lerici is strategically located at the crossroads between three important regions: Liguria, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. Here in these beautiful areas you will find many foreigners interested in major cultural events taking place in the region, events which were not there before the arrival of the festival.
“I should add that Lerici is my hometown and that since childhood I always dreamed of bringing music there. I remember promising my friends at school that one day I would return to Lerici to perform with famous musicians and orchestras.
“Another key factor is that we received excellent support from the city government which was a big factor in making it possible to organise three festivals over three years.”
How was the festival programme compiled and how were the soloists chosen?
“For obvious reasons we couldn’t invite foreign musicians. The aim therefore was to plan the festival as a showcase of Italian musical talent. I have met many great musicians throughout my career and with most of them have become close friends. I was fortunate enough to invite some of the best Italian musicians of our time: Beatrice Rana, Anna Tifa, Sylvia Caredda, Gloria Campaner, Gabriele Pieranunzi, Giulio Plotino, Francesco Fiore, Erica Piccotti, Ludovica Rana, Massimo Carveda, Gaia Gaillibazzi, Giujo Caribazzi , Vincenzo Costanzo, Fabio Armiliato, Mario Stefano Pietrodarchi, Giuseppe Bruno, Exclusive Saxophone Quartet, Betty Maharinsky, Luigi Cario and Paoli Joe. The Lerici Festival Orchestra was formed from young talents who were also happy to finally return to work”
Considerable attention was paid this year to F. Fellini and E. Morricone – how were cinema and music related to each other at the festival?
“With 2020 marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Federico Fellini we could not ignore this. He was a genius of Italian cinema and unfortunately this same year we have lost one of the greatest film composers of our time as well, Ennio Morricone. Music and cinema are very closely related with many of cinema’s most famous scenes associated in our minds with a theme written specifically for them. Music enhances the power of expression and sometimes reaches the viewer’s feelings faster than video. Fellini’s magic would not have manifested itself as fully without the music of Nino Rota, just as the works of Sergio Leone and many other great directors would not have become masterpieces without Ennio Morricone.”
You mentioned that the concept of the festival has changed. What is special about this year’s festival?
“I consider this year to be ‘year zero’, if you will. This is a brand new festival. This year the musicians came to Lerici for two weeks, lived here, rehearsed, performed, talked, exchanged experiences and gave masterclasses. Usually at a festival you do not have time for this: you arrive, perform and leave. I always dreamed of inviting friends to my hometown and enjoying music with them, but not only music! Here new connections and contacts are formed. The most important thing is a great atmosphere: no stress, no negativity, no ‘diva behavior’ – just fun and music at the highest level!
“We were also pleased to welcome Alexey Shor as the festival’s very first Composer-in-Residence. I had been made aware of his music already as I had heard it performed by many famous musicians and conductors. In Lerici I had the chance to perform works by Alexey Shor for the second time after the ‘Music 20’ Festival in Armenia, which took place in Yerevan this July. I must say that although his work is very demanding on the orchestra and that there are many virtuoso moments, everything is clear and very well written.
“It is pleasant to perform modern works with beautiful melodies that remain in the memory even after the performance ends. This is music written for the public and the audience enjoys it very much. I hope to have many more chances to collaborate with Alexey in the future.”
A festival of this size and scope presumably cannot be held without support. Can you tell us more about this?
“Certainly! This year we have a new partner – the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC) and its president, Konstantin Ishkhanov. The partnership with EUFSC was one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, for the festival being able to take place this year. I must thank Konstantin Ishkhanov for the initiative he took exactly when it was needed. He supported us from the very first conversation and the entire team at the Foundation worked so hard to help us. I really hope that this cooperation will continue and develop even more. The festival is very lucky to have such a partner.”
Mario Stefano Pietrodarchi (bandoneon soloist)
How did it feel to be in front of an audience again following the national quarantine?
“For me the quarantine was a difficult period because I’ve become used to traveling a lot over the last 20 years, often without a break, so during the long period of quarantine I tried to focus on my studies. Fortunately, with the arrival of summer things improved and activity resumed. I have known maestro Gianluca Marciano for about 10 years and it’s always nice to share the stage with a musician of his depth.
“I must confess that during the performance in Lerici I probably scared the audience a little with my intensity”, Mario laughs. “Artists are accustomed to being fed daily appreciation by audiences and I missed that so much! And the festival went so well because our viewers were also really missing live performance as well. I have always believed that music can only take place with the participation of both the musicians and audience, and that without their interaction, without the affection and openness of the listener, music is impossible. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the festival – Artistic Director Gianluca Marciano, EUFSC and Konstantin Ishkhanov for giving us all the opportunity to create music during this time.”
Anna Tifu (violin soloist)
How did your first performances go after the quarantine?
“I spent four months without playing in any concerts and in truth found this very hard. In fact, I didn’t touch the violin for an entire month during this time. Gianluca was the first to call me and tell me about his idea for the festival. I was very happy when he called because working with Gianluca is wonderful, he is a great musician and a real friend. So when I went onstage I felt like I was performing for the first time again. I was more nervous than usual because I had never taken a break of one month before, but it was really great to play again for people! Especially for me – I am a very shy and withdrawn person and I feel most comfortable when playing the violin and allowing my emotions to flow through the music I play.
“At the festival I played the music of Alexey Shor for the first time, it is very sentimental and melodic. It is also very interestingly written and sits well on the violin, it’s nice to listen to. He is a wonderful composer whose style reminds me of Rachmaninov and I hope that in the future I will have the opportunity to perform even more works by Alexey Shor!
“I would also just like to say a big thank you to all the people who have worked so hard towards this festival and made it possible, in particular Gianluca Marciano, the European Foundation for Support of Culture and Konstantin Ishkhanov. Next year I will perform at a festival in Malta organised by the Foundation so I was glad to work with them on this project as well.
“What is really valuable is that, despite the amount of work that everyone had to do, they were always ready to help us and did everything possible to put smiles on our faces. It is extremely important to me that when I work there are positive people around me. This makes the working environment better, the music better and ultimately brings positive energy to the stage.”
Alberto Bologna (violin soloist)
How would you describe the organisation of the festival?
“In three words: professional, efficient and friendly.”
Part of your programme consisted of contemporary works, can you tell us more about this?
“I have performed a lot of modern music and in my experience I believe that we can distinguish two main categories of composers based on their style and, dare I say it, their philosophy. One category includes those who write mainly for themselves and for who we might call ‘the elite’, with the second category including those who write for themselves and the audience. Composers from the second category are closer in musical approach to me, and at the festival I discovered a new composer from this group as I became acquainted with the music of Alexey Shor. His music immediately establishes a close emotional connection with the audience that is by no means trivial, and is actually subtly inspired by many sources. His Phantasms violin concerto of three parts which I played at the festival encapsulates this perfectly: the two outer movements reminiscent of a virtuoso nineteenth century work ‘spiced up’ with wholly modern sweep and wit, while the lyrical second movement provides the perfect counterbalance to the fierce energy of the other two. I am looking forward to playing Phantasms again as well as his other violin compositions.”
Costanza Principe (piano soloist)
How does it feel to be performing on stage again after a long break?
“The festival was a very special moment for me and I think for all of us. Still, the pandemic had a very strong impact on musicians and particularly psychologically-speaking. But thanks to the festival, all of a sudden we were all together in a beautiful city and onstage again! The festival gave me the opportunity to create music with others, which I think is one of the highest forms of communication.
“I’m overjoyed to have played with so many amazing musicians, and especially pleased to have performed Beethoven’s Trio for piano, flute and bassoon with Sylvia Kareddu and Paolo Carlini, as well as Shostakovich’s very dark Piano Trio No. 2 with Anna Tifu and Erica Piccotti.
“I also performed the Travel Notebook Piano Concerto for piano and orchestra by the festival’s resident composer, Alexey Shor, with Gianluca Marciano and the Lerici Festival Orchestra. It was a great experience for me and I think Travel Notebook is a brilliant piece of work that really speaks directly to the audience, taking it through seven different cities and situations very vividly. A real journey through music. I must say that this piece can be demanding and that the piano part was certainly not easy at times! But both the audience and I were happy with the result – a wonderful experience!”
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