Music in Paradise

By Woodward Posted on History


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In magical venues along the stunning coastline south of  Naples, the Amalfi Coast Music Festival and Institute will celebrate its 11th  year this July with a wide range of offerings. From cliff side stages cantilevered out over the sea (unforgettable with a full moon sparkling a path across the water), to lush flowering gardens of villas, to awe-inspiring cathedrals, the choice venues will resound with a rich variety of concerts - lyrical recitals, notable operas, and superb piano concerts honoring Mozart, Schumann, and Shostakovich with the theme of “Great Composers Birthday Celebration”.

The Amalfi Coast Music Festival is based in Vietri–sul-Mare, known as  “the gateway to the Amalfi Coast,” a breathtakingly beautiful stretch of the Italian Mediterranean.

What makes the festival stand out among a plethora of European festivals is the vision of the directors: “a community of musicians learning from each other and making music together, inspired and enriched by the tradition of beauty in all things Italian.”

More than a month-long series of concerts, the festival is a unique experience of the arts on an international level, bringing together performing artists, students, teachers, and music aficionados from different countries to interact and learn from each other while involved in the creative process. Italian artists, students and teachers participate in the festival, and local towns host receptions and boat rides for participants, providing a rich opportunity to discover and appreciate similarities and differences in style and process in artistic expression between countries of Mediterranean culture and other countries.

Many of the productions involve local musical institutions in the area, as part of the ongoing project of bringing artists from different countries together. A standout memory of a previous festival is of an astounding fourteen-year-old pianist performing a concerto with the Salerno philharmonic orchestra. Even more than the performance, we enjoyed the rehearsal, and the intriguing give-and-take in English and Italian between the conductor, orchestra, and pianist, who seemed so amazingly calm and collected as she performed her magic on the piano.

Concerts take place daily and include chamber music with the Fine Arts Quartet, piano recitals, vocal performances and opera. “Music of Two Americas” is a compelling annual event, a series that focuses on composers from both North America and Latin America, overseen by the celebrated Brazilian pianist Maestro Luiz de Moura Castro, and the former chairman of the piano department of the Catholic University of America, Dr. Thomas Mastroianni.

During the day, high-level training in piano, strings, and voice, including full opera productions, fills the seaside village with music. The exquisite frescoed chapel, the Oratorio dell’Arciconfraternitá, beside the ceramic-domed cathedral of Vietri-sul-Mare is the setting for piano concerts and master classes, with memorable instruction from outstanding artists from the United States and Italy.

A program of cultural activities, incorporating Italian language classes, lectures on art and archaeology of the area, and cooking classes - an introduction to the splendid culinary tradition that makes dining such an exquisite treat – is organized especially for festival participants. The sponsorship of local and regional governments, eagerly sharing the beauty and culture of the Campania region, is a visible expression of the warm welcome and sense of hospitality offered by the local community.

A special program for guests provides an unparalleled opportunity for an intimate encounter with culture. Welcomed as part of the festival community, guests are afforded a unique backstage experience in addition to enjoying meals and social times with the musicians. They are invited to observe rehearsals, stop in on master classes to see students and teachers at work, join musicians to travel to concerts in towns such as dolce-vita Amalfi, mountain-top Ravello (described as “suspended between sea and sky”), and other scenic locations, and enjoy pre-concert lectures.

Day trips to the area’s monuments and cultural sites are another popular pastime for guests. A couple of must-see sites are Pompeii, the ancient town nearly perfectly preserved after Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D.79, and the enchanting isle of Capri just off the tip of the Amalfi peninsula. In between are the delightful seaside towns of Positano, with its colorful artisan boutiques, and Amalfi, legendary for the creation of the puckeringly-delicious lemon liqueur, limoncello, that have made the region famous.

Vietri-sul-Mare, where the festival is based, also merits a few hours, especially to check out the many shops with the town’s signature ceramics, famous since Roman times. The brilliant and intricate designs, on objects from a coffee mug to a table top (oh how we wanted to ship one of those beauties home!) bring a joyful reminder of sunny, delightful Italian days to my stateside kitchen.

The unique blend of international artists and students in study and performance, along with the stunning setting of the Amalfi Coast Music Festival make it an event that draws repeat participants every year, and newcomers who are thrilled with the opportunity to learn and grow in a true paradise of culture.

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