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Incontri Musicali - Michael Twaddle and Ben-San Lau on Ischia

Incontri Musicali

Opportunities present themselves in unexpected ways. I had not heard of Ischia: it is one of several small islands in the Bay of Naples, and there is little else to know about it. Tourists visit Ischia to see the Giardini La Mortella. This is a rambling, hilly garden estate owned by Lady Susana Walton, widow of the famous composer Sir William whose presence still looms large: his ashes are buried under ‘William’s Rock’, and the small on-site concert hall doubles as a museum of his various achievements. This concert hall-museum is pleasantly domestic in feel, until one discovers a ‘puppet theatre fantasy’ nestled at one end – fascinating, if somewhat alarming.

In fact, such surprises are not uncommon in La Mortella, ranging from the charming (a lake of blue pebbles and a huge orchid house) to the puzzling (the Indiana Jones-style ‘Temple of the Sun’, with incongruous automatic sliding doors) to the downright unnerving (in the guesthouse, a huge poster of Dame Janet Baker surveying the bathtub), all in the best of Italian sunshine.

In any case, La Mortella is certainly an interesting place in which to spend a weekend, and it is nothing if not welcoming. We had been invited to play three violin and piano recitals as part of the garden’s international chamber music series, the ‘Incontri Musicali’ or ‘Musical Meetings’. Our repertoire was quite ambitious, including sonatas by Beethoven and Franck, Ravel’s ‘Tzigane’, Saint-Saëns’s ‘Havanaise’ and about half a dozen little ‘lollipops’ designed to showcase Michael’s formidable technique.

The opportunity to perform a sizeable swathe of major repertoire is not to be taken lightly, and of course ‘practice makes perfect’. We rehearsed until the late-afternoon concerts (Michael and I still aren’t quite sure what Mr Rozman did all day), often under the curious gaze of tourists, and constantly interrupted by huge volleys of fireworks for a local saint’s day. The concerts themselves were well-attended. The audiences were very appreciative, and we were rather taken aback to be asked for autographs and photos as if we were anyone important. The generous, relaxed atmosphere made our performances most enjoyable, although we were grateful for the drinks afterwards: myrtle (‘mortella’) liqueur with white wine ‘to dilute it’. After our final concert, we were even presented with DVDs of our performances: I might not watch them very often, but at least I have now seen the back of my own head.

In the evenings we would eat at a restaurant on the beach, run by a wonderfully effusive lady who good-humouredly put up with my very British indecisiveness, Mr Rozman’s determination to sample every liqueur available, and Michael’s tireless consumption of unseemly amounts of chocolate ice cream. All in all, Italian food in Britain might be improving, but we simply don’t have the tomatoes.

Of course it was raining at Gatwick on our return. Anyhow, there was no doubting the value of the trip. It is one thing to perform in a ‘safe’ environment like Eton, but quite another to be ‘shipped overseas’, as it were. This was a perfect way for novices to edge towards being something like ‘real musicians’, and we can only be grateful to have done it.

Ben-San Lau


Michael Twaddle and Ben-San Lau performed three programmes of music for violin and piano in the ‘Incontri Musicali’ chamber music series.

Programme 1
J.S. Bach Partita No. 3 in E major BWV 1006
Beethoven Sonata No. 5 in F major, Op. 24 (‘Spring’)
Sarasate Romanza Andaluza, Op. 22 No. 3
Massenet Méditation from ‘Thaïs’
Kreisler Tambourin Chinois, Op. 3

Programme 2
J.S. Bach Partita No. 3 in E major BWV 1006
Franck  Sonata in A major
Saint-Saëns Havanaise, Op. 83

Programme 3
J.S. Bach Partita No. 3 in E major BWV 1006
Franck  Sonata in A major
Ravel  Tzigane

DATE POSTED: 13 May 2009

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