From Monday 3 to Saturday 15 July 2017, 37 Sydney Conservatorium of Music chamber music students travelled to Verona, Italy, for the fourth annual Estivo: European Chamber Music Summer School. This two week program involves intensive small ensemble study and performance opportunities with international tutors, with a number of masterclasses presented for local students at the Conservatorio di Verona Evaristo Felice dall’Abaco.
Over the two weeks, we asked one of our students to write about their experiences at Estivo: European Chamber Music Summer School.
Suzannah Keene, cellist with the Amundsen Trio, 6 July 2017
Over the weekend, I travelled across the world to Verona for the fourth annual Estivo: European Chamber Music Summer School, and it is fair to say that the first few days have been nothing but extraordinary. We are just over a quarter of our way through the two-week program, which includes tutorials and masterclasses with some of the finest musicians around the world who are specialists in their field, as well as numerous performance opportunities in venues such as the stunning gothic churches of Sant’Eufemia and San Fermo, as well as the quaint Villa Bertani manor.
This year’s cohort of students includes three string quartets, two piano trios, a saxophone quartet, a brass quartet, and pianists and singers who collaborate together, who will be performing works by composers such as W.A. Mozart, Dimitri Shostakovich, Claude Debussy, Gyorgy Ligeti, Robert Schumann and Josef Haydn. Since commencing our formal sessions with our tutors on Monday, our level of musical thought has increased, and our understanding of the music we are playing has certainly deepened. Tutorial sessions have been challenging but rewarding, as our tutors have led us to think about the music in completely different ways to which we have thought before, or have proposed an interpretation opposing our existing one. We have also had the privilege of hearing other ensembles participate in masterclasses – so far, the Brahms Piano Trio, a group of singers and pianists, and the Luxum Saxophone Quartet have enjoyed thought-provoking masterclasses with Wayne Foster-Smith, Bernhard Epstein and Jean Yves Fourmeau respectively.
Not only have we deepened our musicianship at Estivo, but also our appreciation of the Italian culture and way of life. Walking to the Conservatorio each day for our classes, we pass some of the old bridges and entrances into the city which date back to Ancient Roman times, the Castelvecchio, and the main squares – or ‘piazza’, as they are called in Italian – in Verona. Seeing these incredible pieces of history each day allows us a chance to take in more of the nuances of the intricate historical and cultural scene of Italy. Also, the relatively small size of Verona lends itself well to its communal bike system, where one can hire a bike then leave it at a designated drop-off spot, something which makes the cobblestone streets of the city even more charming. We have been lucky enough to be taken care of by a group of student interns at the Conservatorio di Verona, and to welcome us to this year’s Estivo program they held a pizza party on Tuesday night complete with several different types of pizza, as one would expect when in Italy. Chatting to the interns in between classes and over a pizza at a nearby restaurant at lunchtime has definitely enriched our experience at Estivo; I myself have found it fascinating to learn firsthand from them what Italian customs truly are – for example, their repertory of coffee is defined mainly by espresso and espresso macchiato, not by a large amount of different concoctions of coffee, milk and sugar like we would expect in an ‘Italian’ cafe in Australia. Moments like these where our cultures have met have been very exciting, and have made me appreciate my own way of life a little more and view it with a renewed perspective.
We have been spoilt for choice of food and drink – on a typical block in Verona, there is a gelateria or restaurant every second shop, and one of the popular places for a meal has been the restaurants overlooking the Adige River. Verona is simply picturesque, with its old buildings, sandstone structures and the Adige river running through and around the city. Sometimes our tutors have come to lunch or dinner with us, which has been awesome since we could engage with them in a more relaxed and social way but still be amazed by their views on art and culture and their knowledge of music. As the week progresses, I am very excited to hear the first set of performances by the vocalists, saxophone quartet, brass quartet and the string quartets, and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to hone my chamber music skills than by participating in Estivo this year. I must thank Professor Anna Reid, Associate Professors Jeanell Carrigan and Goetz Richter, Kate Drain, Scott Ryan, Adrienne Sach, the Conservatorio di Verona interns, the tutors and the other staff for making this dream trip a reality!