Italian chamber orchestra returns to Shanghai
International artists have been quick to return to Shanghai since March, when overseas performances were given a green light. Local audiences have impressed by both first-time performers and returning artists with their hospitality and sophistication. Shanghai Daily chats with international musicians attending the ongoing Music in the Summer Air (MISA) festival about their return, and the recovery of the global arts community as well as cultural exchange.
The annual Music in the Summer Air (MISA) festival is not only a treat for the city's many classical music aficionados, but also a feast in general, especially at its outdoor venue at Shanghai City Lawn Music Plaza.
Many top musicians enjoy both the Shanghai Symphony Hall and the festive atmosphere of the outdoor lawn. Italian chamber orchestra I Musici, which began in 1952, was among the latest to perform at both indoor and outdoor spaces for the summer festival.
The ensemble is known to have revived Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," an important piece in its repertoire since their formation.
This time, they brought three "Four Seasons" for local audiences. At the city lawn, they performed "Four Seasons" by Vivaldi and by Astor Piazzolla. The next day, they presented "Four Seasons" from Vivaldi and Verdi.
"Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' is one of the cornerstones of I Musici's repertoire, a piece that is now indispensable in the history of music, a sumptuous, wonderful, pyrotechnic piece that tells a magical tale of a year, with a wealth of colors that makes it hard to think that so few instruments are involved," the group explained.
"Verdi's version, on the other hand, was born as a ballet written for the French commission of the Opera 'I Vespri Siciliani.' Different from those of Vivaldi, bucolic scenes are described here, with the pagan god Janus introducing the year and then scenes of maidens who reap the wheat and oxen bathe in the river, until the final wild dance in which they manage to catch an escaped runaway Faun."
"The 'Four Seasons' in Buenos Aires," the group added, "represents the 'modern tango' style of Piazzolla. Engaging rhythms and poignant and melancholic melodies are undoubtedly its most recognizable artistic feature."
The group is excited to return to Shanghai, the first city they performed in China back in 2006, and had since returned six more times.
"As often happens for 'first times' that first visit had a great 'imprinting' effect on us, becoming in our minds a bit of a 'guide' city of our travels in China," recalled Francesco Buccarella on harpsichord.
"It has the feeling of a 'living' city, which breathes, where you can spend hours in the flea markets or admire the panorama from above having tea at Jinmao Tower."
The 12-member ensemble, with six violins, two violas, two cellos, one double bass and one harpsichord, has made eight recordings of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" on LP and CD since 1955.
"It is difficult to talk about how the way of playing it has evolved, we are perhaps too emotionally involved to be ale to make a lucid analysis," the musicians explained.
"But today we can certainly hear faster tempos, a sound that while remaining 'warm' and typically 'Italian', is more 'modern' in the sense that it has been freed from some frills that the performances of a few decades ago presented, despite being avant-garde at the time and remaining a point of reference for all music lovers."