[The sixth of eleven installments of Maestro Liuzzi’s journal, originally posted by Josh Yarden at AllCityPhiladelphia.org, July 31st, 2015]
All City Orchestra Italy Tour 2015
by Don Liuzzi
The Evening of June 24th – Assisi
The chairs for the musicians are being unstacked as we arrive. I try as much as possible to get the orchestra set up in that corner away from wind gusts… I am only partially successful. The whole orchestra is BIG, including our full percussion section, and our hosts also need to set up chairs for the audience. Time is ticking, and the wind gusts are clearly not abating. I estimate that the back few rows of violins, some percussion and maybe horns MIGHT escape the worst of the wind gusts.
The equipment truck backs in. Basses, percussion, timps and trombones are unpacked. Celli were hand carried from the buses. Everyone is on the move to be ready for the 4:30 sound check. Again, there is only one small room for changing and one bathroom for 117 musicians, but I am more concerned with the wind, and the general effort to organize our first outdoor concert. We start checking sound closer to 5PM.
Daniela, the Perugia/Assisi coordinator, and the gentleman who is our local presenter, have promised us an Assisi Council Woman to perform Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, our featured work on all the concerts in Italy. She cannot arrive until 5:45 at the earliest. It will be another adventure of a performance!
We warm up with Nabucco, and I tell the students this will be a shorter program. It has always been planned that way, but with the wind building rather than subsiding, we will be fortunate to complete a one hour concert. I make the speech to prepare the students for anything, including the flexibility to HELP each other with page turns and clothes-pinning the music. This concert, I tell them, will redefine the meaning of ‘stand partner. ‘ You must HELP each other. Jordan, our music stand master chaperone gives an announcement to “hold music stands down with your feet.” We are in for that kind of concert.
5:50PM – I get frantic pleas from Frank and Magloire to move the concert inside the church. Two problems: We now have a seated crowd of around 100-200 people, and it’s getting too late to work out the logistics. We do check the possible concert configuration in the church, including moving some pews. Maybe it could work, BUT the pastor of San Rufino is not around, so we have no permission, and the church is pretty dark inside. I decide to nix the idea. We will brave the winds.
5:55 – The lovely council woman arrives, and I give her the instructions: Follow my hand cue to BEGIN speaking; stop when I touch your arm.
6:05 – We open with Nabucco, which–surprisingly in the outdoor setting–sounds full. The church façade and the adjacent buildings act as a three-sided acoustical shell, and there actually is some resonance. Amidst a few crazy wind gusts, Nabucco actually comes off. We then launch into Saints Saens Danse Bachanale, which we can now perform outside a church! A few wind gusts in quiet places cause some mild shrieks from the audience. This is NOT easy. Finlandia is next… powerful and short!
We move on to Copland, with our guest speaker. She too recites the entire text of the narration. Somehow the wind gusts are not as strong during her solo recitation. We launch into the complete piece, and the gusts grow stronger… Sheets of music are flying, yet the students mightily hang on. Their mutual assistance is really impressive. The speaker hangs in there too, and it is the only time I have ever conducted with just my right hand; my left is plastered on the score to keep it from blowing away. I am incredibly frustrated, yet we finish with only a few mild mishaps ensemble-wise, and it actually comes off.
Lyric for Strings is Joe Conyers’ test in gust management. The wind obeys and even ceases during a few of the quietist moments. By this time all chaperones and yours truly are “on deck” holding down the stands and music… Joe struggles with the same issue of holding down the score with the left hand, and conducting with only his right. Lyric quietly ends, and we launch into Verdi La Forza. Now the wind is getting stronger!! As we finish the Verdi, mercifully, I realize we need to end the concert as soon as possible, before we all get blown away. Some empty chairs are being blown over!
I call out Mambo as our encore finisher. The wind is now at its strongest, but we miraculously finish it with panache amidst swirling sheet-music. This has been the worst concert experience of my life… other than the snow squall I played through in Colorado as a student back in the summer of 1979. But it turns out that for many of the All City students this was the most thrilling concert they have experienced to date. I figure extremity can be thrilling!
After a quick pack of the equipment truck (that team led by Brian, Mike and Darren is getting GREAT at packing our stuff), we’re off to our dinner at an outdoor grill restaurant in the hills outside of Assisi. Our tables are underneath vine and flower covered pergolas. Man, it is COLD outside!
I give a speech to the students before the meal. Our orchestra played their guts out under very difficult conditions. NEVER would the Philadelphia Orchestra have survived or even performed a co
ncert in that kind of wind. I am very sincere about that. I am incredibly proud of All City!
After a time I assist with the vegetarian dishes reaching the correct people. The pasta dish is a fine lasagna, and then the grilled meat makes it to the tables. I throw my vegetarian leanings aside, and scarf down a LOT of ribs!
The wind is still howling at times, and the plastic tarp on top of the vines of the pergolas are wildly slapping up and down in the wind. After the main course comes gelato for desert. We bus back to our Choco hotel in Perugia, all very cold and sleepy.