Conductor’s Journal: Italy, Day One

[The first of eleven installments of Maestro Liuzzi’s journal, originally posted by Josh Yarden at, July 25th, 2015]

All City Orchestra Italy Tour 2015

by Don Liuzzi






June 20th. Leaving Philadelphia
We’re driving to the Kimmel Center with Michael Fuller’s bass. He is an alum playing on this tour. (I am so proud of Michael – We bought him his bass through our All City instrument fund in 2009, and he starts playing with The New World Symphony in Miami this September) We have lots of percussion equipment in carry-on bags, and my shoulder bag is weighted down with scores. Tons of excitement (and trepidation) in my thoughts… Launch time is finally here.

It’s 7:53AM as I pull up towards the back of Kimmel Center. I glance over to see if students are arriving at the Spruce street entrance – It’s jammed with cars and parents and kids hauling their suitcases and instruments. They are all EARLY!
Lots to figure out… Get the students in groups. Pack the trombones in cases that will go underneath the plane. Distribute the performing polo shirts to everyone. Distribute the music stands to go in all the student’s suitcases. Weigh everyone’s bag to make sure it is nowhere near 50 pounds! The boxes of tour books are opened (Vanessa has done a beautiful design job!) and I start distributing them to eager parents in the lobby. The students will get theirs just before the buses arrive.

All the students have put on their Phillies shirts. Some have creatively cut the sleeves and made them into tank tops… as long as everyone has a red shirt on we’ll be able to see them in the airports!

As the students and chaperones separate each other into groups with their bags (when will the sniffing dog team arrive?), the excitement is clearly palpable in the Kimmel Commonwealth Plaza. Dear Anna Nguyen is asking me about Italy, the food, the plane, and everything else that is to come. She and the entire 117 strong orchestra can’t wait.

9:20 – Organization has set in. Word comes in that there will be no dog sniffing team coming. I think the students are all too smart to bring any illegal substances on this trip – I have tried to scare them enough anyhow!

9:55-ish… Bus #1 arrives for the JFK contingent…a cheer goes up. About 25 students and chaperones haul their cases and instruments over to Broad Street, quickly load and on to the bus. They take off to cheers from the rest, around 10:10.
10 minutes later we learn someone on the JFK bus has left a violin in the Kimmel lobby…Oops! Too excited to bring their violin?? The bus circles back to pick it up…sigh. Nick and Raven wait with the violin in hand and pass it quickly onto the JFK bus.

10:15 – The two buses for Newark show to more cheers! GAMP teacher Vince Rutland’s booming voice urges everyone to STOP and LISTEN — I mentally call his voice the Enforcer! We are to approach the buses in the various designated groups: A and B, then C and D, and finally Group E all go to their respective buses to get their suitcases loaded underneath. The full departure of the All City Orchestra Tour, a party of 141, is almost done.

Final hugs from some remaining parents, and all are bus boarded. We shove off on time… Whew! Close to 11AM, and I am already exhausted. I doze half way up the NJ Turnpike.

12:50-ish… We arrive at Newark International, and the organization of checking in starts. We line up at a special United group check-in area, plenty early for our 5:10PM departure! Check in commences gradually but smoothly. We pay for the oversized bags: 3 trombones, a camera tripod bag and the percussion equipment suitcase. Vanessa’s camera case is too big to a carry-on. We scramble to put her extra camera and lenses in my carry-on back pack.

We all eventually get through security, and by 2:40 we realize we have LOTS of airport time. Better to be early and relaxed then to rush!

Laden with my score bag and a back pack with extra cameras and lenses, I realize I am famished. Lots of students go for burgers. I stop at a sushi place… my last sushi for 10 days! Watching a documentary spots about the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys from the 80’s, I chow (ciao) down on great sushi and clear my palette for the pasta to come!

3:50 – Time to get to gate 110. The students are all there, some hacky sack has broken out, along with tired anticipation. For some, this will be the first flight ever.

4:20 – Boarding commences. I am worried about all the instruments getting on board with no “gate checks”. The United boarding person is freely passing out and attaching gate check tags – I am worried and annoyed. Don’t they know the rules regarding the allowance of musical instruments? Vanessa gets permission to film. I watch happily as they line up to board… A dream has come true.

Fortunately, the plane crew on board realizes that no instruments should go underneath the plane (other than the heavily packed trombones in flight cases!) I whisper to the head flight attendant a big thanks for getting all the instruments in overheads and closets. She agrees to have the captain welcome the Philadelphia All City Orchestra during take-off, and she asks me if some instruments can be opened for an impromptu concert. I am leery. Everyone is excited AND tired… We don’t need a half-baked concert on a plane going viral on YouTube. If there is a delay on the tarmac I might go for it.

All is on time. We settle for the official welcome from the captain and take off. A few students seem afraid, but most are thrilled. We leave the earth.


One Month Ago Today

[Originally posted by Danielle Romano at, July 20th, 2015] 

Philadelphia / July 20th, 2015image

One month ago today the All City Orchestra embarked upon an adventure in Italy. Back in Philadelphia now, listening to the soundtrack of Cinema Paradiso, I am reflecting on the music we made and all of the experiences we had together. I miss every minute of it.

I still catch myself humming parts of Danse Bacchanale every so often, or yelling “Mambo!” at random times throughout the day. I even caught myself saying “grazie mille” or “mi scusi” to Americans who looked at me like I was crazy. Is all of this normal?

The part I miss the most about Italy is performing. Any tourist could write several pages on the beautiful countryside, of course, or about the delicious gelato, but not everyone happens to play a concert at a church in Perugia, or at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. We were fortunate enough to play in five amazing venues, and in addition to performing with the orchestra, I loved having the opportunity to perform in a chamber choir and singing La ci darem la mano with my friend Charles, accompanied by the woodwind quintet. Now I get to hold the memories for the rest of my life!

We discovered that almost anything could happen, and something always did. I grew to love the thrill of not knowing what obstacle we’d all face each times we went on stage. Whether it was wind, bugs, squeaking chairs, or changing acoustics, each obstacle gave each concert an individual character. One cavernous sanctuary made the beginning of Finlandia sound like Jaws because of the reverb. Another made Mambo almost impossible to play because the wind was blowing our pages away!

My C string popped in Florence, in the middle of the concert. I was mad at first, but I eventually got over it. After all, I was still surrounded by beautiful music. I wasn’t going to let a little instrument mishap ruin my last concert in Italy. The show must always go on, right? So I still played my heart out!

I hadn’t expected to make new friends on this trip, and even though I didn’t get to know everyone personally, I do know we all have a stronger connection because we shared this experience. Whether it was the little inside jokes we developed over time, or the infamous “got eem” (sorry, you had to be there) we all became closer because of the best thing in the world. Music!

imageI’d like to think that someday the first All-City Orchestra group to go on tour will have a reunion. We might see each other here and there, but it would be nice to reminisce all together and play our Italy Tour repertoire one last time. Encore!

Danielle Romano, Viola


Editor’s note: 30 days after we took off for Rome, and after 30 entries in this web log, we still have more posts in the pipeline and more reflections on the way. Several musicians are still contributing pieces, and you can too.

Gone With The Wind

[Originally posted by Josh Yarden at, July 8th, 2015]

When we pulled away from Assisi, we left behind a beautiful place that left us all with lasting memories, most notably of the summer breeze  that almost blew us all out of town.


The concert in the square at San Rufino was as much as battle with the elements as it was a musical exhibition. Alternate titles our musicians suggested for this post included: “Don with the wind,” “Assisi: More Than Just a Breath of Fresh Air,” “The ACO Whirlwind Tour,” and “Anyway the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me.” (If that last one doesn’t ring a bell, think back to the 1970’s, Queen, Freddy Mercury, and Bohemian Rhapsody.)

Don Quixote may have been wasting his time battling windmills in Spain, but the Don Liuzzi, Joseph Conyers and the All City Orchestra certainly emerged victorious in their battle against the wind in Italy.

Here’s a post from Raymond Zhang, with more details:

I will never forget our performance that day in Assisi, when mother nature decidedimage to join us for our second concert.

The previous night’s performance in Perugia’s San Lorenzo Church was a success. We entertained the crowd, starting with Berlioz’s Hungarian March, and the church’s acoustics definitely contributed to our rich resonant sound. The best part was definitely the last piece. Maestro Don Liuzzi conducted Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino without the score! I imagined that our performance in Assisi would exceed the first.

We arrived at the front of San Rufino Church at around 11:45 a.m. The venue was shaped like a square with the front of the church and its walls on the left and right. The orchestra was to perform in the middle of the square. This would be our first experience performing outside. We quickly dropped off our music stands, concert attire, and instruments, eager to explore the wondrous streets of Assisi before call time. It was a beautiful and welcoming city indeed.

I made my way back to the church at 4 p.m. As the orchestra was setting up for sound check, I felt the presence of a chilling breeze. I presumed it would stop soon. However, the sound check did not bode well. Mother nature was launching waves of wind toward the orchestra. Music stands toppled and sheet music began to fly in every direction. Chaperones started distributing clothes pins to keep our music from flying away. Out of all days, why did the wind have to pick on us this day?

The concert was about to begin, when I caught a glimpse of Maestro Don Liuzzi discreetly giving the us an uneasy look with a raise of the brow. As our Italian hosts concluded their opening remarks, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, ‘This is certainly not going to go well. At least the concert is shorter than usual.’

imageThe bass, cello, and brass section seemed to suffer the worst of the furious wind. Overall, the entire concert was full of disastrous events. Chaperones were dispatched to assist us, their arms stretched desperately, attempting to hold two music stands at once to prevent them from collapsing. audience Chairs blew over in the audience. Someone dropped a cello, breaking one of its tuning pegs. During one piece, the wind pulled the music out of my folder. Lincoln Portrait flew at a poor audience member’s face. Maestro Joseph Conyers conducted Lyric for Strings with a single hand, while preventing his music from flying away with the other.

In particularly the bass and cello section of the orchestra, We bass and cellists were situated in the shaded area of the square. As if the wind wasn’t annoying enough, the cold certainly made playing outside even harder.

Even so, the people of Assisi wanted us to play that night. Amidst this chaos, the orchestra somehow pulled through the performance without stopping. The enthusiastic audience and especially the nuns enjoyed our presence.

I must thank the chaperones for their contribution and assistance. It may have not been our best sound, but our perseverance topped it all. I bet none of us has ever faced such a conflict. I could not help but feel a sense of pride in our orchestra. Maestro Don Liuzzi was most proud of our efforts.

Flying Home

[Originally posted by Josh Yarden at, July 1st, 2015]

By the time this dispatch gets to the website, we’ll probably be on the bus back to Philadelphia, and the last of the ACO contingent will be on the way home. Right now, however, we’re on the plane heading northwest over the Alps. Italy almost seems to have been a dream.

The proof that it actually happened is not merely in the photographs and video recordings. It’s in the relationships we all cultivated through this intense collaboration–relationships with each other, of course, and in some cases with the Italians we met; relationships with music, musicianship, and the essential idea of the pursuit of excellence; as well as our relationships with ourselves and our own abilities: performers, learners, teachers, supporters, roommates, friends, guests, world travelers, explorers, discoverers… the list goes on.

Some memories barely leave a mark on the trajectory of our lives, fading as quickly as the light of any given day. But no one on the All City Italy Tour 2015 remained unchanged. The most memorable experiences, and the ones that have the greatest impact upon the future directions we choose, are the ones in which we are deeply engaged through exploring, experimentation and discovery. That was certainly the nature of this concert tour, both musically and socially, and perhaps in other ways as well.

Some experiments lead to brilliant results. Others are just dead ends, while some are disappointing failures. So we examine what we have discovered, who we have become in the process, and consider where we will turn next. And if we have learned anything at all, we can apply lessons learned to make more insightful decisions as we continue to explore the world around us and the world within.

We are all now the people we became between the príma rehearsal in Roma and the finalé performance in Firenze. Even the very last night of trip, after all seemed said and done, was another turning point for many of us. We never really know exactly what to anticipate or how we will perform under unfamiliar circumstances. This concert tour is over, but we all have many more roles to play, in All City and far beyond.

One Comment

  1. Kathryn Hiester July 1, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Yes, it’s true. My son has already told me that the music for the All-City audition. I’m very pleased to hear him talking about practice and saying, “I miss that Contrabassoon so much!”

Well… will you ‘Lucca’ at that.

[Originally posted by Gabe Preston at, June, 29th, 2015]

Our fourth performance of five was in a glorious church in Lucca, where the streets had a unique liveliness, inside and out. The first thing that really caught my attention was one of many lovely gelato stores, which not only had a beautiful nutella and fruit display, but also provided a whopping seven scoops for just four euro! I knew that this was no doubt the greatest gelato place with its long but worthwhile lines. I continued to look around and found a wide varieties of stores and food places in the squares and streets, topped off with a lot of bikers. It felt like Manayunk was rebuilt to be something bigger, greater, and more comfortable for everyone.

Everybody was having a good time eating in and outside of fancy restaraunts in every square and alleyway. The lights were all in the right place and gave the right lighting. The real selling point, however, was the variety of street musicians throughout the alleyways and the squares. The instruments ranged from cellos to saxophones to clarinets to guitars, and were the final piece in giving life to nighttime Lucca for everyone.

The biggest highlight came later that day when the percussion ensemble was performing in front of the church, prior to our even concert. Little did we all know that there was another marching band marching their way toward the church. Two nations engaged in the percussion battle of the century.

It’s hard to believe that not only this trip is coming to an end, but that I only got to visit this wonderful, city-like place for a day. I hope to visit these places again. Until then, Arrivederci!

– Gabe Preston, Principal Clarinet


One Comment

  1. Kathryn Hiester June 30, 2015 at 3:49 am

    Wonderful post, Gabe! You paint a wonderful picture of a great trip. Thank you as well for being a great role model and friend!

A Blessing

[Originally posted by Frances Mouzon at, June, 29th, 2015]

“To some this is an awesome opportunity. To those that never thought they would make it this far, this is a blessing.”

For anyone that may ask or wonder, this trip was not a vacation. It was more of a life experience for all of us. With over 120 people on the tour, I have learned about both enjoying and appreciating life a little more, through experiences such as having a deep conversation with a monk about life and the higher power, and seeing pieces of art that I learned of in text books, but never thought I would see them in person. The Birth of Venus, for example, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican… all these things opened my eyes to a whole new part of the world. I have traveled away from home before, but Italy is the only place that I felt like I belonged. Walking around seeing street performers, talking to them about the art of music, and how much it has changed their lives made me feel good to know that all the way across the world there are others that feel the same way that I feel about music.

I enjoyed this trip, and most importantly I enjoyed making music with my ACO family, which is something I have dreamed of doing for so long! I have to thank Mr. Luizzi, or I should say MAESTRO Don Luizzi, for having this goal and believing in us to complete it. I also thank all those that supported us through this journey. I will truly miss playing great music with my ACO family, for this is my last year. I hope for the best for my younger colleagues in the orchestra. I only ask of them to keep working hard to make “All City” a name known not just in Philly but all over the world. I love all of you!

Frances Mouzon


One Comment

  1. Marjorie Keefe July 7, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Thank you for that beautiful blog post, Frances! I’m so happy that you were able to join us on this trip and that you have good memories of the places and people that you encountered in Italy. We will miss you next year – but please keep in touch! We hope to have an All City Alumni association up and running soon so that you can continue to be a part of the ACO family… take care, and have a wonderful summer!


[Originally posted by William Soto at, June, 27th, 2015]

Sitting on a bus filled to the brink with instrumentalists trying to be singers and flatliners trying to be comedians, I find myself with the inability to understand how my foot fell asleep, and Candace. I have just survived the single most skin chilling, nerve nipping, paper flying concert of my entire life (shoutout to my home boy Mr. Wind). That’s a whole 18 years, too. I’ve seen some stuff. The bathroom line for that concert was longer than the 17 minutes it takes you to realize Italian doorknobs arent real (true fact). Also, Italian tap water is the best, so teachers tell us to drink a whole lot, then get angry when we have to pee every five seconds (hence the line). That being said, I’m on the bus to dinner, I have to pee, and there’s a donkey crossing the road in front of us. “Do they have donkeys in America?” Isaiah asks. “Didn’t you go to CAPA? They’re all over,” William K. jokingly responds.

If you are confused, fantastic. So am I. This is a confusing experience. I’m not exactly sure how I got here, and five days later, I think I am still jet lagged. I’ve spent one hundred twenty hours being in complete and utter disbelief that I have achieved #internationalstatus in regards to ragging on my best friend. I’m in italy. There are 118 of us playing instruments in churches in Italy. Can you believe that? Italy. Amazing.
Hills for days, tourists for weeks, sun for months, and pasta for mother flipping years. Pasta on pasta on pasta. So much pasta, so little time.

I liked Perugia. There were cute brick houses, a baller sun, and a nice breeze. While I was there, I looked at the weather in Philadelphia, saw it was toughing out what seemed to resemble a freaking monsoon, and quietly laughed to myself while I readjusted my sun hat.

The Colosseum was also fun. I had a nice time watching old people trying desperately to grasp for their youth by taking selfies with selfie sticks. I, on the other hand, happily took regular selfies featuring well sculpted rocks.
Okay, after surviving the Hurricane Katrina of concerts, I have to go eat dinner now. I’m hungrier than several newborn babies (babies come out hungry right?)

P.S. Don’t stay in a chocolate themed hotel. I’ve already put on five pounds

Posted by William Soto  (Trombone)


  1. Beatrice Rolland June 27, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Billy or should I call you William now, you are the best. Great report! I know why I always like you. I am certain I can say that on behalf of your mother, we cannot wait to give you all a huge hug. Thanks for reporting. Enjoy!


  2. Linda and David Glickstein June 27, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    Thanks for these wonderful posts. We feel as though we are along on the trip.

Returning to Siena

[Originally posted by Georgiy Khokhlov at, June, 27th, 2015]

Touring the historic streets of each Italian city and town has been meaningful, but visiting Siena with the ACO stands out as an especially heartwarming experience. It was a bit like coming home, since I first set foot in Europe about a year ago, when I took part in a chamber music festival in this town.

I had a chance to acquaint myself with the small city of only 22,000 during the festival. I witnessed what many of the citizens there consider to be the most important event of the year– The Palio, which is the Kentucky Derby of Italy. It’s just one short race, which takes place in a crowded town square, the Piazza del Campo. I found myself crowded in there, cheering like a local resident.

I was very excited to learn that our tour would include this familiar town. Upon our arrival there I quickly planned out my route to visit acquaintances from last year, then I speed-walked directly to Café Oro. I was so pleased to see Manuela standing outside my favorite cafe as I approached. Would she recognize me, now that a year had passed? I was afraid not, but, after all, she had made me feel very welcome, even letting me help her behind the counter.

I stopped in front of her with a grin on my face. After a moment of hesitation, her face lit up and we hugged. She soon noticed that I was still unable to carry on a conversation with her in Italian. Mumbling my way through the encounter, I managed to order a panini and a coffee, and then sat down to enjoy this strangely comforting feeling of finding my ‘home away from home.’ I don’t know when, but somehow I know I’ll return to Siena.

* The names ‘Manuela’ and ‘Café Oro’ for the sake of anonymity.


One Comment

  1. Laura D Meirson June 27, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    30+ years ago Curtias Institute of Music took a small group of us to Europe. We played all over France and Italy and one of our concerts was in Sienna!. Now, my son Leonard (Trumpit) is there playing all over Italy. I am so proud!!

Quotes heard on the bus

[Originally posted by Josh Yarden at, June, 27th, 2015]

Late at night, after a concert, on the bus from Lucca to Montecatini…
“This is the farthest I’ve ever gone from home. My parents aren’t really travelers. I never thought I’d get to Europe. It was tiring at first, but now it’s really exciting. I’m having a lot of fun playing with the orchestra.” – Malique Bennett
“So far the trip has been quite an interesting experience. From the people I see walking down the street, the authenticity of the food, to the cool places I get to explore. My favorite was the Montacatini Hotel, because I somehow feel at home there.” – Maria Jackson

“The most memorable part of the trip so far was the concert on Wednesday, when the wind blew all the music away and knocked several chairs over. A bow broke, a string popped and a tuning peg snapped.” – Nathan Kim

“I sat on my bow :'(… I blame the wind.” – Phineas Shapiro

“My sister keeps saying ‘gracias’ instead of ‘graci.’ Every time she does it, I want to disown her.” – Adrienne Hines

“My sister keeps begging me for chocolate and money. Every time she does, I want to disown her.” – Ariannis Hines

“I’ve become friends with some very unlikely people on this trip.” – Leonard Meirson

“Good food. Good conversation. Good music.” – Marcus Bryant

“All the girls are hot… so are the boys.” – Anthony Rolland

“Who loves short shorts? I love short shorts.” – Wyatt Saint Clair

“First of all, it’s an amazing experience to be in Italy and to see a new country, atmosphere and culture. But it’s even more amazing to be on stage, performing for these people. As tiring as it all is, I look forward to every concert and activity.” – Claire Byrnes

ACO Alumni String Quartet

[Originally posted by Josh Yarden at, June, 26th, 2015]

Weijia, one of the alumni on the trip, was up very late the other night after one of the concerts. He was on line getting ahold of some sheet music and printing it in the wee hours of the morning. “Are you sure it’s worth it?” I asked him. Now I know the answer.

The quartet is rehearsing a Dvorák piece in the hotel in Montecotini, being coached by Joseph Conyers, Asst. Principal Base of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Music Director Designate of the All City Orchestra. It’s an impromptu master class, during a rare break in the schedule. They’ll be performing this evening in Lucca during the chamber section of the program, warming up the audience for the full orchestra.

These four–Weijia on 1st violin, Alim on 2nd, Ashley on the viola and Georgiy on the cello–are all wonderful musicians, and perhaps the most beautiful element of the whole ‘All City’ process is that there are scores of younger students here who may be able to perform like this in a few years.

Here’s the formula: Talent+Commitment+Coaching = the All City collaboration.

Post Midnight Update: What a performance! The audience had high expectations for the orchestra after the quartet played, and they weren’t disappointed!