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Italy, 2008


The excuse for this Italy trip was to join a group of Swiss for a week of music in a small village in the Piedmont hills named Terrugia. The group was composed of members of several amateur orchestras and choruses around Bern. They do this every other year and, this time, our friend Jean-Paul had arranged for us to participate. The idea is to rehearse a piece of music and, at the end of the week, give a concert for the locals in the village church. So, after our Venice trip, we took the train to Casale Monferrato, where Jean-Paul and Judy were waiting to drive us up to Terrugia.

Hotel Ariotto was our residence for the week. It is a grand old hotel, with cedars in the garden and wisteria climbing the walls. Over the years it has expanded considerably and can now easily accommodate our group of over 100 people, mainly in modern bungalows overlooking the rolling hills.

Terrugia is a small village surrounded by old vines. It is fairly typical of the little hill towns that surround the Po valley. Some of the houses are built with an interesting alternating pattern of bricks and stones, but it is otherwise fairly unremarkable, except for the restaurant of the hotel, which attracts customers from as far as Turin.

The musical program was the eighth Symphony of Beethoven and a Mass of Cherubini that he wrote for the coronation of Louis XVIII of France. However, this coronation never took place and the Mass was never performed during Cherubini's life. It is interesting that Cherubini, who lived in Paris during the French revolution and the Napoleonic era, managed to keep his head even though he always ended up on the wrong side of the politics. Our daily routine in Terrugia was very simple: rehearsal, coffee, rehearsal, lunch, siesta, rehearsal, coffee, rehearsal, dinner. Sometimes we added a stroll around the village or a game of scrabble, but not much more.

We had one free afternoon and we drove to Vigevano. The claim to fame of this little town near Milan is its beautiful Piazza Ducale. Except for the 17th century facade of the cathedral, the entire square was built in 1492-93. I don't know how many times these frescoes have been repainted, but the site is really impressive. I would agree with Jean-Paul who argues that it is one of the five or six great squares of Europe.

One evening, the chorus accompanist got together with the concert mistress, a string bass and a clarinetist for some light entertainment: Viennese café music, as they called it. It did not take long for some of us to kick off our shoes for a few waltzes and polkas

On Thursday, after about 25 hours of rehearsal, the chorus was ready to get together with the orchestra in the small theater where they practiced. All went well, as did the dress rehearsal on Friday morning in the church. Then it was time to get dressed, have a cup of coffee to get the adrenalin going and we were off to the concert. Judy took a picture or two while the musicians were getting ready, but not during the concert. So you have to imaging it, but the church was full, the old priest gave a short lecture about the music, and it was a great success. Then we went back to the hotel for the banquet.

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