09 October 2010

It's the Florida Orchestra's opening night tonight

You heard that right, it's the season opener tonight and I have tickets. So at 8pm, St. Pete's spectacular Mahaffey Theater rolls out all the stops for the Florida Orchestra's performance of Ottorino Respighi's I Pini di Roma.

I'm particularly thrilled that Respighi's Pines of Rome is on deck for tonight, it's one of my favorite pieces of music and I have an attachment to it that defies my ability to describe adequately. As always, there's a story behind it but first a little background.

The Pines of Rome is the middle chapter in Respighi's three-part Roman Trilogy. He wrote his trilogy between 1915 and 1928 and each debuted as a separate work. The Roman Trilogy is Respighi's loving tribute to the sights, sounds and history of Rome. It's a work of mind numbing emotion and huge swaths of it leave me a babbling, weeping fool no matter how ofter I listen to this music. The first chapter in the trilogy is Fontane di Roma, the Fountains of Rome. The Second is I Pini di Roma and the the third is Feste Romana, Roman Festivals. Since the Orchestra's only playing the Pines of Rome tonight, I'll restrict my gushing to it.

Each chapter is broken into for sections and each describes a different scene. The Pines of Rome consists of I Pini della Villa Borghese (The Pines of the Villa Borghese), I Pini Presso una Catacomba (Pines Near a Catacomb), I Pini del Gianicolo (The Pines of the Janiculum Hill) and I Pini della Via Appia (The Pines of the Appian Way).

This is the opening section, The Pines of the Villa Borghese. It tells the story of children playing army under the pine trees in the Villa Borghese near the Pincian Gate. Feel free to play this and keep reading.

Here's how my connection to this composition came to be.

In May of 2008 I was staying in a Roman neighborhood next to the Piazza Barberini. That's the lower arrow on this map.

The Piazza Barberini sits at the bottom of the Via Veneto and the Via Veneto starts at the Pincian gate. The Pincian gate is the upper arrow.

Here's Google's Street View of the gate.

I like to get up early and walk around when I'm visiting somewhere. One of the best ways to learn about a city is to watch it come to life in the morning. Rome has the added attraction of everyday life unfolding against a backdrop of truly ancient architecture. The Pincian Gate dates from the 5th Century and it was through this gate that Alaric and the Visigoths swarmed when they sacked Rome in 410. You know the expression "Barbarians at the gate?" Well, here's the place it referred to originally.

The Pincian Gate stands at the top of the Via Veneto and is one of the entrances to the Villa Borghese. The Villa Borghese is essentially Rome's Central Park and it's also the site where the Visigoths camped during their year-long siege of Rome.

So, it's now May of 2008 and it's a gorgeous spring morning and I'm taking a walk by myself. I'd loaded up an iPod with Italian music before I left the US and on that morning, Ottorino Respighi was my play list. I started listening to his Roman Trilogy and I was finishing up The Fountains of Rome when I approached the Pincian gate. What happened next was completely unplanned but as I stepped through the gate, I Pini della Villa Borghese started. Right in front of me I saw this.

That's my photo of the actual Pines of the Villa Borghese.

It hit me like a Mack truck that I was standing in the spot that inspired Respighi to write The Pines of the Villa Borghese. Since he'd written it around 84 years prior to my standing there, the odds were that I was looking at the very same trees he saw. I am not someone who's prone to losing control of his emotions. However, that realization, combined with the music I was was listening to was too much. I thought my head was going to explode as I burst into ecstatic tears and collapsed onto a low wall. I sat there for a while and listened through the rest of the Pines of Rome without taking another step. It was the wildest thing. It was as if I'd been given a private performance by the composer himself.

Hearing the result of a great artist's inspiration, whether it's a symphony or a banjo solo really gets my heart pumping. Better than other medium, a music invites you into an artist's world and then he invites you to stay. I get it that musical tastes are extremely subjective but no other musical form touches me quite the same way that a great, orchestral composition does. That a composer has an idea about how something might sound and then he goes out and creates the individual music for more than 100 instruments is an achievement of such stunning complexity it's hard to fathom.

Here's Respighi's entire Pines of Rome.

I Pini della Villa Borghese

I Pini Presso una Catacomba

I Pini del Gianicolo

I Pini della Via Appia

Now more than ever, community arts organizations, like my beloved Florida Orchestra, need your support. If you like the arts, whatever their form, patronize them. Go to the symphony, the ballet, the opera, a play. These organizations dedicate themselves the best humanity has to offer and they need your patronage to keep the lights on.


  1. I'm so glad you wrote about this! Pines of Rome is a FABULOUS song - incredible that you stumbled upon the very spot while hearing that very composition.... and i understand the emotion of it - actually I've performed a condensed version of this song before, practiced it for quite a while about 10 or 11 years ago! Still have the sheet music! It's a wonderful piece, I played a flute solo as i recall -- you know i'm a flutist right?! Well at any rate, i'm glad you shared these links to the professional performances, brings back some old memories! Love Italy ahh.. :)

  2. Thanks Emilie! I had no idea you were a flautist but it doesn't surprise me in the least that you're a musician. Music is such a mathematical art form and it fits you. That's a compliment. The performance I saw last night was beyond amazing. I've seen our symphony pull off a triumph or two before but they raised the bar on themselves significantly last night. By the time they reached the climax at the end of the Pines of the Appian Way, everybody was standing up and cheering. I've never been part of so strong an appreciation of a piece of music by a crowd of several thousand people before. The musicians were in such a groove. You could hear in their playing that they'd transcended their instruments and were just channeling the music out of them. It was inspiring and a privilege to have been in the audience for it. Those moments of transcendence, that celebration of the very best in human creativity and endeavor is why I love classical music. What a night and I am happy to know I'm not the only one who gets it. Thanks!

  3. Oh! I'm jealous :) I haven't been to the symphony in forever! Though I guess I was just at the opera two days ago :D I'm glad to hear that it was such a good production.

  4. Well then go! I've been calling Saturday night's performance "transcendent" and it was.


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