Italy: August 31-September 7, 2008

Thoughts and a few (sometimes humorous) details about my latest trip to Europe, my 4th trip to Italy…
by David Stewart Wiley

After 20 hours of traveling  (including a 2 hour delay my final leg from Rome to Bari, thanks Alitalia) I arrived barely one hour before my first rehearsal with the professional “Orchestra Sinfonica di Bari”.  This is a full-time salaried symphony that does several concerts each week with guest conductors & soloists from all over the world.  It is a fully government-supported by the Province of Puglia, in southern Italy at the heel of the boot right on the Adriatic.  I think our plane was delayed for the following reason: our ancient MD-80 jet plane had a window shade right next to my seat 10A closed with — no kidding — silver duct tape, and a sign marked “Inoperativ” written on the silver duct tape.  A real confidence-booster, especially with the real possibility of being late for my first rehearsal, with 70 Italian musicians waiting.

My driver sped through the city ignoring all sense of safety or marked road signs to get me to the hall, arriving at the auditorium “Nino Rota” — named after the famous Italian orchestral & film composer.  We were a curious bunch: here was an Italian orchestra with an Albanian concert master with an American conductor, performing all-French repertoire.  Remarkably, all went quite smoothly with no real language or communication issues (most meaningful musical terminology is in Italian), and we played through the program before the break.  When I asked the artistic director about the absence of saxophone as required for the Bizet, the response was simply “tomorrow.”  The same response was forthcoming for the next two days, and then the saxophone actually arrived in time for the dress rehearsal later in the week.  It really is an impressive full symphony orchestra, and they take great pride in their music-making as well as energetically talking among themselves when I stopped to rehearse.  Each scheduled rehearsal is for four hours, and the 15 minute breaks tend to stretch to 22-24 minutes or such, no worries.

My host and hostess, a member of the wind section in the Bari orchestra, took me to dinner for the first of what would be a great week of music and abundant food, primarily fish and wine.  Each meal featured no less than 15-20 dishes, all manner of octopi, squid, shellfish, mini-lobsters, some of it actually cooked — all wonderful.  Dinners began at 10 or 11 PM and dessert(s) usually arrived by 1:30 AM.  Then, we would drive around the beautiful seaside towns overlooking the Adriatic, with 1000-year-old castles right next to the sea, with deep, dark caves under the cliffs with escape tunnels and ancient stone stairs down to the water.  Little Smart cars, mini-Fiats that run on natural gas, and scooters driven by young beauties with no helmets buzzed all over the place until the wee hours.  Open-air concerts with bands and string orchestras took place on the piazzas next to the sea until quite late, and we would wander into one performance after another.  Cool breezes wafted the sea air into the piazzas and blew the music pages on the music stands.  Then my hosts brought me back to my hotel near the sea to sleep soundly.

Our scheduled 9 PM evening performances were at the (11th century?) Castello Normanno Svevo in Bari.  The orchestra performed in an open-air amphitheater with excellent acoustics within the castle walls.  In concert, the orchestra really raised their level of performance, and the enthusiastic audience required an encore before intermission, and again at the end of the concert.  The woodwind solos became a zesty dialogue with the local birds nesting high above the orchestra in the castle, to beautiful effect.  We greeted the audience for an hour after the performance, and then went to celebrate with another 20-course dinner until the wee hours.

I spent the last day swimming in Bari at the beach in Monopoli at a bay next to another castle, then flew to Rome for a day seeing the sights near the Coliseum and in the Vatican City.  Flew back to the states with no problems or delays.