Conductor’s Journal: Italy, Day Seven

[The eight of eleven installments of Maestro Liuzzi’s journal, originally posted by Josh Yarden at, August 5th, 2015]

All City Orchestra Italy Tour 2015


by Don Liuzzi

June 26 – Lucca
Version 2The morning is dedicated to R&R. After three non-stop days on the move, EVERYONEneeds a free morning. Gretchen and I decide to take the funicular cable car up to alto vecchio Montecatini. The ride is a bit jerky, but the view, as we rise over Tuscan valleys is absolutely stunning. We walk the narrow streets, enjoy gorgeous views at various overlooks, visit one of the small churches up there, grab some well documented gelato, then head back for our funicular ride to the base where the hotel is only a block away.

Just before we board the cable car, we spot an elderly man painting Tuscan scenes. His work is very good, and he is a lovely fellow… We buy two paintings, happy to support a local artist. We get back just in time for lunch at Noon. Buses will depart for Lucca at 1:15.

I am very excited about playing Lucca, a well known center of music in Tuscany. And its charm as an old city dating back centuries makes it another historical destination. We were originally to perform in San Paolino church where Puccini performed as organist, but we have been shifted to San Michele Cathedral, the largest church in Lucca. Veronica has promised us quite an event, with drummers and flag bearers welcoming us… I am not sure what exactly she means…

We arrive at Lucca, and walk our way into the walled town, maps in hand, with an hour and a half to roam the streets and explore. My wife and I walk past San Michele, another massive marble structure, with St Michael, the winged angel at the top! We walk through alleyways, past the town tower dating back 500 years…. not enough time to climb it. We then walk by the Lucca Conservatory of Music, with a statue of Boccherini playing a cello out in front. Perhaps he taught here or maybe even started the school… I hear scales form a vibraphone, a wafting trumpet, a singer vocalizing… I see a dad and his son carrying a trumpet case as they hurry through the front door… must be late for his lesson!

It’s 3:30, time to set-up chairs at the church. We have planned chamber music at three locations leading up to the concert. Woodwind quintet and brass quintet at 5:45 in the nearby Piazza del Puccini. It’s right in front of the house where he grew up, and now a full-fledged Puccini museum. The jazz and percussion groups will be at 6PM, outside the church, then the alumni string quartet, and another group of strings with the Bach Double Violin Concerto – 1st movement with Cheyenne and Vilme soloing. The woodwind quintet will accompany Charles (a violinist) and Danielle (violist) singing a Mozart vocal duo. Finally, at 6:10, the ten a cappella singers will perform Bruckner. This will be the busiest set of pre-concert chamber music of the tour!

After we set up the chairs in the church, Vanessa our videographer asks for permission to film the concert from an OLD marblepulpit… Surprisingly, the church officials agree. We sound check some Verdi… The church acoustic has “only” about a 4.5 second delay, brief by comparison to Perugia’s San Lorenzo echo feast. Then a bit of Copland. Our narrator, another local councilman, will arrive at 6:30, the concert start time. Alas, another Copland narration by the seat of our pants. I will give him the same instructions for starting and stopping his narration.

As the sound check is over by 5:25, I ask all the chamber groups to ready their playing positions. Puccini square is only a few blocks from the church. The jazz group led by Isaiah and Denzel’s percussion group set up outside. The woodwind quintet (Dotan and friends) gather music stands and walk over with me, with the brass quintet (Leonard-led) following us.

I am quickly introduced to the director of the Puccini Museum when we arrive At Puccini square. He insists I tour the Puccinihouse, and I oblige (since Puccini is my favorite Italian composer, other than Resphigi). There are manuscripts of early works, opera notebooks with melodies from a few of his operas, plus a very important early manuscript of La Boheme. (I see his corrections and edits for the opening to the opera). On display is also VERY old Steinway, on which Puccini composed his final works, including Turandot. I tinkle a few keys in the upper register – nice piano! There are family photos, his wife (whom he stole from his best friend… Ouch!), his letters to her and other associates. There is a mention of his womanizing, but also a mention of his staying with his wife until the end, despite his lapses. Puccini wrote some of the most beautiful melodies on the planet, yet he was a flawed human being… Aren’t we all to some degree?

While I am breezing through the museum, I hear the sounds of the woodwind quintet playing excerpts from Tosca, and then an excerpt from Aida from the brass quintet. I exit the museum to the sounds of the approaching Renaissance drum team complete with flag bearers and 14th century clothed wenches with bundled twigs… Out there! Veronica tells me we are to march behind them as they lead us to the church.

Rum ta-ta, Rum ta-ta, Rum Rum Rum… Off we go with the ACObrass quintet following me and a few other All City members behind the drum team. It makes quite a racket through the small streets of Lucca. Very soon we are heading into the open square where San Michele church is located. Alas, it seems the Renaissance drumming is in competition with our own ACO percussion group. It turns into a kind of “battle of the bands”, that Charles Ives would have adored. It’s weird, cacophonous, and finally… kind of fun.

The All City percussion group somehow keeps its time and place, while the Renaissance drum team booms away at its marching cadence. Yes, Charles Ives would have loved it! As the Renaissance drum cadence finally ends, the All City Percussion rages to a sudden close… then the Renaissance team decides to play the ending of their cadence again… and finally the All City percussionists answer with the last 8 bars of their Little Rhumba… to lots of cheers!!!… and the battle is over!

We enter the church. The Dvorak quartet 1st movement is just underway… The alums sound wonderful, followed by Bach Double where Cheyenne and Vilme shine, and the Mozart Duo, which blows the audience away! Finally, the soothing Bruckner Ave Maria… sooo perfect in a church setting.

The councilman arrives with his green, red and white sachet, draped diagonally over his suit… This must be worn by all government officials at public events! I quietly go over the Italian narration with the councilman, to fill him in on the stopping and pausing moments in the text… He understands! The orchestra is in place as the Bruckner finishes… I want to start as closely on time as possible. We have a lot of music to play!

There is a jam packed, standing room only crowd, and many are standing! I look for the concertmaster – where is Cheyenne? Ah… There she is, on the other side of the orchestra, by the basses. I signal to her; time to tune the orchestra!!

The concert is wonderful… Every piece is getting better and better each night. Both Copland works go extremely well. Emilyrose is really starting to nail the final timpani bass line in Variations on a Shaker Melody! I catch Maria’s eye as I cue the final phrase of the Variations… I am happy when players look up!

Lincoln Portrait goes very well, in spite of the lack of a run-through. Sensing the work’s power, our councilman gives a strong, heartfelt reading. He is sweating as much as I am when we finish the Copland. His effort somehow inspires me.

We play everything except Danse Bacchanale. (Alas… no bacchanals in a church!) I decide to omit the West Side Story selections in the encore. As much as I love those beautiful Bernstein melodies, we need to finish. Our encores are Cinema Paradiso, Mambo (a huge hit as usual) and Liberty March… I cue the clapping again, and the crowd is happy to join in. The march ends very solidly, to cheers and a standing ovation… Best concert yet.

After a very quick pack-up, my wife and I take Vanessa to eat in the old colosseum section of Lucca… an oval “piazza” that has the ruins of a Roman arena underground. There are a number of restaurants there, plus lots of children running and dancing around to a street musician playing familiar tunes on a sax in a quasi-jazz sort of way. Our pasta dinner is very fine, topped off again with great gelato. We all meet at the buses, tired but very happy. Our Montecatini hotel is a welcome home… and the bed, VERY welcome!


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