Choral Holidays - Singing in wonderful locations

Posted under: "General Blog Post"

Oct 11, 11:39 AM

A fantastic week in Florence

So, we’ve now been back from Florence for a week, and it’s been difficult to stop myself leaping up and punching the air in celebration of how well it all went.

We arrived at the Castello di Gabbiano ( http://www.castellogabbiano.it/en/ ), just in time to see the sunset. The Gabbiano is a stunning location in which to spend a holiday. It’s is positioned high in the hills, over valleys which are largely filled with row upon row of vines. It is a beautiful castle with a very fine restaurant, several guest rooms and a number of quaint apartments in the grounds. The gardens are pretty and well kept, the large swimming pool is perfect and, wherever you look, there are breathtaking views.

Each day we had our regular events of Yoga/Meditation and, of course, choir rehearsals. As well as individual singing lessons. I was lucky to have a superb team working with me. Australian/Italian Allegra Giagu led the yoga and meditation wonderfully and her care in doing so was really appreciated by all the guests. As well as being qualified it teaching these disciplines, Allegra is a professional soprano. She also treated us to a couple of meals, made with the expertise learned from her restaurateur father, Bruno.

We were also very privileged to have Jonathan Hope to play for our rehearsals. Jonathan, who is engaged to Allegra, is the organ scholar at Southwark Cathedral. He was a great help in learning the music and then switched to join the basses for the unaccompanied music.

The final member of my team was Federico Vertemati, a classics student in Rome and a wonderful counter-tenor. Federico was responsible for finding the Gabbiano as well as the places to sing. He was also our guide for many of our trips.

The guests ranged in choral experience from none at all to very experienced. The more experienced people seemed to appreciate having the stronger voices to inspire them to greater heights, while the less experienced found that having them there gave them the security they needed to have a real go.
The choir progressed really fast and, within 3 days we were ready for our first performance, at the Battistero in Pisa ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/14017876@N02/6217974638/ ) . Everybody knows the leaning tower but few people realise that it is part of a complex with the the cathedral and the Battistero (Baptistry). The Battistero is a superb circular building with a dome which creates the most extraordinary acoustic. Our first performance was wonderful, the voices rising up through the dome to join the voices of those that have sung there for centuries before.

As well as eating at the restaurant in the Gabbiano, we ate out on a few occasions. We kicked off the holiday with a superb meal at Ristarante La Scuderia ( http://www.ristorantelascuderia.com/ ). We didn’t think it could get much better, but it did. After the visit to Pisa we found our way, via a somewhat circuitous route to Ristoro di Lamole ( http://www.ristorodilamole.it/ ). This really was the best of Tuscan Cuisine. The evening there was rounded off rather beautifully: when the owners of the restaurant found out why we were in Italy, they insisted that we sing to them. We sang them Cantate Domino and the staff were moved to tears (in a good way!).

There was a trip to the unbelievable Uffizi Gallery, surely one of the greatest in the world including, amongst myriad other great works, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, followed by some free time in Florence, amongst some of the finest architecture and sculptures on earth.

On the Saturday we sang at the Roman amphitheatre in Fiesole, a famously beautiful town in the hills above Florence. How humbling to sing in a theatre where people were performing 2000 years ago. The people who happened to be there visiting the Roman ruins listened attentively and enthused about what they had just heard.

Our final engagement as a choir was to sing at the main mass of the day in the great Chiesa Santa Croce in Florence, a church so large it would dwarf many of our great cathedrals. It was a real honour to be allowed to sing in such a place, where, amongst others, Rossini, Marconi and Galileo were laid to rest. It was an amazing way to round off the week. They made a superb choir, singing Pitoni’s Cantate Domino, Purcell’s Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts, Ley’s Prayer of King Henry VI and Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus. Once again, members of the congregation came up to tell us how they had been moved to tears by our singing.

It was a superb first foreign Choral Holiday. We’re already looking forward to the Schwerin trip and to planning next year. Why not join us?

 

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