The Northern Iowa Wind Symphony is recognized throughout the United States and parts of Europe for its exceptional performing ability, quality repertoire, and innovative programming. The guiding philosophy of the Wind Symphony is the study and performance of the finest available wind literature through the employment of the principles of flexible instrumentation, player rotation, and "core repertoire." By means of these principles, students are provided with the opportunity for meaningful encounters with the substantial body of original wind literature extending from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Their performances have received praise from renowned composers such as Karl Husa, Ron Nelson, Daniel Bukvich, Kamillo Lendvay, Frigyes Hidas, and Bernard van Beurden. In 1993 and 1996, the wind symphony performed a series of concerts in Hungary, including a performance over Hungarian National Radio.
View the short film documentary of the Wind Symphony's 2012 tour to Italy: Bravi!
The Wind Symphony in Italy 2012
Italia 2012! . . . our second journey to Italy and the fifth European concert tour for the Northern Iowa Wind Symphony (the first three tours to Hungary). We left campus on the Thursday morning before spring break, arriving in Milano early Friday afternoon. For most of the players, it would be their first European concert tour . . . for some, their first time on an airplane . . . for all of us, a “magical mystery tour” of unforgettable proportions!
For the first four days, we stayed in anostello (youth hotel) in a suburb of Bergamo . . . courtesy of the municipal community bands in San Paolo d’ Argon and Nese. These two bands are among the very finest in northern Italy. We shared the first concert on Saturday night with the San Paolo band. During the day on Saturday and Sunday, the Wind Symphony served as the rehearsal ensemble for a special symposium for Italian conductors. The opportunity to work with these fine young conductors was one of the great moments of the trip.
The performance on Sunday evening was in the magnificent Basilica di San Martino in Alzano Lombardo. We had performed in this beautiful space during our 2004 tour, and were pleased to return. Our hosts here were the Corpo Musicale “Elia Astori” di Nese. Their conductor, Daniela Spinneli, was one of the conductors in the Conducting Symposium.
Monday was a “free day,” the only one in which we did not perform. Our hosts took us on a walking tour of the Citta Alta, the old “upper” part of the city of Bergamo. In the afternoon and evening, everyone was free to discover if they were truly prepared to negotiate the Italian restaurants and shops.
On Tuesday morning, we traveled to Cremona, one of the great cities of the Renaissance, and home to some 200 violin makers. In the evening, we were in Pontevico, a lovely small community south of Brescia. The concert was, again, hosted and sponsored by the town band, and organized by their conductor, Giorgio Zanolini. The performance was held in the city’s newly renovated theater, and was filled to capacity. The students were overcome by the kindness and generosity of our Italian host families . . . everyone quickly developing new relationships, sharing email and Facebook addresses - - making promises to return.
After a tearful farewell to our Pontevico family hosts and friends on Wednesday morning, we headed north for Brescia, one of the great cities of northern Italy, and one of the best sites for exploring ancient ruins from the Roman period. Our concert was jointly hosted by the city government and the Luca Marenzio Conservatory of Music, and held in the PalaBrescia, the largest concert hall in Brescia. In the evening, the Wind Symphony was presented with an honorary diploma from the Conservatory, a very special honor! The day was given to a tour of the city and the Roman ruins. As Italian tradition dictates, all of our concerts started at 9:00pm (21:00!), usually with a dinner or some sort of reception afterwards. This made for long days and short sleep!! We were again with host families in Brescia, a real treat for everyone. The opportunity to be in Italian homes, eat Italian food, speak the Italian language (usually poorly) . . . to discover that we are much more alike than we are different . . . this was the great gift from our hosts.
On Thursday morning, we traveled to the beautiful village of Sermione, located on a small isthmus jutting out from the south shore of the Garda Lake. Sermione was a resort of sorts during the Roman period, and has remained so to the present day. Our Brescia organizer, Renato Krug, arranged for a local historian to take us on a short tour of the area. The rest of the day was given to exploring, shopping, sitting by the lake, and practicing our language skills with the waiters at local restaurants. In the evening, we performed in Costa Volpino, another lake community . . . this one on the northern end of Lake Iseo. Our concert was, again, performed in a beautiful church, and organized by another of the fine conductors we worked with, Giuseppe Martinelli. The lake was especially beautiful in the late evening and early morning . . . one of our favorite memories!
On Friday morning, we loaded the buses and headed for Milano . . . our last day in Italia! Our host was Luca Pasqua, conductor of Vox Aurea, a community music association in the town of Arese, a suburb of Milano. We were given a tour of the museum at the La Scala Opera House, a fabulous treat for musicians. And, we visited the Duomo di Milano, the 4th largest cathedral in the world . . . WOW! In the evening, we performed our final concert, the program shared with the Vox Aurea band. There was a terrific meal for us afterward, our last taste of Italian cuisine. It was fabulous . . . as were they all!
On Saturday morning, after a few hours sleep, we arrived at the Milano Malpensa airport around 6:30 . . . the return flight left at 9:30. We arrived in Chicago around 5pm, collected our luggage and instruments, and loaded the buses (for the last time!) for the trip back to Cedar Falls. We arrived around 11pm . . . tired, but happy to be home.
We had been aware, almost from the first moment, that we were all part of an incredible journey, one that would change us in so many ways. Now, back home, we would begin to feel . . . quite deeply . . . how we were different. The change would only become more pronounced and deeply felt in the days and weeks to come. We went to Italy to share our music with Italian audiences. We believe that the power of great music can change people’s lives and heal the soul. We also were keen to represent well the traditions and values of the School of Music and the University, the State of Iowa and America. What we received in return was something of magic and wonder . . . an opening of our hearts that has allowed us to know more of the world . . . and ourselves.
From the Conductor...
As one might imagine, a trip such as this would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of many people. Perhaps foremost among these would be Dr. John Vallentine, Director of the School of Music. Dr. Vallentine not only provided the impetus for this trip, but also found the necessary funds. With the state of the economy at the time, and the fact that prices seemed to change regularly, it is no small miracle that we were able to make this all happen. Dr. Benjamin Allen, President of the University of Northern Iowa, Dr. Gloria Gibson, Executive Vice-President and Provost, and Dr. Joel Haack, Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences, all provided both moral and financial support. Caroline Boehmer, Communications and Operations Coordinator for the School of Music acted as “tour manager” . . . handling schedules, taking care of correspondence, dealing with the airline folks and the University Business Office, getting the bills paid, saving all of us from many difficulties and obstacles . . . we absolutely could not have done it without her! John Hines (bass) and Amanda McCandless (clarinet), members of our Artist Faculty, went along as soloists. Their superb musicianship earned them standing ovations every night. And, their good will and fabulous “tour chops” made them a real joy to have around. Dr. Rebecca Burkhardt, Conductor of the Northern Iowa Symphony Orchestra, went along as part of the teaching faculty for the conducting seminar at the beginning of the tour, as well as spiritual mentor for us all. Keith Kennedy, from our Media Production Services, went along as our “official” photographer and filmmaker. His professionalism and unflagging good will was a huge help! And, I gratefully acknowledge the enthusiastic support and good will of the School of Music Faculty. Without their professionalism, ongoing commitment to high standards, and willingness to assist the students in their preparation, we could not have made this trip!
The Italians . . . aaah! The Italians. The one person who made it all work was Denis Salvini, conductor, teacher, and horn player in the Bergamo/Brescia area, and long-time friend. Denis arranged for all of the concerts, made arrangements with the bus company, organized the conducting seminar, made arrangements for the use of the larger instruments that we could not bring with us, and took care of whatever problems arose each day. Denis is a “force for good” in northern Italy . . . he is a great conductor and musician, a trusted friend and colleague for us all. Helping Denis with the details was Roberto Vitali, another good friend and colleague with the band in Nese, a suburb of Bergamo. Roberto helped us immensely in 2004, and was a great support again this time. At each concert site, the bands and their conductors . . . the city council, the family hosts, the audience members . . . all were genuinely pleased to have us in their community, and did all they could to make our visit one to be remembered.
The real heroes of this “Great Italian Romp” were, of course, the students. As their conductor, I felt privileged each day to be part of this extraordinary group of human beings. Tours such as this take a mighty toll on the body and the spirit. Not once did I hear complaints . . . they became a family. They cared for each other’s needs when someone was ill, and offered an understanding shoulder to lean on when spirits sagged. Though their bodies were often tired and weak, their belief in our cause never faltered. They believed that every concert was an opportunity to change people’s hearts and minds. And, every night, they were successful in that belief. Every concert was a remarkable experience . . . for us, as well as the listeners. Every night there were moments that we will remember for the remainder of our lives. Every night offered a new lesson in what it means to be human. Even the Italians were proud of them. I could see it in the eyes of their host families as we left in the morning . . . the way they tearfully hugged each other, not wanting to let go. I could see it in the eyes of the Italian musicians and audience members as they rushed to congratulate them after concerts. No one who was part of this journey . . . neither the students nor the faculty . . . not the Italian audiences or the host families . . . will soon forget this exceptional group of young people. Bravissimo!
. . . Ronald Johnson