The south of Italy has a long and proud band tradition going back over 150 years. In many ways there are similarities the brass band movement in the UK, in terms of its longevity and the passion held by its devotees. It clings to its traditional ways with great pride, and so a return to the town of Turi, close to Bari in Southeast Italy was something I really looked forward to. I was to return to the underground location in the centre of the town which had been the scene of my last visit, where I worked with many talented and devoted brass musicians. Here is the short report on my visit.
I arrived mid evening on Friday, the 11th of April, to be met by three very friendly members of the local wind band (a tubist and two flautists). I flew into Bari with Ryanair, not my favourite airline by any means, but usually on time and they fly to locations most other UK Airlines don’t, and at a reasonable price. If you can live with the fact they scream public service announcements at you about every 10 minutes, by which I mean try to sell you stuff you don’t want, and if you don’t mind paying an exorbitant price for any excess baggage and cabin attendants who speak English with the most bizarre accents, it’s OK!
In fact we arrived 10 minutes early and then drove the 25 kilometres away from the coast to Turi. The hotel was very nice and also quiet. We all then went to a pizzeria in the centre of town, admiring the ancient buildings, churches and the famous castle on the way. There was a buzz in the centre of town as this was the last day of political campaigning before the national Italian elections which would take place on the Sunday. The centre of town was the scene of a large political meeting in which every politician had 30 mins or so to put their case to the inhabitants of the region. The food of course in the restaurant was excellent, and the chat was about music of course, food, beer, football, bands and members of the opposite sex…. a normal brass players conversation!
We stopped off at the political rally … for ice cream (!) and to observe the spectacle. Passions were running high and each campaigner brought with him or her their own cheerleaders. No sign of trouble of course, just passionate debate.
It had been a long day and I slept very well.
Saturday was the day that everything was to happen, and it began at 9.30am with a masterclass for around 50 or 60 interested players of all instruments, not just low brass , with many local brass teachers also present which was good to see. I was also going to coach a brass quintet and a tuba euphonium quartet, as well as about eight soloists.
Even at 9.30 there was an enthusiastic crowd present, as there had been five years ago when I was last there. I remembered the hall as soon as I saw it, part of a complex of underground vaulted rooms, which had this time been beautifully renovated, as you can see from the photographs.
The very first player stood up and played RayWoodfield’s classic old solo Varied Mood, and played it just about perfectly, with great technique, a fine breathing mechanism, and tons of confidence. What a great start. With the help of my translator we found a few things to talk about, especially dynamics, as brass players in southern Italy like to play quite loud just about all the time. It’s a very positive and direct style they have there, but often better suited to playing outside! They tend to play slightly smaller mouthpieces and a lot of the instruments are older and medium or small bore. There were quite a lot of old Yamaha instruments around, as well as quite a few newer Besson instruments.
The southern tradition has its roots in operatic music for band and so I always enjoy hearing the vocal style of these players, but it seemed at least from what I saw on that Saturday that they may be losing this vocal tradition slightly, with a few players using hardly any vibrato at all. This was a real contrast to what I witnessed 5 and 10 years ago. I got each of the participants to sing something while I was working with them on their music, and in one or two instances I received a wonderful surprise with really rich and characterful singing. On a couple of other occasions the surprises were not so wonderful! Enough said!!
The brass quintet were excellent with a really sensational horn player in the group, with a massive sound and a virtuoso technique. Again, getting them to play real ‘PP’ was one of the biggest challenges, as well as making all their articulations match up within the group.
I was really impressed with the level all day. We broke for lunch around 1.00 PM and then continued from 3 until 6. My lunch break was shorter as I was to meet my piano accompanist for the first time at 2 oclock, to prepare for our recital that evening at 8.30pm. I am used to these long days now, it is a real test of physical and mental endurance, but to my great delight the piano player was totally prepared and a superb musician, so the rehearsal straight after lunch almost turned into another recital for the several students who came back early from lunch out of curiosity ! We barely had to stop at all. The afternoon session was also incredibly well attended, and the level of attention rarely dipped. After lots of photographs with the participants I managed to get back to the hotel for about 45 minutes of quiet contemplation, showering and a change of clothes.
When I arrived back at the hall at 8.20 it was already pretty full, and noticed many cameras already pointing towards the stage, as well as some excellent lighting to create a good ambience. I tried to forget how tired I was, and we began pretty much on time with the Fantasy by Hummel. Both myself and my pianist were really up for it, and the audience was incredible. When I was given some photographs after the concert I became aware that most of the people in the first two or three rows were filming the concert, with cameras, video cameras and mobile phones. It is so common nowadays, and also slightly alarming to think that by the end of that evening the concert could well be on YouTube, with me having absolutely no say in the matter. Modern times! But it makes you concentrate too, believe me!
In the first half I also played ‘Fantasy Variations’ (Ito), Rondo Giocoso (Weber) and Pantomime (Sparke). In the second half, we began very quietly with Michelangelo , and then an unaccompanied version of Napoli, to wind up the audience a little!. Then it was on to the 22 minute ‘fashion show’ programme of music by Gershwin, that I performed in Milan way back in September 2006. It was the perfect setting to play this again, and the sound system was superb. I even had space in the middle of the room to walk up and down a little bit as I did at the fashion show in Milan. It was so much fun to play this again.
We rounded off the evening with ‘When you wish upon a Star’ followed by the Greek Dance from the Euphonium Concerto by Philip Wilby. Right to the end, my pianist was an absolute star and I was so grateful to him for making the evening so easy and pleasurable for me and everyone else. The audience wouldn’t let it finish there so had to oblige age with some crazy nonsense to end proceedings.
It was a really terrific day, and a pleasure to mingle with these enthusiastic musicians.
A light dinner rounded of the evening perfectly.
The next day I was free in the hotel until the flight back to London, so had chance to practice for the new solo CD with piano coming up in a few days.
The big thank you to Raphaele , the music dealer in Turi, and my good friend Fabio Pardo, the sales rep for Buffet Crampon in Italy. Once again Buffet Crampon/Besson were the very generous sponsors of my visit. I hope to return to this part of Italy very soon.