Pontine Festival Latina Italy


One of Italy’s best kept secrets is to be found in the mediaeval town of Sermoneta, just 50 kilometres from Rome. Whilst the coastal towns Sabaudia, S. Felice Circeo, Terracina, Sperlonga have long been attracting crowds to their wonderful beaches, Sermoneta has been quietly attracting the greatest musicians of our time to the fairy tale Caetani Castle. Here, in fact, is to be found one of the most important festivals of classical music. On a level only with Festivals like Tanglewood, Marlboro, Dartington or Salzburg.
Once, whilst Count Chigi was still alive, only the Accademia Chigiana in Siena could boast a line up of the greatest artists of the day: Cortot, Casals, Ferrara, Agosti, Casella, Milstein, Gulli, Giulini, ready not only to play, but also to pass on their experience in master classes to talented young musicians.
Since 1963 the Caetani family, like Count Chigi before in Siena, have been inviting musicians of the calibre of Menuhin, Szigeti, Magaloff, Kempff, Navarra, Ciccolini, Sandor Vegh, to their Castle just south of Rome, and it is this year that we celebrate the 45th anniversary.
Lelia Caetani, the last living member of the family, who died in 1977, had created a Foundation to perpetuate the name of her composer father Roffredo Caetani. Franz Liszt, godfather to Roffredo, attended his baptism in 1871 and in fact Liszt’s piano is still to be found in Ninfa, the wonderful gardens created by Lelia, surrounding Sermoneta. These are the gardens that the great composer Sir William Walton and his wife Susanna so admired and often visited, before opening their own famous gardens of La Mortella on Ischia.
In fact there is so much history linked to this town, but there is also a wonderful future ahead too, if we look at how the musical activities have progressed since the death of Lelia Caetani and Hubert Howard, her husband, descendant of the noble English family of that name.
Riccardo Cerocchi, architect, has since the 70’s carried forward, in an elightened way, the initial start of the Caetani’s, creating the Campus Musicale with the great composer Goffredo Petrassi, president for many years until his death. Bruno Canino, Franco Petracchi, Bruno Giuranna, Rocco Filippini and some of the finest Italian musicians are on the advisory board, ready to ensure the integrity and continuing importance of the concerts, master classes and conferences.
Two young musicians, products one could say of Sermoneta, have been invited onto the board and already their presence is being felt along with the more established members.
Roberto Prosseda, fast establishing himself as one of Italy’s finest pianists, pupil of Sergio Cafaro; and Fabrizio von Arx, pupil of Corrado Romano, are both to be found organising and playing in this years festival.
In fact, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in the opening concert with von Arx was a model of great musicianship and virtuosity (I think one could tell the influence of Franco Gulli, with whom he perfected his studies in the USA), as was the open rehearsal the next morning with both von Arx and Prosseda in the double Concerto by Mendelssohn, conducted by Jan Latham Koenig with the Young Janacek Philharmonic.
This year Mendelssohn takes pride of place to celebrate the 200th anniversary of this much neglected composer, favourite at the court of Queen Victoria. It is also thanks to Mendelssohn that many of the great works of Bach are known today. By a strange irony, many of Mendelssohn’s works are rarely heard these days and there is also a vast collection of fragments, only recently discovered, left by Mendelssohn which is the basis of a series of debates and concerts organised by Prosseda (who recently recorded the 3rd Piano Concerto ,reconstructed from fragments by Bufalini, with Riccardo Chailly and Mendelssohn’s Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig). These debates have always formed an important part of the work of the Campus and this year it is based on Restoration in Music, with particular reference to the many unfinished works of Mendelssohn.
Also on the programme this year is a first performance of the Variations for cello and piano reconstructed (the cello part was missing but the piano part was complete) by Gabrio Taglietti. Steven Isserlis, the great English cellist, will be in Sermoneta for the first time to play them with Roberto Prosseda. Isserlis will be performing the day before at the Cheltenham Festival in England as Angela Hewitt, the great Bach pianist who will be playing for the first time in Sermoneta too and playing in Cheltenham the day after: a great coincidence, as the Cheltenham Festival was also founded by Menuhin, one of the founder members of Sermoneta – small world.
Master classes and concerts with the great Russian pianist, so admired by Richter, Elissò Virsaladze also with Richard Stolzman, considered by many to be the finest clarinet player today, and many others complete the programme not only in Sermoneta but also in the Cistercian Abbey at Fossanova, where Tommaso d’Aquino died in 1274, as well as the beautifully restored courtyard of the church of S. Oliva at Cori.
Sperlonga will see a special concert dedicated to Ileana Ghione (founder of the famous Ghione Theatre in Rome,with a long and important musical tradition) when Milena Vukotic will perform the Melologue by Richard Strauss based on the famous Victorian poem Enoch Arden by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
What better way to celebrate the first 45 years than to know that closer links between The Caetani Foundation and the Campus are being forged to ensure that this important musical activity will continue and grow in the future.
I hope we have not let the cat out of the bag to tell you about Sermoneta but you can rest assured that who ventures here will find the simplest most genuine welcome where above all the message that music has to offer rises above all the razzmatazz and divaism that we have almost come to expect from our lives ruled as they are by the mass media.


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