Eclipses and Castles
Eclipses and Castles
Creative journey through Umbria and Tuscany 201
August 2017: I arrived in Roma with my cello. From the taxi to the hotel I noticed a lunar eclipse and I gasped with awe. The warmth of Mediterranean air embraced me, my first breaths of air in this historical land. Hauling my cello up narrow staircases and through ornate gates to the tiniest hotel room at the end of the corridor, I placed two small bottles of limoncello on the table, which I had picked up from the night store below. This was my first day in Roma, the beginning of my journey to the heart of Umbria and Tuscany and the beginning of a creative journey that would change my life forever.
To my surprise the hotel was next to the Rome Opera House. The synchronicity of my arrival, the mystery of the lunar eclipse and the excitement of being in Rome for the first time led me as though in a dream trance, directly to the grand entrance of the opera house to buy a ticket to see Tosca. It was a momentous event. In the height of the summer heat, heady with anticipation, my symbolic ticket to the Rome Opera promised a connection to a place of almost mythical significance built upon many layers of culture, history and beauty.
The opera was performed outside amidst ancient Roman baths of Caracalla. Tosca was the first opera I knew by heart. I was involved as a singer in the child chorus of this opera at the age of twelve where my year six teacher, who was also an opera singer, played the role of Tosca and her husband played the role of Cavarodossi. I loved the air of drama set amidst the imposing walls of Roman Ruins and the murmuring chatter of Italian throughout the audience. For my twelve-year inner child, it was a homecoming. The place where the artistic disciplines that I have devoted my life to originated.
The following day I embarked on my journey by train to Umbria. For the following six weeks my home would be the granary of the medieval castle of Civitella Ranieri situated in Umbertide. My studio space, a simple and spacious long stone room with narrow windows, was a vantage point next to the castle gate from where I could observe both the courtyard and the coming and going of artists, a cross-section of the expat community and many locals devoted to their beloved castle. I would spend the coming weeks with a delightful crew of international artists from all disciplines and locations. Our summer was punctuated by hard work, excursions to historical cities, towns and villages that were religious and civic centres during the Renaissance, fostering humanist philosophy and providing a gateway to the enlightenment and beginning of modern science. That, alongside intense dance parties and tremendous culinary experiences, I could not have been more in my element. I worked deeply on three projects, including a dance piece entitled Restraints for an Australian Dance company and artist Ken Unsworth, Bushranger Psychodrama for an Italian String Quartet with the Irish voice performer Iarla O’lionard and Porcelain, a sound installation and performance where I build the porcelain sculpture Cassini and created the score to be performed by Slagwerk Den Haag in The Netherlands. The resources and generosity of the Castle were staggering. I lingered far too long in my beloved studio and the gallery below where I set up and exhibited Cassini sculpture days after the Cassini probe plummeted into Saturn’s atmosphere. All around lay the incredible legacy of devotion to the arts and devoted artists. Many highlights of my time in Umbertide included visiting the iconic portrayal of Santa Maria by Piero della Francesca at Monterche, and the Magdalena in Arezzo, the home of Guido of Arezzo whose music theory provided a foundation for modern Western music tradition. As a group we visited Citta di Castello, Gubbio and Perugia, Lago trasimeno among other inspiring places.
Following my six-week residency at the castle, distraught at the thought of leaving my beloved studio space, I embarked upon the next leg of my Italian adventure to Tuscany. The next port of call was Florence. My first stop was Villa La Pietra, the home of New York University. I had been invited by Ellyn Toscana to give a lecture and presentation within the walls of this historical villa. I presented my major work Sacred Environment to an intimate drawing room of academics and students. I was astounded by the beauty of the garden, which is one of the largest in Florence, and the immense collection of art. During these days I delved deeply into preparations for performing at Villa Romana at the invitation of my colleague Francesco Dillon (cello) who, with his band, would perform a set of my works with Emanuele Torquati (piano) and Manuel Zurria (flute) and Aisha Orazvayeva (violin). I was honoured to have been involved and even more so to work with these boisterous brilliant performers. Diving head first into everything, the energy on stage was palpable. Again, blown away by the beauty of the villa, the garden and the tremendous commitment to contemporary arts and creativity, the villa provided the perfect backdrop for this festival of contemporary music. The ensemble performed my compositions Dance, Sadness, Dies Irae and Velvet and offered me the platform to perform my own compositions Homage to my Boots and Spel III, therefore baptising my newly made cello by Dutch luthier Saskia Schouten in the country from where arguably all celli originally came. The 2017 festival was called Imaginary Bridges featuring guest composers Øyvind Torvund, Anne-James Chaton, Mary Jane Leach among others as well as resident group Ensemble Asamisimasa. This was a scintillating melting pot of international musicians and a brilliant opportunity to meet like-minded people and the connection became no longer imaginary, a little bit more a dream come true. One of the stand-out performances was Torvund’s Pocket Opera throughout which was a perfect balance between The Ridiculous and Very Serious, performed with utter conviction and high quality by Ensemble Asamisimasa. I remember the festival at Villa Romana with great fondness and affection and look forward to the moment when I can come back, reliving those heady days in the beloved city of Florence over and again in my memory and wondering where the next big adventure will take me.