It's about eight years since I last was at Italian Brass Week and since this time the Festival has gone on to great heights, inviting some of the very best teachers and performers in the world, as well as students from 18 countries to participate in a long week (full days from sunday night to sunday night) of teaching, masterclasses and concerts. Santa Fiora is a beautiful location for a music festival, set high up in the Tuscan hills, about 2.5 hours driving from Rome, making it quite difficult to get to, but a paradise once there.
The euphonium was new to this event and sadly only attracted a few participants, none of them interestingly and rather depressingly, Italian !! But I was kept very busy working also with trombone and horn players particularly, giving advice on particular problems they were encountering and leading early morming breathing and stretching classes.
The teaching was from 9am - 12 noon and 3-6pm each day, with rehearsals, masterclass and concerts and meals (!!) being squeezed into the gaps between and after the regular schedule.
The brainchid behind the event Italian hornist Luca Benucci has done a tremendous job in promoting and nurturing this Festival, doing so with a passion and drive for quality that frankly is quite rare in Italy these days. With the financial situation in Italy being quite tough, as elsewhere these days, it amazed me he could invite and pay for six trumpet teachers, six horn teachers, three trombone, four tuba and one euphonium teacher (me), and big names at that. To have any one of Oystein Baadsvik, Roland Szentpali, Alessandro Fossi and Hidehiro Fujita teaching tuba for 7 students at a festival would be oustanding, but to have all four together...simply wonderful. I'm glad i was not trying balance the books of a festival like this. Ian Bousfield, the well known and respected solo trombone with the Vienna Philharmonic came too and was one of the soloists in the International Brass Ensemble Concert that I was privileged to conduct on the final evening. It was so good to chance the sit down with Ian and have a really good chat about our musical lives since our National Youth Brass Band of GB days, when I was 17 and Ian 15 !! An awful lot has happened since those days, but it was incredible to think how times has passed so quickly.
The energy levels were tested greatly in the final days as the long hours of teaching, rehearsing and performing, not to mention the 35c heat took its toll. Evening concerts began at 9.15pm, and the horn evening which was star billing due to the number of horn students and wonderful teachers such as Dale Clevenger (CSO) , Sarah Willis (Berlin Phil), Will Sanders (Netherlands) and many others, went on until the ungodly hour of 12.15am ! The low brass evening which featured the four tubas guys and myself was shorter, but of course of the highest quality !!. We each performed solo for about 15 minutes, then combined for a 20 minutes ensemble finale during which we played a beautful motet by Gesualdo, in a moving tribute to the highly respected tuba teacher Mel Culbertson who sadly died a few months ago. For my solo piece I played the Concerto for Euphonium by Vanja Lisjak in the new transcription for euphonium and piano. The resonant acoustic of the church seemed perfect especially for the brooding, moody 2nd movement. During the last movement and the little Debussy encore after, I was repeatedly attacked by the same wasp who took a fancy to my left arm !! Somehow I managed to get to the end without being stung, although a few other participants during the course were not so lucky, one of which ended up in hospital ! The wasp avoidance gestures while playing are not ones I plan on repeating !!
All in all it was an excellent week, making new friends, passing on our love of brass playing and music to enthusiastic students and enjoying it all in the middle of Tuscany with delicious food , fine wine and ever-present sunshine.
Who could ask for more !?
Musical highlights for me were: Roland Szentpali playing the serpent, the trumpet playing of Guiliano Sommerhalder, trying to keep up with Ian Bousfield in The Bluebells of Scotland, the jazz french horn playing of Giovanni Hoffer, talking with Dale Clevenger, conducting Oystein Baadsvik, meeting Sarah Willis (hornist with the Berlin Phil) and being able to play to play Vanja Lisjak's great new Concerto to a full church on low brass night.
Thanks to Luca Benucci, the organisers of Italian Brass Week and Besson, who part-sponsored my appearance.
More photos available here