“What did you do on your summer vacation?”
That question will be asked hundreds of times on Wednesday, as local students go back to school.
For the returning members of the Davis High School Baroque Ensemble, the answer will be, “We went to Italy! And we played music by Vivaldi and Bach in beautiful historic churches that are hundreds of years old.”
Some 45 people — including students, parents, chaperones and friends — made the trip. The tour, which took place in late June and early July, featured visits to 10 cities and five performances, including concerts in sacred spaces like the Basilica of Sant’ Andrea della Valle in Rome, which was built between 1590 and 1650.
Concerts also took place in the church of Santa Maria Maddalena, dating from 1484 in Cremona, a city that was home to many famous luthiers (makers of string instruments) with names like Guarneri and Stradaveri; the church in Venice (Santa Maria della Pietá) that is associated with the orphanage where composer Antonio Vivaldi taught music; and the Basilica di Santo Spirito, dating from 1444, where the DHS ensemble performed at the opening of a festival for youth orchestras and choirs from around the world.
A final concert took place in an outdoor amphitheatre in Palestrina, on the grounds of a museum at the birthplace of composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
The ensemble took along music that would suit these historic venues: a Double Cello Concerto by Antonio Vivaldi, featuring soloists Alex Asera and Becky Yang; the “Summer” concerto from Vivaldi’s famous set “The Four Seasons,” featuring violin soloist Jacqui Liu; and Vivaldi’s lively setting of “La Follia,” a catchy tune that has fascinated dancers (and composers) for centuries.
The ensemble also performed music by J.S. Bach — the Orchestral Suite No. 1 (BWV 1066); the Harpsichord Concerto No. 5, with soloist Ryan Hsu; and the Concerto for Two Violins, with soloists Chiara and Francesca Giordani.
Liu — a June graduate of Davis High, now bound for her freshman year at MIT — said she noticed “the architecture. Here in the United States, we don’t see a lot of pre-1500s architecture. In Italy, there were really beautiful ancient buildings, everywhere we went. I really loved it. And it was amazing, the detail that had been put into everything.
“And when we visited the orphanage where Vivaldi had worked, we were playing Vivaldi’s music. I loved that.”
Violinist J.R. Real, who will be a senior at Davis High this year, said he was particularly struck by Venice — “It has been a dream of mine to go there, and I really liked the waterways. And the city was very peaceful at night.”
He also noticed that “apparently a lot of Italians like to make spaghetti at 2 in the morning, I guess it must be a cultural thing. And when you go to a restaurant, they charged for the water by the pitcher.”
Violinist Emmett Barnes, who also is starting his senior year at DHS, agreed that “the most memorable part of the trip was performing in the incredible cathedrals. And pretty much everywhere we went was so beautiful. There was so much history.”
Barnes also was impressed by Italy’s automotive technology: “The Ferrari Museum was awesome. … I have not driven a Ferrari,” he admitted. “They had a simulator there, but we did not have enough time” to try it.
The final concert on the tour — with everyone aware that their Italian journey was coming to an end, and that it would be the final performance with the ensemble for several June graduates — was an emotional experience for all involved.
“I am incredibly proud of my students, some of whom have been in my life since seventh grade and even earlier as elementary students and who are now moving on to college,” said conductor and music teacher Angelo Moreno. “The commitment they all showed to each other over the past year since our trip was first announced has been overwhelming. This tour experience has helped us to grow musically and socially as a team far beyond my expectations.”
He added, “We give thanks to all those who have contributed to this amazing educational opportunity. We thank our families and friends for all of their support and encouragement this past year. We thank all of the parent volunteers who have supported our efforts in so many ways from fundraising, event planning, concert organizing, advocating in the community and beyond; the volunteer efforts this year have been above and beyond.
“We thank our trip chaperones who have worked tirelessly to assure that we were well-organized, safe and supported throughout our trip. We thank our trip planning committee and tour company MCI, who created an amazing once-in-a-lifetime tour experience for us,” he continued.
“We also thank our school district and community for all of their support, for attending all of our concerts and fundraising events and, more importantly, for supporting arts education in general, which has helped create a proud music program tradition that is able to offer such amazing once-in-a-lifetime student experiences.
“The amazing memories of our time together will last a lifetime,” Moreno concluded.
A four-minute video with brief highlights from the trip, including glimpses of several performances, can be found online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxWCw9XLM-Q.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.