Drove yesterday to the village of San Giovanni d’Asso (Sw. Sankt Hans på Dass). Stopped on the way at an excavation, the church site of San Pietro in Pava, where as yet poorly known Roman activity gave way to continuous church use from the 6th through the 13th century. Nobody was on site because of the siesta, put I read the signposts in Italian as best I could and showed the kids two recently uncovered skeletons in the churchyard. Tricky conditions, earth hardening in the baking sun, many fresh breaks and trowel abrasions on the bones. I would prefer myself to work at night or under an awning. One of the skellies subadolescent, kids intrigued.
On to the farmstead of Podere Cavargine, which former London stockbroker Paul and his Angie have converted to a luxurious country villa (guest rooms in the pig sty). This is home to the awesomely scenic annual mini-festival of Music Tuscany. Three evenings of outdoors opera bits and chamber music and food, all provided by a dozen top soloists flown in from Stockholm and a Michelin-starred local chef. 95 euros per evening and head, and they seat up to 120. Nobody really makes any money off of it: a labour of love.
We were in fact lured to Tuscany by our friends Semmy and Isabelle who perform violin and cello duties at the festival. Semmy Stahlhammer is a renaissance man; heads the first violins at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, has a klezmer band, records solo CDs and writes books on Jewish family history.
I like to come early to festivals. Talk to the performers while they’re still in jogging pants and feeding their kids, help arrange chairs, move the grand piano, put cloths on the tables, clear away everybody’s swim pants hung to dry around the pool. And we had a lovely evening: two sets of an hour and a half each, with dinner in the intermission, while the sun set and the stars came out.
I was particularly happy with Brahms’ Hungarian Dances played charmingly on a shared piano by Terés Löf and Johan Ullén, excerpts from Bizet’s Carmen sung by Kristina Hammarström, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played quite hauntingly by Terés Löf, and a pair of oboe pieces by Schumann played on the clarinet by Per Johansson. (He’s amazing, tone like a flute, and he plays standing up like a jazz clarinetist, dancing like a snake charmer.) The pieces I mention are all golden oldies, great selections for a non-jaded listener like me. All unplugged to a soft background of crickets, doves and the occasional pheasant squawk from the valley below. Unreal! Food less thrilling though.