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A Festival of Music in Florence

Eight private concerts of music associated with the city of Florence, performed in beautiful and appropriate historic buildings.

Two operas, by Jacopo Peri/Giulio Caccini and George Frideric Handel: Euridice, the earliest surviving opera, and Rodrigo, Handel’s first opera written for performance in Italy.

Musicians of the highest calibre, from Britain, Italy and Switzerland.

Professor John Bryan gives daily talks on the music, and art historians give lectures on the artistic culture of Florence.

Choose from a list of six 4-star and 5-star hotels in the centre of the city.

Free time to explore Florence, the most important city in the history of western art. Suits independent-minded travellers as well as those who like the social aspect of these events.

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Universally known as the crucible of change in the field of the visual arts, Florence also occupies a pivotal place in the history of music. From the late Middle Ages to the end of the Age of Baroque, Florence’s cultural and political prestige attracted first-rate musical talent from all over Europe, and the connoisseurship of the Tuscan aristocracy and intelligentsia spurred singers, players and composers to adventurous new heights.

The music in this festival ranges from 14th-century devotional songs to the world’s earliest surviving opera, from Renaissance madrigals to the first opera that G.F. Handel wrote in Italy. Medici patronage accounts for much of the programme, among which are the extraordinary 60-part mass written in 1566 by Alessandro Striggio, the most ambitious piece of music of its time.

The musicians we have selected are among the leading specialists in their genre. They come from Britain, Italy and Switzerland. Venues range from Brunelleschi’s Basilica of San Lorenzo to a Baroque private palace, from Santi Apostoli (the ‘Old Cathedral’) to the Villa Artimino.

The performances are private, being exclusive to the approximately 200 participants who take a package which includes accommodation (from a choice of six hotels), flights from/to London (you can opt out of these), airport transfers, daily lectures, one lunch and three dinners, interval drinks and much else besides. There is also the opportunity of joining a pre-festival tour, Florence: Cradle of the Renaissance or a post-festival tour, Florence & Venice.


The Festival Package

Access to the concerts is exclusive to those who take the festival package, the price for which includes: 

Eight concerts, including two operas (unstaged). Tickets to individual events will not be available.

Accommodation for five nights in one of six carefully selected 4-star or 5-star hotels within the historic centre of Florence.

Flights between the UK and Italy (Pisa and Florence), from London Heathrow, Gatwick and City airports. There is a price reduction if you choose to make your own arrangements.

Coach transfers between the selected Italian airports and the hotels. If you book your own flights, you can join these transfers if your flights coincide with one of the festival flight options.

Meals: breakfasts, one lunch and three dinners with wine, water, coffee. Drinks are provided during concert intervals.

Lectures on the music by Professor John Bryan.

Lectures on the art history of Florence by Dr Michael Douglas-Scott and Dr Antonia Whitley.

All tips for restaurant staff, drivers, porters etc.

All taxes and obligatory charges.

Festival staff who will be present to facilitate the smooth running of the event. All speak Italian.

Programme booklet: every participant is issued with a booklet which contains information about the itinerary, the concerts and operas and all the practical arrangements.  

In addition, there are extra services which can be booked:

The option of arriving a day early.

A package of two extra dinners, which means each evening is spent in the company of other festival participants (price: £140).

A range of visits and short walks led by art historians and appropriate experts (details and prices available at a later stage).

The opportunity of joining a pre-festival tour, Florence, or a post-festival tour, Florence & Venice.

The Concerts

Palazzo Davanzati
Everyday Life in 14th-Century Music

Modo Antiquo | Bettina Hoffmann director
Nicki Kennedy soprano
Elena Cecchi Fedi soprano

Not all mediaeval music was sacred or civic. Composers also wrote about daily life – about deer hunting, swimming in the river, lasagne recipes. The authors of these popular songs eschewed poetic language in favour of simple tales told in the first person – a woman singing at a well, a trader in the market, a girl picking flowers. The mood sounds as cheerful today as when these works were first heard.

The only Baroque ensemble with two Grammy nominations, Modo Antiquo is one of the finest early music groups on the international scene. It was founded by conductor, composer, flautist and musicologist Federico Maria Sardelli. The ensemble is directed for this concert by Bettina Hoffmann, violist, cellist and musicologist specialising in the performance of early music. She has also edited the critical editions of the sonatas for cello by Vivaldi and Gabrieli.

The Palazzo Davanzati was built in the second half of the 14th century and was owned by a succession of wealthy wool merchant families. From the end of the 19th century it housed the collection of an antique dealer; house and contents were purchased by the state in 1951. Beautifully restored, it uniquely preserves the appearance of a fully furnished and lavishly decorated mediaeval town house.


Chiesa di Santi Apostoli
Godi Firenze

Sollazzo Ensemble | Anna Danilevskaia director

Florence in the late Middle Ages was a hotbed of artistic innovation: while Boccaccio was creating his poetry, musicians known to us only by their first names (Paolo, Lorenzo and Andrea all proudly designated themselves simply as ‘da Firenze’) were writing colourful songs celebrating their city, recounting scenes of daily life and portraying love in all its many manifestations. The programme also features songs by Francesco Landini, the blind Florentine organist and composer whose softly lyrical music was said to charm even the birds.

Florence attracted some of the greatest of European musicians. Guillaume Dufay was one, who created the motet Nuper rosarum flores for the dedication of Santa Maria del Fiore in 1436;
the piece has the same mathematical proportions as the cathedral’s architecture.

Sollazzo Ensemble was founded in 2014 in Basel, where its members were studying at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. At the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition in 2015 they won both the overall prize, awarded by a panel of eminent early music performers, and the Friends of York Early Music Festival Prize, their highly energetic and communicative style of performance winning the hearts of the festival audience. They also won the Cambridge Early Music Prize in 2015.

Santi Apostoli, sometimes known as ‘Il Vecchio Duomo’, is one of the most important mediaeval buildings in Florence. Dating to the end of the 11th century, its procession of Corinthian columns epitomises the classical revival of the Romanesque era and the noble simplicity of the architecture creates an appropriately devout atmosphere.


Palazzo Corsini

Euridice – the first opera
Jacopo Peri, Giulio Caccini, Lorenzo Allegri

Modo Antiquo | Federico Maria Sardelli director
Roberta Mameli soprano
Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani tenor

The concept of ‘drama in music’ was hatched by a group of humanist intellectuals, philosophers, historians and musicians meeting in Florence at the house of Count Bardi in the 1570s.
Their plans came to fruition in 1600 when Jacopo Peri’s opera Euridice was performed as part of the wedding celebrations for Maria de’ Medici and Henri IV of France, in the Pitti Palace.

Modo Antiquo aims to recapture the excitement of this first performance of the Orpheus myth in opera, adding some lively dance music by the Medici court lutenist Lorenzo Allegri and pieces by Giulio Caccini, an operatic rival of Peri. Since Caccini’s daughter sang the role of Euridice in the première, her father insisted on writing his own music for her. This is a fascinating opportunity to hear the two composers’ music side by side in a concert programme.

Federico Maria Sardelli directs his outstanding Florentine Baroque ensemble Modo Antiquo. In 2009 he was awarded the highest medal of honour for the Region of Tuscany, the Gonfalone d’Argento.


Villa Medicea, Artimino
Madrigals for the Medici & Inventing Bel Canto

These concerts are intended to evoke some of the joys of villa life from the end of the Middle Ages to recent times. The notion of life in the country as an idyllic retreat from the cares and conflicts of the city was very much an invention of the Italian Renaissance. Agricultural and horticultural activities played a role, hunting and feasting were indispensable in some households, but it was cultural and intellectual pursuits, music above all, which made the villa such an important part of the civilization of the Renaissance. The Medici were in the forefront of the fashion, and the Villa Medicea at Artimino (built 1594–98 by Bernardo Buontalenti) is one of dozens of such establishments owned by the family.

The Villa Medicea ‘La Ferdinanda’ at Artimino was built 1594–98 by Bernardo Buontalenti as a hunting lodge for Grand Duke Ferdinando I. The quintessential Renaissance man, Buontalenti was employed by the Medici throughout his career as a portraitist, stage designer, sculptor, military engineer and garden designer. The forest of chimneys here is a characteristically Mannerist effect, but its essential simplicity, inside and out, is typical of Tuscan rural retreats for nearly 200 years either side of this villa.

There is also lunch and the opportunity to walk in the grounds.


Part 1: Madrigals for the Medici
I Fagiolini | Robert Hollingworth director

No great occasion at the Medici court was complete without music. Medici weddings in particular inspired lavish celebrations that usually included madrigals praising the bride and groom. I Fagiolini, expert performers of this repertory, present exquisite madrigals by court composers such as Striggio, Marenzio, Malvezzi and Cavalieri.

Far from the pastoral idiom admired elsewhere, the Italian madrigal developed into a vehicle for the portrayal of the most intense emotions. No composer captured these more dramatically than Claudio Monteverdi, whose seventh book was dedicated to Caterina de’ Medici, from which I Fagiolini perform some teasing duets and the ballo ‘Tirsi e Clori’.

Grounded in the classics of Renaissance and 20th-century vocal repertoire, I Fagiolini is internationally renowned for its innovative and often staged productions of this music. Their most recent immersive theatre project, Betrayal: a polyphonic crime drama, based on the music of Carlo Gesulado, premièred at the Barbican in May 2015. They celebrate Monteverdi’s 2017 anniversary with two new vespers projects, Monteverdi on the Move and 1640 Vespers. I Fagiolini is directed by Robert Hollingworth.


Part 2: Inventing Bel Canto
Theatre of the Ayre | Elizabeth Kenny director

Theatre of the Ayre explore the origins of Bel Canto singing in the works of Giulio Caccini and his daughter Francesca, stars of the Florentine court. Giulio became known for promoting the secrets of ‘passionate singing’ with his ground-breaking Le Nuove Musiche of 1602. Sigismondo d’India produced several books of madrigals and classical legends which are bold, radical and full of harmonic twists and turns. Ottavio Rinuccini was the poetic genius who provided the words for many of these expressions of passion, and Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido captured the collective imagination in the 1580s and resonates through musical settings for decades thereafter.

Elizabeth Kenny is one of Europe’s leading lute players, and is in demand equally for solo, chamber and opera house assignments. Theatre of the Ayre is her platform for bringing dramatically minded singers and players together to create inspirational programmes of 17th-century music.


Basilica of San Lorenzo
Four centuries of organ music
From the Renaissance to the Risorgimento

Gabriele Giacomelli

The Basilica of San Lorenzo has two organs of historic importance. The earlier one dates from 1773 but contains a significant number of older pipes, including some from the 15th century. The Fratelli Serassi organ, of 1864, has three manuals and over 60 stops, offering a colourful orchestral tonal palette. Its construction was funded by the Savoy government and it was donated to the city of Florence when it became capital of the recently united Kingdom of Italy.

In this recital the principal organist of the Basilica puts both historic organs through their paces in music ranging from late Renaissance masters working in Florence, through to romantic works that include a rare organ piece by the opera composer Bellini that survives in manuscript in Florence’s Conservatorio Cherubini.

Gabriele Giacomelli is an Italian organist and musicologist and is author of three books about the organs and sacred music of Tuscany. He is supervisor of the Italian Ministry of Culture for the restoration of the ancient organs of Florence.

The Basilica of San Lorenzo was the parish church and burial place of the Medici, and their patronage created the most important Renaissance church in Florence, architecturally and artistically. Brunelleschi was the architect, beginning with the Old Sacristy in 1420 and continuing with comprehensive rebuilding from 1440. There are works of art here by many of the finest early Renaissance sculptors and painters.


Teatro Niccolini
Rodrigo, or Vincer se stesso è la maggior vittoria
Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel

La Nuova Musica | David Bates director

This semi-staged performance of Handel’s Rodrigo constitutes a striking musical event, for it takes place in the very theatre where the opera received its première. This was in 1707, during Handel’s three-year sojourn in Italy, and the venue is the exquisite Teatro Niccolini (then called del Cocomero). The dedicatee was none other than Ferdinando de’ Medici, heir presumptive of the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Dealing with the historical last king of Visigothic Spain, the opera was the first Handel wrote in Italy and displays his ambition to master the newest styles and to equal or outdo native composers.

Built in 1652 and refurbished in 1830, the Teatro Niccolini has just emerged from a 20-year restoration campaign. It is the only surviving theatre associated with a Handelian first night,
and it is likely that Rodrigo has not been performed there since the first production.

La Nuova Musica was founded by its artistic director David Bates in 2007 with the aim of bringing the highest standards of musical performance of 17th- and 18th-century repertoire to as wide an audience as possible. The energy that the Baroque demands of its performers is LNM’s most potent tool in striving to move audiences. Hailed by BBC Radio 3 as ‘one of the most exciting consorts in the early music field’ they have presented operatic and concert repertoire throughout the UK. This will be their second MRT festival.

At the time of publication, the Teatro Niccolini had not been confirmed. There is a chance therefore that this concert may be in another venue.


Basilica of San Lorenzo
The Mass that would be King

I Fagiolini & The 24 | Robert Hollingworth director

Mantua-born diplomat and composer Alessandro Striggio moved to Florence as a young man to work for the Medici. By 1566 he had written a mass designed to display the Medici Duke Cosimo’s enormous wealth and power to finest effect. The largest work of its time (it includes a 60-voice setting of the Agnus Dei), the Missa Ecco sì beato giorno was intended to persuade the Holy Roman Emperor that the scion of a Florentine banking dynasty warranted the title of king. Lost in the intervening centuries, the mass received its first modern performance at the BBC proms in 2007 and the first recording – with I Fagiolini – was released in 2011.

Striggio travelled through the Alps in winter to Vienna to deliver the mass, but while this sumptuous gift failed to convince the Emperor, a performance a few months later in London is thought to have inspired Thomas Tallis’s monumental work, Spem in Alium, which is also performed this evening.

I Fagiolini’s name has been misspelt and mispronounced in many countries across the world. Neither fault occurs in Italy, but the opportunity to do so is rare as the name militates against their being taken seriously, ‘beans’ being an ironic dig at the Early Music movement. For this concert I Fagiolini is joined by members of The 24, the University of York’s flagship chamber choir which has been conducted by Robert Hollingworth since 2013. They have appeared on Radio 3 and were also in residence at the Association of British Choral directors.

As the Medici church, and as a composite masterwork of the Renaissance, San Lorenzo is the ideal venue for Striggio’s great mass.


More about the concerts

Exclusive access. The concerts are private, being planned, promoted and administered by Martin Randall Travel exclusively for an audience consisting of those who have taken the full festival package. 

Seating. Specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want. 

Comfort. Seats in some venues are church pews; consider bringing a cushion. Heating in churches is sometimes inadequate; expect to wear a warm coat during those concerts.

Concert times. Three of the six venues are too small to accommodate all 200-odd participants and so these concerts
are repeated.

Staging. Productions vary from concert versions to animated or semi-staged productions with costumes and props, but for none will there be scenery or sophisticated lighting.

Changes. Musicians fall ill, venues close for repair, airlines alter schedules: there are many possible unpredictable circumstances which could necessitate programme changes. We ask you to be understanding should they occur.


The Speaker

John Bryan is Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, and a member of the Rose Consort of Viols and of Musica Antiqua, with whom he has toured and recorded extensively. He is artistic adviser to York Early Music Festival and a regular contributor on BBC Radio 3. His articles on Renaissance and early Baroque music have been published in journals such as Early Music and The Journal of Musicology, and he is in demand as a tutor on courses such as Dartington International Summer School.


Walks & visits

Participants will be able to choose from a small selection of walks and visits, all of which are led by one of our lecturers with a deep knowledge of the city – full information about these and prices will be sent to all those booked at a later stage. There will also be optional lectures on the art history of Florence, which do not need to be booked in advance.


Dr Michael Douglas-Scott. Associate Lecturer in History of Art at Birkbeck College, specialising in 16th-century Italian art and architecture. He studied at the Courtauld and lived in Rome for several years. He has written articles for Arte Veneta, Burlington Magazine and the Journal of the Warburg & Courtauld Institutes.

Dr Antonia Whitley. Art historian and lecturer specialising in the Italian Renaissance, though her interests also include paintings of World War One. She obtained her PhD from the Warburg Institute, University of London, on Sienese society in the 15th century, and has published articles on related topics. She has lectured for the National Gallery and has taught in the War Studies department of King’s College, London. She organises adult education study sessions and has led many tours in Italy.

Travelling to Florence

Flights from London to Italy (Pisa or Florence) are included in the price of the festival. You can choose to join one of these or make your own flight arrangements (in which case there is a reduction in the price). Flights from City and Heathrow are with British Airways, and flights from Gatwick are with Vueling.

Regional airports

We are happy to quote for connecting flights from regional airports.

Arrive a day early

We offer a package for those wishing to arrive on 12th March (a day early) in the hotel of your choice.  

Festival flights

Arriving 12th March, leaving 18th:

Option 1. 12th March: depart Heathrow 11.05, arrive Pisa Galileo Galilei 14.20 (BA 604). 18th March: depart Pisa 15.10, arrive Heathrow 16.30 (BA 605).

Option 2. 12th March: depart Gatwick 16.05, arrive Florence Peretola 19.15 (VY 6205). 18th March: depart Florence 14.00, arrive Gatwick 15.20 (VY 6206).

Option 3. 12th March: depart City 16.15, arrive Florence Peretola 19.20 (BA 3279). 18th March: depart Florence 11.00, arrive City 12.10 (BA 3280).

Arriving 13th March, leaving 18th:

Option 4. 13th March: depart Heathrow 11.05, arrive Pisa Galileo Galilei 14.20 (BA 604). 18th March: depart Pisa 15.10, arrive Heathrow 16.30 (BA 605).

Option 5. 13th March: depart City 11.15, arrive Florence Peretola 14.20 (BA 3279). 18th March: depart Florence 11.00, arrive City 12.10 (BA 3280).

Option 6. 13th March: depart Gatwick 16.05, arrive Florence Peretola 19.15 (VY 6205). 18th March: depart Florence 14.00, arrive Gatwick 15.20 (VY 6206). Please note that those taking this flight option will miss the welcome drink on Day 1.

If joining a pre- or post-festival tour

These have separate flight arrangements. You do not need to choose a festival option.

The ‘no-flights’ option

There is a reduction of £130 per person for the package without flights.

Should you decide to join the festival at either Pisa or Florence airport to coincide with one of our flight arrivals, you are welcome to join a coach transfer to your hotel. Otherwise you would have to make your own way to your hotel.


Hotels & Prices

We have selected six hotels for this festival. All are 4- or 5-star. The hotel is the sole determinant of the different prices for the festival package.

Quiet? There are traffic restrictions in the historical centre of Florence limiting the sound of wheeled traffic. But busy street life and the occasional permitted vehicle can mean that few hotels can be guaranteed to be absolutely quiet.

Luggage. Traffic restrictions also apply to coaches and there is a possibility therefore that you will have to carry your own luggage from a nearby set-down point to the hotel. Suitcases with wheels are advised.

Rooms vary. As is inevitable in historic buildings, rooms vary in size and outlook.

Suites and rooms with views. Some hotels have suites and one has rooms with views over the River Arno. All are subject to availability at the time of booking. Prices are either given here or are available on request.

All prices given are per person.

Arriving a day early. Prices are also given for arriving in your chosen hotel the day before the festival starts – separate flight options are available (see above). There is a reduction of £130 if you choose not to take one of the festival flight options.


Hotel Balestri

This peaceful 4-star hotel is situated a few minutes’ walk from the Ponte Vecchio away from the city centre, with the Arno embankment on one side and a narrow road barred to nearly
all traffic on the other. The hotel re-opened in January 2015 after extensive refurbishment, but has been a hotel since the 17th century. It is comfortably furnished in attractive, contemporary style. There is no restaurant. Some rooms have views over the River Arno.

Arriving 12th March:
Superior double £3,060
or for single use £3,330

Arriving 13th March:
Superior double £2,930
or for single use £3,150


Hotel Bernini Palace

An elegant 5-star hotel in a 15th-century palace, behind Piazza della Signoria and overlooking the Palazzo Vecchio. Rooms are elegantly and individually furnished in Florentine style with period furniture and unique touches; most were refurbished in 2015. Most rooms have a bath with a shower fitment. Public areas are welcoming and service is excellent. There is a good restaurant.  

Arriving 12th March:
Classic double £3,720
or for single use £4,240

Arriving 13th March:
Classic double £3,530
or for single use £3,950


Hotel L’Orologio

A comfortable 4-star hotel excellently located in Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The owner is a collector of vintage watches and the hotel is subtly decorated with this theme. Décor is tasteful and stylish, a mixture of contemporary and classic. The level of care is excellent. Some rooms have a bath with a shower fitment; some have only a shower. There is no restaurant but plenty of good dining opportunities nearby. The breakfast room is in the former loggia on the top floor with fantastic views over Santa Maria Novella.

Arriving 12th March:
Superior double £3,270
or for single use £3,550

Arriving 13th March:
Superior double £3,120
or for single use £3,350


Hotel Santa Maria Novella

A delightful 4-star hotel overlooking the piazza and basilica by the same name. Rooms are light and colourful and stylishly decorated with the traditional colours of the city. Some have views of the piazza. Most rooms have a bath with a shower fitment; others have only a shower. There is no restaurant but plenty of good dining opportunities nearby. There is a rooftop terrace bar with wonderful views over the city.  

Arriving 12th March:
Superior double £3,330
or for single use £3,610

Arriving 13th March:
Superior double £3,180
or for single use £3,410


Hotel Brunelleschi

Neatly tucked in a narrow street moments away from Brunelleschi’s dome, this luxurious boutique hotel inhabits a 6th-century tower and mediaeval church. Renovations have sensitively incorporated elements of the historical architecture while rooms are fully modernised with a contemporary and elegant décor. Some rooms only have showers, but the higher categories also have baths. The hotel has two well reputed restaurants. Although the standard is higher than that of most 4-stars, for regulatory reasons it has chosen not to accept a fifth. More suites are available on request.  

Arriving 12th March:
Classic double £3,870
or for single use £4,460
Junior Suite (2 sharing) £4,660

Arriving 13th March:
Classic double £3,680
or for single use £4,170
Junior Suite (two sharing) £4,320


Hotel Bernini Palace

An elegant 5-star hotel in a 15th-century palace, behind Piazza della Signoria and overlooking the Palazzo Vecchio. Rooms are elegantly and individually furnished in Florentine style with period furniture and unique touches; most were refurbished in 2015. Most rooms have a bath with a shower fitment. Public areas are welcoming and service is excellent. There is a good restaurant.  

Arriving 12th March:
Classic double £3,720
or for single use £4,240

Arriving 13th March:
Classic double £3,530
or for single use £3,950


Hotel Savoy

A member of the Rocco-Forte collection, the 5-star Hotel Savoy is located centrally in the prestigious Piazza della Repubblica, a short walk from the Uffizi and the Duomo. Stylish contemporary décor in neutral tones is enhanced with the distinctly personal touches of its designer, Olga Polizzi. There is a small but sophisticated restaurant and a gym. Some rooms overlook the piazza and most have baths with shower fitments. More suites are available on request.  

Arriving 12th March:
Classic double £4,340
or for single use £5,020
Classic Suite (2 sharing) £5,040

Arriving 13th March:
Classic double £4,130
or for single use £4,690
Classic Suite (2 sharing) £4,710


Fitness for the festival

We must stress that it is essential to cope with the walking and stair-climbing required to get to the concerts and other events. You should be able to walk unaided for at least 30 minutes. Florence streets are often roughly paved and sometimes narrow. Festival staff will not have the resources to assist individuals with walking difficulties.

There is no age limit for this festival or for the pre-festival tours but we do ask that prospective participants assess their fitness by trying some simple exercises described here:

Self-assessment tests

  1. Chair stands. Sit in a dining chair, with arms folded and hands on opposite shoulders. Stand up and sit down at least 8 times in 30 seconds.

  2. Step test. Mark a wall at a height that is halfway between your knee and your hip bone. Raise each knee in turn to the mark at least 60 times in 2 minutes.

  3. Agility test. Place an object 3 yards from the edge of a chair, sit, and record the time it takes to stand up, walk to the object and sit back down.
You should be able to do this in under 7 seconds.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.

Map: Florence.

‘The most magnificent performances of Renaissance music one could wish to hear and in most appropriate settings.’

‘All the concerts were very good, but the highlight was the performance by I Fagiolini in Basilica of San Lorenzo. It is the nearest that I shall ever be to hearing choirs of heavenly angels.’