Last summer I was very fortunate to be awarded a Friends of St Cecilia’s bursary to study with world-renowned lutenist Paul O’Dette at the Festival di Urbino Musica Antica, in the wonderful location of Urbino, Italy. Urbino is located in the Marche region of Italy, just southwest of Pesaro on the picturesque hillside. It was a stunning location but it was not easy to get to, being a four-hour bus journey from Rome! However, this gave me the chance to experience the Italian countryside from the arid fields outside Rome to the lush hillside. I arrived by nightfall, the city walls were illuminated with various colours, with the grand palace just visible. I met another participant on the course, and with the help of a couple of American students we managed to find our accommodation at the university halls of residence.
View of Urbino
The next morning the splendour of the renaissance architecture was clearly visible and provided the perfect backdrop to an early music festival. While the hillside provided spectacular views it soon became clear after the exhausting walk to registration that the steepness of Urbino, combined with the heat, would be challenging, and a well-stocked water bottle a must! The classes with Paul O’Dette were spread over the entire festival lasting for ten days, from 9am-1pm. Each class was spilt into five 45-minute sessions, with the sessions being spilt between the ten pupils on the course. The level of the pupils ranged from beginners to advanced postgraduate students, and a large amount of repertoire was covered, from early 16th century Italian lute music, through Kapsberger, to the French Baroque and then J.S. Bach. This meant that even when it wasn’t our own lesson, there was plenty of knowledge to be gained.
Over the course of five lessons I played three pieces for Paul: Capirola’s Spanga Primo; a Fantasia by Francesco da Milano; and another Fantasie by John Dowland. To each of these pieces Paul brought his own unique insight. In Capirola’s Spanga Primo, from early 16th century Italy, he showed how the tenor is used throughout piece, and made clear the multiple changes of ‘time signature’ (while lute music from this period was barred it does not necessarily relate to the number of beats in a particular phrase), showing that while Capirola’s compositions looked forward in terms of technique (i.e. playing with fingers rather than a plectrum), musically it utilised ideas that were predominant in the 15th century. In both of the Fantasias by Milano and Dowland, Paul helped me to fully realise the counterpoint, discussing techniques to help bring out and connect individual lines. He also pointed out many quotations in the Dowland, including, in the final section, the tune ‘In the Woods so Wild’, displaced by a quaver in 6/8 meter! A common thread throughout his teaching was the use of rhetoric in interpretation, in particular its use in dynamics. As a general rule, when a melody descends you play quieter, like when you lower the tone of your voice, and when the melody rises you get louder, just as your voice rises when you’re more animated. He also gave many technical tips, with advice on how to get most sound out of the instrument, the alternation of the thumb and index fingers on the right hand to gain maximum speed, and co-ordination of the left hand.
Lesson with Paul O’Dette
As well as participating in Paul O’Dette’s masterclasses, I was lucky enough to play archlute in the festival orchestra. The orchestra was made of participants from all classes run by the festival, and unlike most baroque orchestras, was very large, including four baroque bassoons! Renowned baroque musician Alfredo Bernardini directed the orchestra, providing insightful musicianship and direction, as well telling many funny anecdotes. We played The Fairy Queen Suite by Purcell and Les Caracteres De La Danse by Jean-Fery Rebel. This was a great opportunity to play with a large ensemble, which, as I found out, is very different from playing in smaller chamber-like ensembles! The orchestral concert was a great success, with the venue being the courtyard of the spectacular Ducal Palace, and despite the massed woodwind and strings the lutes could be heard (so I’m told)!
As well as the masterclasses and orchestral rehearsals, they were also concerts at various times throughout the week. The evening was when the main concert series took place, with various tutors and invited ensembles taking part. Highlights included a performance of the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach and the final choral concert featuring music from Handel’s Rome. One of the most magical experiences of the festival was the late night dancing, with one of the organisers teaching us traditional Italian folk dances in the streets of Urbino. This was a great chance to unwind and to make friends, with lasting musical and personal connections being made. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Friends of St. Cecilia’s Hall for making this trip possible, helping me to take my playing to the next level, and providing a wonderful immersive musical experience in the spectacular setting of Urbino.
Dancing in the Square
Bruce Dickey’s Student Concert
Rehearsal for Brandenburg Concerto No.2
This report was originally published in ‘Soundboard’, Friends of St. Cecelia’s Hall Newsletter