Saturday, 6 August 2011

Throwing shadows on your saxophone

Last night we went to a hill-top village called Cellino Atanasio to listen to a saxophone quartet playing various pieces of music from the (somewhat limited) saxophone repertoire. Rather inevitably their set list included music by Gershwin and Monk, but also highlights from The Barber of Seville, which felt like quite a treat. Italian music played by Italians...

It was a concert like nothing I'd ever be able to see in the UK. The players performed under two floodlights outside a municipal building at the very top of the village whilst the audience surrounded them on uncomfortable little plastic chairs which had been scattered willy-nilly across a lawn. Above our heads were lines of brightly coloured ribbons which had been stretched, like a giant maypole, from the top of the municipal building to a wall behind us.

The atmosphere was terrific. It started when it started – probably about 45 minutes after the billed time – and children periodically wriggled out of their plastic seats and danced in front of the musicians. The quartet finished with a rendition of a song from Life is Beautiful, and the audience, en masse started softly humming along, which in retrospect was a rather beautiful moment.

At one point a big Dulux dog came and sat next to me and demanded a bit of fuss. I don’t think I’ve ever stroked a dog before, whilst watching a classical music concert, but I very much enjoyed the experience.

The quartet themselves weren’t brilliant. They were perfectly able players, but as an ensemble weren’t quite as tight as they might have been. The bari-sax player had both rhythmic and technical problems, and the tenor sax player had a few tuning issues. But it didn’t matter. We were sitting at the very top of a beautiful Italian village, looking out across the dark, velvety world. The little sequin stars above us mirrored the lights of a thousand tiny houses stretching for 15 miles towards the coast.

And what of Pepys? Well, 350 years ago, he was still in Huntingdon, drinking much of the morning with Thomas Trice. He went back to Brampton at lunchtime, where his father seemed genuinely shocked to see his son slightly drunk. I'm hugely surprised to read that it was the first time Pepys’ father had seen him in that particular state, particularly as they regularly shared a “morning draught” together. I can only assume that Pepys was utterly hammered, and that this was not the done thing...

Pepy had lunch to soak up the alcohol, before taking a horse back to London – arriving in Baldock, where he marvelled at the pretty church, and spent the night in a local tavern. The landlady, we’re told, was a pretty woman, but Pepys didn’t pay her any attention because her husband was looking on. I'm sure she was more than a little relieved!

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