Wednesday, July 29
We arrived in Florence yesterday at noon. The flight to Amsterdam was a bit rough for the first two hours but then smoothed out. At first we wondered why we were in the very back of the plane, but it turned out we had a bit more leg room and since no one was in the seats behind us, we could spread out over the two seats each by my moving back one row.
Our first meal with our host (after a four hour nap) was spritzers (a mix with prosecco and mineral water) with some appetizers (prosciutto, cheese, bread) – then we moved next door for a pizza and some vino to finish things off. We took a brief stroll around the center of town – quite a few folks out on a Tuesday night at 9:30 to eat. Then to bed with our constant companion – the fan! (no air conditioning)
Both of us awoke about 4:30 but lay in bed dozing until about 7:30. Breakfast on the first floor (no elevator either, so two flights for our exercise) then out to walk again. We met with Paolo at 3:00 to go see the Marble Quarry (local attraction). Tomorrow I rehearse with the orchestra for three hours then a brief sound check at 7:30, concert at 9:30 P.M.
Thursday, July 30
We drove about an hour to rehearse with the orchestra at 10:00. The three hour rehearsal became two and a half due to a need for the room. No air conditioning or lighting other than natural. Orchestra was 20 strings and top quality. Surprisingly I rehearsed in English as they understood that and not Italian. So we rehearsed Foote and my piece mostly with a bit of Tchaikovsky. As expected they didn’t watch as closely on the piece they know best (Tchaikovsky Serenade).
Linda and I found a nice cafe for lunch (most important on the road!). Our room has only a small fan so is rather warm, even at night. A bit of a nap and then a sound check at 7:30.
The sound check began late at 7:45 but I had to stop so the orchestra could eat before the concert. It was a reasonably cool night and a respectable crowd of about 200 or so. Unfortunately the concert was moved from the normal location of the Ducal Palace to a smaller piazza that bordered a street with apartments and had a playground at the end.
The suite by Arthur Foote went well without any problems. Disappointingly the orchestra needed another rehearsal for my Nara Variations. Despite their high skill level, the numerous tempi changes and chamber music-like passages made for a rather ragged performance overall. Many of the details I had worked on with them were forgotten and there were several near train wrecks in transition places. Even the ending nearly fell apart due to inattention in the celli. I never would have imagined such a fine orchestra performing it so poorly overall. I think they liked the piece but the attention was not uniform. Also there was some background noise issues like the children playing, the passing by of cars, and even some competing music from the neighbors! The Tchaikovsky Serenade on the other hand was well-known and a pleasure to conduct. It was a real showpiece that they wanted to dazzle the audience with their speed, though the slow third movement proved they could play slowly and sustained. One of my major complaints with the Nara Variations is they were always pushing the tempo even in the slow sections. The audience was most receptive and I was a bit surprised at how long they applauded for each work. In retrospect I should have savored it a bit more and not felt compelled to move on to the next piece quite so fast. As a conductor I find this reading of an audience the hardest factor to gauge in a concert. Music is such a temporal thing that it must be savored – an important insight for future concerts! As always, one spends hours to prepare for the all too brief culmination of the final performance.
We celebrated the success of the concert with dinner afterwards; since the concert began at 9:30 P.M. this meant a late night meal. It’s always amazing to see so many families out still after midnight. Our Danish steak came on a sizzling hot platter which we deduced was to finish cooking it to the degree of doneness.
Friday, July 31
Given that I took a nap before yesterday’s concert, I awoke at about 5:30 then gave up sleeping (dozing) around 7:00. We have most of the day open until 3:00 when Paolo will take us to Torre del Lagos (Puccini’s summer home) and also to Pisa for the famous tower.
It was great to see the place where Puccini wrote so many of his operas. Not only was there his piano, furniture and memorabilia but he, his wife, son, and daughter-in-law are all buried there. Our time in Pisa was rather short really only looking at the buildings and walking a bit through the town. Our time in Massa was completed with a final meal with my colleague Paolo and his wife Francesca.
Saturday, August 1
Paolo drove us to Florence where we said our goodbyes. In celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary we will spend two very short (and hot – temperatures almost 100) attempting to see some of this beautiful city. The heat and long lines will limit what we are able to take in but it will be worth the effort. Then on Monday we’ll fly to Toulouse, France to visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandson for two weeks.
In December Linda and I will perform again with the Oradea Philharmonic in Romania on the border with Hungary – more of my On the Road blog then!