Departing Venice bathed in the warm evening light, the Corinthian II – the 114-passenger ship that has hosted both prior CMS cruises – set sail for a ten-day itinerary of stops at historic sites, gourmet meals on board and off, and four concerts by CMS musicians David Finckel and Wu Han, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, and violist Paul Neubauer.
In David’s words
After such a quick exit from the wonderful world of Music@Menlo, and a hurried stop in New York for an Emerson Quartet concert at the Mostly Mozart Festival (my last Mostly Mozart performance with the quartet), it was a relief to finally board a flight on Tuesday afternoon. We eventually arrived in Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, where, in my quest for the first cappuccino of the tour, I met up violist Paul Neubauer and his family: his wife, violinist Kerry McDermott, and their extraordinary children Clara and Oliver, all of whom accompanied us on the cruise.
A meeting at Venice’s centrally located Monaco Hotel, located on the Grand Canal, passengers were given a chance to greet each other for the first time. It was in the hotel’s elegant upstairs ballroom that we first encountered violinist Alexander (“Sasha”) Sitkovetsky, and his talented and charming wife, pianist Qian Wu, who would also accompany us on the voyage. (Qian and Sasha, much like me and Wu Han, are a professional duo, and have started a very successful piano trio!).
After a quick lunch in Venice, we all headed towards the nearby parked ship, and on the Corinthian II’s stern, everyone relaxed, said hello, and readied for the sail out of Venice onto the Adriatic.
We said hello to our many friends, including Edwin Williamson and his wife Kathe, who is a recent and welcome addition to the CMS board.
We also had the pleasure of introducing Music@Menlo long-time volunteer Alice Wong to our many CMS friends and fellow musicians.
Thursday, 16th – Ortona
Waking up to a new harbor is one of the most magical, recurring events on these cruises. The picturesque harbor of Ortona, a small town halfway down the Italian peninsula, on the Adriatic side, was our first stop.
Ortona was our point of departure for the small village of Atri, the location of our first concert, which took place in the exquisite Teatro Communale.
The program, performed exclusively for our voyage companions, consisted of a Mozart Duo for violin and viola, and the Mozart Piano Quartet in Eb. After the concert we walked to the nearby Palazzo Ducale for a buffet lunch, complete with entertainment by a costumed renaissance band.
Friday 17th – Vis Island
Another morning brought another magical arrival, as we docked just off the shore of the tiny Croatian island of Vis. The island is quite unspoiled due to the fact that it was a military base for the former army of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito’s hide out, and was not opened for tourism until 1989. It is the farthest from the coast of all the Croatian islands. A standout of the vista is the hillside Church of Our Lady of the Pirates.
Heavy repertoire loads for the cruise and our coming residency at the Mecklenburg Festival prevented me, and Wu Han, from joining many sight-seeing tours on this cruise, which unfortunately included the excursion on the island of Vis, although I did take the jetty to shore town of Komiža to briefly to grab some wifi, and the chance to post my most recent blogs.
The evening brought the Captain’s welcome dinner, for which everyone dressed up, including Sasha and Qian, and CMS board member Harry Kamen and his wife Barbara.
Saturday 18th – Monopoli
Monopoli is an Italian town that sits further down the coast towards the heel of the boot of Italy. It is in the region of Bari, and close to a city we visited last year, the town of Taranto, from which we visited nearby Greek ruins.
Once again, I missed the sight-seeing activities, but Wu Han did get out to the town of Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its beehive-shaped houses that could be dismantled in moments to evade heavy taxation. Wu Han, however, had to forego the afternoon trip to the popular tourist destination of Ostuni, famous for its churches, monuments, and ancient history. There was way too much repertoire on our plates to be able to enjoy the same opportunities as our fellow passengers.
Sunday 19th – Crotone
The next morning we awoke in the port city of Crotone, the southern Italian city on the Ionian sea where the Greek mathematician founded his school in 530 B.C.
Foregoing the local sights, the musicians set out by special bus for the spectacular hill town of Santa Severine, the location of our second concert. Known as the “Stone Ship”, the town sits atop a stone outcropping and overlooks the beautiful surrounding countryside.
The concert took place in the Baptistery of Santa Anastasia Cathedral, another truly unforgettable setting. Wu Han and I performed Bruce Adolphe’s atmospheric and engaging “Couple”, the first work ever commissioned for us.
Dohnanyi’s Serenade for violin, viola and cello demands a high level of instrumental technique and extreme concentration from each player. It was a special pleasure to rehearse and perform this piece with Paul Neubauer, who has undoubtedly played it hundreds of times, and with Sasha, who contributed extraordinary energy and flair.
After the concert, the piano was wrapped in plastic and taken away. All the pianos we experienced on land where shipped in for our performances, and all miraculously showed up, complete with technicians.
Later that day, we rehearsed for our next performance in the ship’s concert space/lecture hall/meeting room. Straight-backed chairs were not always easy to locate but CMS musicians are famous for their adaptability.
Monday, 20th – Valletta, Malta
After a long overnight sail, we pulled into the famous harbor of Valletta, on the island of Malta, situated halfway between Sicily and Africa in the Mediterranean Sea.
It was our southernmost stop, and by far, the hottest. It is indicated on our cruise map by the green arrow at the bottom.
Valletta, founded in 1566, is today a vibrant city, teeming with locals and tourists. You can hear just about any language you can imagine being spoken on its streets. To quote our tour guide: “Since early in the 1st millennium, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, the Knights of St. John, the French and the British all had temporary powers that influenced the Maltese culture to varying degrees, yet through time, the population has managed to preserve a distinctive identity and a strong sense of community with the past.”
Napoleon Bonaparte played a part in Maltese history when he took the island in June of 1798, living in this house during his occupation of the city.
But by far the most incredible sight in the city is the Cathedral, built by the Knights of Malta in the 16th century. It is one of the most lavishly decorated churches in the world, and is constantly packed with visitors.
The church is packed with sculptures and treasured paintings, among them, the famous Beheading of St. John the Baptist by Caravaggio.
It was an easy, but sweltering, walk from the center of Valletta back to the Corinthian II, harbored so conveniently below.
The departure from Valletta included a rehearsal aboard ship, followed by champagne on the rear deck with Kathe and Edwin Williamson.
Tuesday, 21 – Erice, Sicily
Our next stop was the Sicilian port of Trapani, which sits on Sicily’s western coast. Trapani, founded to serve as the port city for the medieval hill town of Erice, was our point of departure for the visit to the historic town; our third concert location. Buses awaited us a ship side to take us comfortably on the tour, although, in this case, the ride up the hill was a little more than many of us had bargained for.
Erice is situated at an altitude of 750 meters, overlooking Trapani. It is quaint beyond words, a labyrinth of small streets with few cars, and stunning vistas everywhere.
Our concert was in the Chiese di San Martino of Erice.
The concert included a fantastic performance of Bohuslav Martinu’s Madrigals for violin and viola. It is purely a coincidence that we performed Martinu in the church of Saint Martin, and also, that one of the church’s resident saints also appeared to take part in the performance.
The program also included Beethoven’s Piano Trio, Op. 1, No. 1. Wu Han, always in full concert attire, introduced the work to our captive but eager audience.
Lunch was a short bus ride away, still on the hilltop, in a hotel whose dining room and swimming pool overlooked Trapani.
The lunch provided photographic opportunities
It was after lunch that we said goodbye to Travel Dynamic’s Italian tour manager, a gentleman passionate about music who followed us to all our Italian locations and enjoyed our concerts immensely.
The descent was a little less harrowing than the climb up, and afforded us spectacular views of the ocean and surrounding mountains.
During our evening departure (and after I had a great swim in the sea) we could easily see Erice situated high over the port of Trapani.
Wednesday, 22nd – Cagliari, Sardinia
A long sail finally put us into the harbor of Cagliari, on the southern tip of Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily). Once again, musical obligations prevented me and Wu Han from visiting the historic sites of Barumini and Nora, but we heard much about them from our fellow passengers upon their return. I had visited Cagliari once with the Emerson, and although I remembered it fondly, was not able to make it off the ship to relive the experience or show the fantastic city to Wu Han. Next time, hopefully.
Thursday 23rd - At Sea
The following day was spent on the open sea, a fantastic experience, especially when the sea is the Mediterranean and the weather is sunny and the winds are calm. We spent most of the day practicing and rehearsing, and getting ready for our final concert that evening on board ship.
Guest Lecturer Anne-Marie Bouché delivered her final presentation “Past meets Present: The Recovery, Interpretation and Preservation of Archaeological Remains” in the lounge, after our rehearsal.
A highlight of the cruise for many, I’m sure, was the added performance by Oliver and Clara Neubauer as a Prelude Performance to ours. It consisted of violin duos expertly played and professionally presented, including verbal introductions to each work performed. Wu Han welcomed them to the stage.
Clara and Oliver, 10 and 12 years old respectively, had spent the three weeks prior to the cruise at Music@Menlo as Young Performers, and seemed to truly thrive. They brought all the dedication to their performance as could be expected of truly dedicated performers, and the packed house demanded an encore. It was one of the most unforgettable moments of our journey. Even the Captain showed up to listen.
There was much joy aboard the Corinthian II after this concert.
The senior musicians finished up our concert series with two works: the Seven Popular Songs of Da Falla, arranged for violin and piano, and the enormous Piano Quartet in c minor by Gabriel Faure.
But perhaps stealing the show was Paul Neubauer’s performance of a set of Gypsy-inspired works, accompanied by me, Wu Han and Sasha. Long a specialty of Paul, who has studied Gypsy music and even sat in with authentic Gypsy bands, these performances included not only stellar playing but interactive elements which are best described by the following photos.
Following the concert, the group who had joined the cruise through the Chamber Music Society gathered for a group photo.
The Captain’s final reception and dinner provided everyone a chance to reminisce, exchange contact information, pose for photos, and to watch a beautiful slide show prepared by the tour staff.
For the final dinner, the kitchen pulled out all the stops, offering lobster tails and Baked Alaska. The musicians gathered to thank the ship’s pianist Eddie, whose beautiful playing graced the bar nightly.
Friday, 24th - Barcelona
There was no time to see anything of beautiful Barcelona as we hurriedly departed the ship at 8:30am for our flight. Some lucky ones stayed on to see the city, even spending several days. But for Wu Han and me, other obligations called, and we were soon aboard the first of three flights that day that would take us to see and perform in a place we had never been. Stay tuned.
Many more cruises are in the planning stages right now; visit:
The Chamber Music Society website, or contact Sharon Griffin at CMS for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
– or –
The Music@Menlo website, or contact Annie Rohan for more information: email@example.com