This past summer the West Chester Symphony Orchestra packed up their instruments and prepared to enjoy the Mediterranean sun for almost a month during their visit to Italy. The WCU Symphony Orchestra traveled to Sicily over the summer to participate in the Catania Summer Music Festival from July 31 to August 28. The orchestra traveled with 68 musicians, one conductor, and four support personnel. About 50 percent of the orchestra members were West Chester students. Other students participated from schools like Temple University, University of Maryland, Columbia, Dickinson, Downingtown High School and West Chester High School in New York.
Participation in the festival was organized by the West Chester Symphony Orchestra director, Dr. Ovidiu Marinescu. West Chester was one of five highly experienced international orchestras which included the English Symphony Youth Orchestra, The Berlin RIAS Orchestra, and the International Orchestra. Twenty-three WCU musicians had the opportunity to participate in the international orchestra which was comprised of musicians from around the world.
The WCU orchestra played five concerts with four different programs, the first of which took place outdoors on a stage set in the courtyard of a monastery in Catania, one of the largest cities in Sicily. The following concerts took place in an outdoor amphitheater. All concerts were very well attended and the WCU orchestra received a warm welcome from audiences of 200-400 Sicilians even when the concerts were not advertised.
The WCU orchestra collaborated with piano soloists from Italy, Greece and the United Kingdom, and the international orchestra played the accompaniment for the Schumann Cello Concerto lead by Colin Carr, an internationally renowned cellist. For the final concert of the trip, the WCU orchestra performed the world premiere of two contemporary pieces of music written by Giuseppe Cantone and Angela Archidiacono. The students were housed by the Catania University dormitory located minutes from center city Catania and were provided with three meals a day for the duration of their stay. WCU students were also able to attend concerts and recitals by soloists and other orchestras. Students from Spain and Japan also participated in conducting the international orchestra which was lead by guest conductor Daisuke Soga of Japan director of the Osaka Symphony.
Although the music was challenging and demanding, WCU students enjoyed their free time with day trips to the city of Taormina, Agrigento (home of the Valley of Temples), and the base of Mt. Etna, the largest volcano in Europe. Maggie Dziekonski, a 19- year-old sophomore and music performance major at WCU, participated in an international string quartet with classmate Jeremy Zimmerman and students from Berlin. Ms. Dziekonski said that playing with the quartet, “made me realize that I really could just play music for the rest of my life and be happy.” Chris Gardner, a 21-yearold Music Education major at WCU made some international friends during the trip and said, “It was cool meeting people from different countries and getting their perspective on America.”
Concert Master Ayree Koh, a 24-year-old music performance major at WCU, felt that the trip was a healthy challenge musically to prepare a repertoire in such a short amount of time. “Being able to work with different conductors and musicians from different countries provided a source of motivation and inspiration for myself and for the West Chester Orchestra,” said Ayree.
The WCU students ended the trip by giving gifts to the Italian hosts at Catania University. Lufthansa Airlines provided the ride to and from Sicily, and agreed to transport all instruments free of charge, including four string basses, a tuba, a contrabassoon, and 12 cellos. Orchestra members were relieved when all instruments came through baggage check unharmed.