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MUSIC FROM THE MISTS OF TIME

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

CALENZANA, CORSICA, 9 NOVEMBER 2007—Calenzana is a lovely sun-soaked village fringed by olive trees, basking in the North Western corner of Corsica in La Balagne, which is itself a magical region of hidden valleys, mysterious green forests and towering mountain ranges opening onto a turquoise-bright sea down below.

Inhabited since before the year 6000 B.C. and invaded over time by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Etruscans before being dominated by the Romans, the land is rich in history. There were the invasions from Pisa in the 9th and 10th century, and the establishment of so many places of worship that the area became known as Saint Blagne, and periods of peace when craftsmen prospered in the beautiful, high-perched villages of Pigna, Sant'Antuninu and Monticellu, some of the most ancient on the island. Wherever one walks, the rugged mountain scenery is punctuated by Roman chapels, Genoese towers and bridges, and more recently, by the baroque churches, with here and there fountains and windmills for oil.


Calenzana, Corsica
Photo: Yves Boccadoro
 

But the little church of Montemaggiore, across the way from Calenzana, which looks down upon the distant Gulf of Calvi is not only famous for the views. It has been hosting concerts for a festival of music which has been quietly developing over the last few years. The festival of Calenzana is one whose fame is growing by word of mouth. Few tourists arrive in this remote area by chance and the audience is drawn in great majority from local people, many of whom have given generously of their time, energy and enthusiasm to make it happen.

"The origins of the festival go back to the mid-1970's", pianist Denis Pascal, the man responsible for the programme of chamber music, told me, " when Blaise Orsini, an old friend of Jean Sicurani, the artistic director of the festival began to organize prestigious classical music evenings in the home of Louis-Henri de Lagrange, a great admirer of Mahler. They became known as "Les Nuits d'Alziprat", where artists such as Alfred Brendel and Jessie Norman came to perform in his magnificent drawing-room."

But the adventure ended because of lack of funding and because it all relied on voluntary helpers. Also, at the end of the 1970's there was a renaissance of Corsican culture, traditions, language and literature led by Jean-Paul Poletti, which took precedence.

However, the concerts had left their mark, and seven years ago, Jean Sicurani, who is also a singer and founder member of the Corsican group, A Filetta, got things moving again with the help of Marie-Thérèse Petrucci, a local figure, and a team of highly motivated volunteers. "We also had extraordinary support from the mayor and Town Hall", Sicurani, the tall, dark and softly-spoken director of the festival told me.


Calenzana, Corsica
Photo: Yves Boccadoro
  

"I live in Calvi and Moncale, where the small Baroque church there also hosts concerts", he continued, "and I took over the programmation. Unfortunately, the Balagne cruelly lacks funding and the necessary structures for classical concerts, but we began by giving evenings of traditional Corsican polyphony, and thus drawing in an audience. And then I met Denis Pascal, who introduced chamber music 2 years ago, this being the third year, and we followed the original idea of inviting a prestigious musician each year. This year we feel very pleased to have the exceptional Canadian virtuoso, Corey Cerovsek. Music has no barriers, "he continued, "and whether it is traditional Corsican or Mozart, it is meant to be shared and we now present two concerts each day, often in different places."

The first classical concert I went to was held in the little church of Zilia, the village better known for its bottled source water, and none too easy to find. In a programme dedicated to "French" music, events began with Faure's Trio op. 120 followed by Franck's Sonata for violin and piano. With Marie-Paule Milone on the cello, Françoise Gneri with her viola, Denis Pascal on the piano, and featuring violinist Corey Cerovsek, the concert was a triumph, with the fifty or so people present standing to applaud and making enough noise for 500. Before leaving, many of those present bought seats for the following day and obviously spread the word around for numbers swelled to 200 the following day.


Corey Cerovsek, Denis Pascal, Françoise Gneri 
Les Rencontres de Calenzana 2007
Photo: Yves Boccadoro
  

The next concert, "Chamber Music Masterpieces" which included works by Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Brahms with which Cerovsek, Pascal, Milone and Gneri enthralled their audience, was held in the Chapelle Sainte Restitude, itself worth a visit to see the astonishing sarcophagus in white marble, said to contain the remains of Saint Restitude, and which dates back to the fourth century. The monogram of Christ and his disciples, symbol of eternity is engraved upon it.

"I love coming here because of the very special atmosphere, the fabulous site, and the opportunity to make music with people I like", viola player, Francoise Gneri, a friendly, cheery lady told me at supper later on in the week." I've been close friends with Denis and his wife, cello player, Marie-Paule, for many years, and this year it has been an exceptional pleasure to play with Corey Cerovsek, whom we all regard as a diamond. Denis Pascal first met him 20 years ago in Bloomington, and had been longing to invite him here. Most of the time concerts are planned in advance, but today, for example, a piece by Benjamin Britten was added to the programme at the last minute, and Corey, who was totally unfamiliar with it, played it from the score like a trouper! It was really exciting."

Not all the concerts are chamber music, for an aim of the festival is also to promote young Corsican classical artists, and so the young soprano, Oriane Moretti, from nearby Lumio, gave two recitals. Oriane, now 27, who started her career as a dancer with the company of Roland Petit in Marseilles, is currently studying music in Paris. Recently, she told me, she has also turned to choreography, and created a piece for Eve Grinsztajn and Aurélien Houette of the Paris Opéra Ballet.

The late evening concerts which are less spontaneous and more the "official" festival, were more varied, including Gospel Voices and Duel, a humoristic show and attracted a somewhat different audience who had planned their outing a long time in advance. The opening concert, presenting Verdi's Requiem, performed there for the first time, and interpreted by Le Palais Royal conducted by Jean-Philippe Sarcos attracted as much interest as A Filetta, programmed to end the events. There simply were not enough seats in the small chapel of Saint Restitude for everyone.

A Filetta, founded by Jean Sicurani and Jean-Claude Acquaviva in 1978, is an enormously popular polyphony group of seven men, now all professional. Their repertory of traditional sacred and secular songs, rooted in the desire to safeguard their cultural heritage and the Corsican language is characterized by the unique creative force of Jean-Claude Acquaviva, a composer of exceptional talent. They sing of all who are oppressed, men who are persecuted for their right to choose. Intensity and passion are at the heart of all their music.


A Filetta
Les Rencontres de Calenzana 2007
Photo: Yves Boccadoro
  

And like chamber music, it is music to be shared. There is complicity between the musicians and the audience.  The day before I left, a small girl came to ask Denis Pascal whether she should learn the piano. In reply, he simply scooped her up beside him and gave her first lesson.

The essence of this attractive festival thus lies in the atmosphere of warmth and generosity surrounding it and in the relationships forged between those taking part. All the people involved, whether artists or organizers were particularly special people, not least, Jean Sicorani, whose determination and dedication is rapidly establishing a miracle in an area of Corsica where the cultural structures for classical music are not yet in place, which is all very strange when you consider the importance of music there.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on the arts in Europe. She is a senior editor at Culturekiosque.com

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