Riding the seasons

On Italian Summers and musical landscapes

Huw Williams | 17:04, Wednesday 1st July 2015 | Torino, Italy

We returned from our trip to the UK a week ago, and touched down in an Italian Summer in full swing. The apartment is darker for the shutters being down in the hotter parts of the day, and it is a-whir with fans. All those now-familiar routines of Summer living have come back to us, walking in the shaded side of the road, drinking huge amounts of water, slowing the pace of each day and timing tasks to the hotter and cooler times.

Outside there is the familiar feel of Summer, too – the heat emanating from the walls of buildings, the smell of the road asphalt baking in the sun, the relaxed gait of teenagers for whom school is most definitely out. Gelati and granite have never tasted so good as in such temperatures. One of Italy’s many charms for me is that this is a country with its own distinct expressions of the season in which it finds itself.

It is all in rather stark contrast to the musical world I spent the previous two weeks inhabiting, that of the Mendelssohn’s dark-hued Scottish Symphony. I have always found this a challenging work to conduct, the biggest challenge being that of maintaining and highlighting the thread which runs through the whole symphony, through the four individual movements of the whole. There is a unity to this work which many conductors seem to fail to notice. The sensitive musician needs to be able to adapt to the unique tones, the sub-rhythms of each of Mendelssohn’s movements, just as the sensitive human being needs to adapt to life’s seasons. And as my old conducting teaching and mentor used to remind me regularly, this is an art which takes a lifetime to learn.

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