Potpourri & the Fifteenth Week in Sicily

Whenever I make a promise I like to keep it, and since last week I said I was going to present you the last two concerts at Sant Antonio Basilica, here I go now. I would like to persuade you that classical, sacred and symphonic music are attributes that fully characterize the Italian people, so I will add the whole religious, cultural and popular context that enabled me to enjoy so many street concerts and demonstrations organized on the occasion of The White Night (Notte Bianca) and in honor of Pope John Paul II `s first visit in Messina, 25 years ago.

Summer time brings along an atmosphere of joy and party, outdoors activities and ample traditional, cultural demonstrations involving all kinds of artists. I`ll start by telling you a few words about the fourth concert at Sant Antonio Basilica, memorable due to a special person seated in the first row of the church.

As I have already told you before, these concerts are dedicated to the new Pope Francesco. This week`s concert had as a special guest in the person of Stanislaw Dziwisz, cardinal of Krakow and Pope John Paul II`s personal secretary. Ersu Choir and the Sicilian Lyric Choir gave an exemplary interpretation (despite being overcome with emotions due to the cardinal`s presence) of Mozart`s Requiem Kv 626 in order to celebrate 25 years since the Pope`s visit to Messina. The concert for soloists, choir and piano for two filled the church fast. I am not surprised anymore about the quality of the concerts because I got used to the conductor`s style, Francesco Costa, who is extremely young but talented at the same time, and well known and appreciated in the Sicilian musical world. He is also responsible for the last interpretation, as impressive as the first, which ended the second edition of the Festival for Orchestra and Choir and was dedicated to Verdi, in celebration of 200 years since the great Italian composer was born. Which leads me up to a subject I have already mentioned, The White Night (Notte Bianca), a big festival that took place on the 15th of June. From 8 a.m. till 3 in the morning the town center was full of people, hustle and bustle, street artists, flower art, stalls with handmade goods, sweets, wine and cheesetasting and outdoor concerts in the little squares around Sant Antonio Basilica.

The week`s most remarkable events also took place in the basilica, of course, that is five concerts in a row that kept me almost still in the church for five hours! That`s what I call a musical present at the end of the week! You already know one of the five concerts, the one with music by Verdi, and then three more concerts, piano for two and violin, music by Brahms, Rossini, Bellini, Moskovsky and Gershwin, with sopranos and tenors that filled the basilica with their voices. I was very much impressed by an Immigrants` Choir that sang at the opening of the musical evening – I hadn`t listened live to this kind of music before: African rhythms, specific instruments, colorful costumes, and an extremely warm and joyful repertoire which got the whole audience singing. I`m sure you are familiar with The Lion Sleeps Tonight, a melody that was taken over by famous groups…

Between two concerts I crept outside, in the crowd, to get to see a little bit of the other demonstrations. There were artists walking on high stilts, mime artists and comedians who enlivened groups of onlookers, rousing applauses from parents and smiles from children. On the stages located in the neighboring squares there were dance and music shows for children and the young, also choir, gospel and jazz concerts with international stars, all unfolding at once. Suspense, people -their mouths agape in excitement – watching trapeze artists, acrobats, fire-eaters, juggleries, magic. As for the rest, there were musical impromptus, painting exhibitions, puppet shows, vintage car parades, guided tours in the church museums, open shops and boutiques, with cotton candy, dry fruits, sweets, ice cream and the customary… popcorn.

I stopped at the tasting stalls and was offered a slice of bread with ricotta which I accompanied with some red wine and a Sicilian muffin, to enjoy a complete menu. I couldn`t miss any of the other stalls, I tried different types of cheese, made of goat milk, with pepper, mozzarella, olives, bread. I skipped the meat part, since I`m not a fan of, but there was a wide variety of prosciutto, ham, salami and the sort, but in Sicilian way here.

So, I enjoyed a delicious dinner and a special atmosphere on Saturday night and, although there was one more concert at midnight, tiredness had a say in this (not to mention old age …) and I retired for a good sleep, leaving the noise behind but unable to ignore it completely since it was all happening right under my window.

On Sunday, after other street processions dedicated to Saint Antonio from Padova (with music pouring from the megaphones along the main boulevards) Maria, Laura and I feasted our eyes with the fireworks that officially put an end to a week full of laic and religious demonstrations.

This seems to be only the beginning, because the Sicilian summer abounds in activities, one more interesting than the other – speaking for myself, as a person who is interested in getting to see and know as much as possible about the surrounding world.

Goodbye until next week, my dearest, we will see where my next trip is going to take me, but remember… you are always with me.

Translated by prof. Irina Bicescu – Potpourri member