Since my very first day in Southbank Sinfonia, back in January of this year, anticipation has been steadily building towards what the members of staff - and every alumni member you'll meet - will describe as the highlight of the programme: the Anghiari Festival. As summer drew nearer, our rehearsals began to be filled with more chamber works and music by Italian composers. Finally in mid-July, armed with litres of sun-cream, mosquito repellent and a military operation-style schedule, we were ready to go.
Before arriving in Anghiari for the festival, our first destination was the beautiful island of Ischia, near to the bay of Naples. It was there that we gave our first performance of the trip - Puccini's Madama Butterfly - in the stunning grounds of La Mortella, home of William Walton. It was a stage unlike any I've played on, with the most incredible panoramic views across the sea and a spectacular sunset during the first Act. The humming chorus at the end of Act 2 (sung by the orchestra) brought members of the audience to tears and Mamié Matsuda, who sung the role of Butterfly, had a voice which gave me goosebumps throughout the entire opera!
The following morning, with most people feeling a little worse for wear from our post-first-concert celebrations, the orchestra had an early start as we caught a ferry back to the mainland and embarked on our 7 hour coach journey to Tuscany. When we finally arrived in the idyllic town of Anghiari, we were shown to our houses, given a tour of the town and enjoyed a night off at Bar Baldaccio, the best restaurant in town!
Southbank Sinfonia have been performing in Anghiari every summer since the orchestra started in 2002. Support for the orchestra in the UK has grown stronger every year and Southbank now bring as many as 250 supporters with them to the festival! It was a great opportunity for us in the orchestra to meet the people who help to keep Southbank going and to all enjoy a drink together after each concert. There is so much hype about the orchestra's arrival in the town each year that you almost feel like a bit of a celebrity walking through the streets - there is even a pizza named after us at Bar Baldaccio!!
Over the 10 days that we were in Anghiari, the orchestra (either as a whole or in smaller ensembles) gave 15 concerts in every piazza and main building of the town. These included an opera, symphonic, choral and baroque concerts and a large number of chamber concerts. My favourite evening came half way through the week on 'Mercoledi di Anghairi'. Wednesday evenings are when the town really comes alive, with a huge market in the main square and live music played in almost every street. This year, Southbank Sinfonia were invited to provide all of the music for this evening, resulting in a total of 17 performances from 8.30pm-12.30am!
But it wasn't all hard work... We all took full advantage of our afternoon siesta time and were fortunate enough to enjoy some delicious lunches hosted by generous supporters of the orchestra. I even led some morning workout sessions - it wasn't always easy to wake up the morning after enjoying Tuscany's finest prosecco until the small hours... but the stunning views were really worth it! Other than trying to stay in shape physically, I actually had to make sure that I stayed in shape practice-wise too, ahead of what would be an intensive next week for me (read Part 2 to find out more!)
The Anghiari Festival was everything I hoped it would be and more. It was a chance to play the most beautiful music in the most wonderful surroundings, with great friends. The orchestra's amazing team of staff worked tirelessly to ensure that the festival ran as smoothly as it did, and the connections we made with both friends of the orchestra and with the Anghiari locals was incredibly special. I am sure that, come the end of October when Southbank 2016 finishes, I will be joining the army of SbS alumni who cite Anghiari as the highlight of their Southbank year.