31 August 2018
Sennocke Consort tour to Tuscany
Tuscany boasts some of Europe’s most culturally rich and artistically vibrant cities. It is for this very reason that the Sennocke Consort undertook a tour of the area at the beginning of the summer holidays. In the space of seven days the choir performed in Montecatini, San Gimignano, Pistoia, Anghiari and Lucca. Visits to Siena, Florence and Arezzo were also included in what was a full and busy itinerary.
The tour got underway straight after the celebrations on Founder’s Day. A late arrival time at the hotel in Montecatini Terme meant all were ready for much needed sleep before an early wake up on the following day.
Sunday 1 July proved a baptism of fire for the choir who were immediately required to rehearse in preparation for singing at a Mass in the Cathedral of Montecatini Terme. The congregation were treated to music by William Byrd and Henry Purcell, an all-English programme. The cathedral with its enormous dome above the altar provided a resonant acoustic, perfect for the demands of the independent weaving lines of the Byrd Mass setting. The afternoon allowed for some relaxation. A short trip including an ascent on one of Italy’s oldest funicular railways took us to the beautiful medieval hilltop town of Montecatini Alto where we could enjoy lunch at a suitably leisurely pace with stunning vistas all round.
The second day started with a morning trip to see Siena. The day had to be carefully managed as the famous and somewhat eccentric Palio horse race was to take place in the afternoon. The city was to be swarming with people, so after seeing the beautiful Duomo and the Piazza del Campo the choir headed to nearby San Gimignano. We found ourselves in another typical Tuscan hilltop town, this one famous for its 14 medieval towers. We had been invited to sing at the church of Sant’Agostino which was to be possibly the finest of the venues we sang in. Singing repertoire ranging from music by 12th century composer Pérotin to Rachmaninoff in this fresco-adorned church seemed almost surreal. The success of the concert was celebrated in style at the Fattoria Poggio Alloro where a five-course dinner was enjoyed in the midst of rolling Tuscan hills as the sun set over San Gimignano.
This trip was fast turning into the envy of any history of art tour and Tuesday 3 July proved to be a particular cultural highlight as we visited Florence and the Uffizi. Here we had the chance to get close and personal with some of the finest works by Giotto, Lippi, da Vinci, Botticelli and Raphael. One of the tour’s more peculiar performances then took place in the evening at the nearby town of Pistoia. We were greeted at the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio by the priest, a music fanatic whose church housed three organs, two harpsichords and a virginal. Although we had our smallest audience at Pistoia we were certainly aware that this man would recognise the quality of both the repertoire and the performance.
Arezzo, the site of Roberto Benigni’s 1997 film La vita è bella, was the destination for the next morning. We were privileged to have the opportunity to visit the staggering frescoes by the 15th century Italian painter Piero della Francesca at the Capella Bacci. A quite magical evening was then in store for us in the neighbouring village of Anghiari where we were invited to perform an outdoor concert in one of the main village squares. The sound of the choir’s performance attracted more and more of the village’s residents as the concert unfolded. As the light dimmed towards the end of the evening a hushed and reverential audience was gathered around to catch the last strains of some beautiful singing.
The last full day in Tuscany meant a visit to Lucca with a morning performance in the impressive San Michele in Foro, a Romanesque church right in the heart of the walled city. One could sense the significance of this concert given that it was to be the last performing opportunity of the week. The choir rose to the occasion to give what was probably the best concert of the whole tour. An exquisite lunch followed with a relaxed afternoon in the city afterwards, including a cycle around the city’s walls which some approached more competitively than others.
All in all the tour was a resounding musical success but also a wonderful cultural and social week. In each and every one of the concerts the choir gave performances of quality and responded to the inspiring surroundings.