The last time I had been to Ferrara was in October 2014 – on my very first tour with the MCO, as an intern for Production and Communications. It was the first time I got to know the musicians better, and I came back with memories of the relaxed and cheerful atmosphere all over town, of some fantastic music from rehearsals and concerts in Teatro Comunale, and of long nights with the orchestra in their usual bars and restaurants.
Since then, I have started working as Communications Assistant at the MCO, which includes writing tour and concert descriptions for the MCO website. Amongst them, the Beethoven cycle with conductor Daniele Gatti was a recurring topic. Begun in January 2015, the cycle was now completed by a fourth tour to Turin, Ferrara, Bergamo, and Brescia, featuring Beethoven’s Eighth and Ninth Symphonies. When the Project Manager, Hélène, asked me if I wanted to assist her on this tour, I was more than happy to do so – if you’re not regularly travelling with the orchestra, every chance to experience first-hand what you’re actually working for is special. Having heard a lot from colleagues and musicians about Daniele Gatti’s work with the MCO and how different his idea of an orchestra sound was compared to the “usual” sound of the MCO, I was in anticipation of hearing the results in person.
The rehearsals took place in Teatro Comunale in Ferrara, a place closely connected to the MCO since their foundation, through Claudio Abbado. We spent most of the days in our provisional “out of the box” office and backstage, with short interludes like picking up our four soloists at the hotel, having an ice cream or a quick lunch in Umbrella Street. The arrival of over 60 singers from Orfeó Català and Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Música Catalana on the second day of rehearsals increased the liveliness backstage considerably. In only one tutti and one public general rehearsal, conductor, orchestra, soloists, and choir had to come together for the fourth movement of the Ninth Symphony.
Following rehearsals, the nights were spent in familiar places like Brindisi, Il Frantoio and – of course – Da Settimo, the MCO’s “home bar” in Ferrara since the beginning. One great thing about tours in Ferrara is that you always meet MCO people in these places. Weeks before the tour began, I got a message from a musician saying “Frantoio on 26th?” Said night drew over 30 MCO people to the osteria, where we had fantastic wine and, in my case, the local speciality cappelacci di zucca, pumpkin ravioli – just like in October 2014. I sat with a journalist and a film-maker who had joined us for the tour, and with violinist Geoff. He told us about how he came to this restaurant for the very first time, together with, and upon the recommendation of, Claudio Abbado, whose legacy is still very present all over town. We spoke about Ferrara as a residence for the orchestra, which provides an oasis of familiarity and safety in-between the stream of new places, new people and new impulses on tour. For me, coming back here for only the second time was still an occasion to reflect on what had happened and changed over the past year and a half.
After two days of rehearsals, the concert period began. This meant bus rides of three to four hours every morning, with people either sleeping, reading, listening to music or talking to each other. The long queues in overcrowded highway restaurants brought along opportunities to bond with fellow sufferers. Highways led through flat and dreary areas as well as green fields spotted with red poppies, and hills in different shades of rainy blue. (Yes, rain!) Bus ride in the morning, concert in the evening, bus ride in the morning, and so on … The only free half-day the musicians had was in Bergamo, which many used to walk up to Città Alta, the Upper Town.
The concerts led us to Turin for one night, back to Ferrara, then to Bergamo and Brescia. In contrast to the two-week Written on Skin tour in March, where I had assisted our other Project Manager Alena, and where one of my tasks was giving lighting cues for the half-scenic performance – quite the adrenaline rush! – I now had the different pleasure of leaving the cheerful pre-concert excitement backstage behind and enjoying the concert from the audience. Like in October 2014, my colleagues and I took Alice, the young daughter of a violist, with us to our box where she listened as intently as back then.