Gershwin and the Knights of Malta

Maggione.  Opening night, in June.

Jill Hackett

Photo credit: Jill Hackett

Built 9 centuries ago, between 1150 and 1170, the Castle of the Knights of Malta is impeccably restored, and is the first castle I have seen that I have ever wanted to live in.   The cypress trees are ancient and much taller than most you’ll see in Umbria.  They have been protected by knights, benefactors and skilled gardeners.  You walk into the main courtyard– its a bit older, only 15th century– and immediately smell the jasmine that climbs up three stories in each corner of the courtyard.     Tune your ears and you’ll hear German, French, English from New Jersey, and Italian.   It is unusual that here, Italians are not necessarily in the majority attendance.  This music festival has a strong following from abroad.

Though the castle has been here for 9 centuries, the Trasimeno Music Festival is only four years old–started by an incredibly talented Canadian pianist, Angela Hewitt who hand picks musicians from around the world to participate in this week long celebration of music.   The main concerts are here in Magione, with a performance at Gubbio and another in Perugia.

Taking the stage in full-body sequins, on opening night Hewitt shares the piano with Garrick Ohlsson —  four pieces for piano for four hands.   The first half of the program starts with Mozart’s Sonata in F Major,  followed by Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor.   The two pianists take their seats by the same ebony grand, known as a pianoforte in Italy (piano in Italian being the word for floor or level, as in third floor).

As Hewitt and Ohlsson raise their hands, I see not four, but eight hands, their own being perfectly reflected in the polished ebony backdrop to the keyboard.   Watching the hands ballet, the musicians allowing the music to play them.   Spotlights hold the stage in light, as the sun sets.   During the Schubert, a few bats begin to dive in and out of the spotlights.

The highlight of the program, though, was Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  I was astonished how home sick I felt when I heard this music, excellently excuted by four hands.   I am not a student of music, so my visceral reaction to the music urprised me even more.  I experienced New York in the late 20’s and 30’s, the sense of an era.  I did not realize that I knew each passage — as it arrived I knew the next theme and could hum it in my head.  The sheer comfort of this magnificient music, played with so much joy and verve.

I was very proud to be an American.  And I felt a bit less homesick.

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