This latest addition to our selection of music tours has a particularly poignant and inspiring history. During the Second World War, the hilltop estate of La Foce, in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany, was the home of English-born writer Iris Origo and her Italian husband Antonio. As the fighting drew closer they gave shelter to refugee children and fugitive Allied soldiers, a story told in her memoir War in Val d’Orcia. In 1988, the year of her death, her grandson – renowned cellist Antonio Lysy – inaugurated a chamber music festival in honour of his grandparents’ brave and humanitarian actions.
Over the decades, the event has evolved into one of Italy’s most alluring summer music festivals, characterised by beautiful and varied settings across southern Tuscany (gardens, courtyards, theatres and churches), the highest standards of performance and an imaginative musical programme. The word ‘Incontri’ means ‘Encounters’, and this festival is truly a meeting of minds, souls and musical tastes.
Among the high-calibre performers assembled by artistic director Alessio Bax for the thirtieth anniversary of the festival are Antonio Lysy; tenor Ian Bostridge; flautist Emmanuel Pahud; violinist and Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Daishin Kashimoto; and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. Musical highlights include an evening of Schubert (with Ian Bostridge); Tuscan-born Ferruccio Busoni’s masterful violin sonata no. 2, performed by Kashimoto with Bax on piano; and a delightful final evening of duo sonatas for violin, cello, flute and piano, notably Debussy’s Sonata for cello and piano in D minor. The venues include La Foce itself, as well as exquisitely restored theatres in Città della Pieve and Sarteano.
All six nights are based in the small hill town of Pienza. It was the birthplace of Pope Pius II, humanist, historian, traveller, autobiographer and patron of architecture. He commenced the rebuilding of his hometown, and consequently Pienza entered the annals of architectural history as the earliest example of Renaissance town planning.
Away from the concerts we also explore the best of the Val d’Orcia on a series of excursions, which include glorious, pedestrian-friendly Montepulciano; Città della Pieve (home to Raphael’s teacher, Pietro Perugino); the walled town of San Quirico d’Orcia; and, of course, Siena, with its magnificent square and cathedral.
Fly at c. 8.30am from London Heathrow to Pisa (British Airways). Drive to Pienza.
Pienza, Città della Pieve. In the morning, a leisurely exploration of the tiny hill town. The cathedral and palaces grouped around the main piazza were designed by Bernardo Rossellino in collaboration with his papal patron. Early evening excursion to Città della Pieve to see Perugino’s ‘Adoration of the Magi’. Recital here at the Teatro degli Avvaloranti with Ian Bostridge (tenor), Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Alessio Bax (piano), Lucille Chung (piano), Daishin Kashimoto (violin), Annabelle Meare (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Christian Poltéra (cello), Emmanuel Pahud (flute): Poulenc, sonata for flute and piano FP 164; Debussy, ‘Syrinx’ for solo flute; Debussy, violin sonata in G minor; Ravel, ‘Chansons Madécasses’; Dohnányi, piano quintet no. 2 in E-flat minor.
San Quirico d’Orcia, Bagno Vignoni, Sarteano. Drive to the little walled town of San Quirico d’Orcia. Visit the Collegiata with its splendid portals and the Horti Leonini, public gardens dating to the 17th century. Bagno Vignoni has a central square occupied by an arcaded Renaissance piscina. Evening concert at the Teatro degli Arrischianti, Sarteano, with Ian Bostridge, Leif Ove Andsnes, Alessio Bax, Daishin Kashimoto, Annabelle Meare, Lawrence Power, Lise Berthaud (viola), Antonio Lysy (cello), Christian Poltéra: Nielsen, chaconne for piano op. 32; a selection of works for piano by Sibelius; Vaughan Williams, ‘On Wenlock Edge’; Brahms, string sextet no. 1 in B-flat major.
Montepulciano, La Foce. The morning is free in Pienza. In the afternoon, drive to Montepulciano. The main thoroughfare, lined with grand palaces, winds circuitously through this once important city, with the Piazza Grande at the summit. Outside the town, the centrally planned church of San Biagio by Antonio da Sangallo is one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance. Continue to La Foce for a gala dinner in the garden. Evening ‘Schubertiade’ in the courtyard of La Foce, with Ian Bostridge, Leif Ove Andsnes, Alessio Bax, Esther Hoppe (violin), Daishin Kashimoto, Lawrence Power, Antonio Lysy, Christian Poltéra: ‘Andantino Varié’ for piano op. 84; ‘Auf dem Strom’; selection from ‘Schwanengesang’ – ‘Liebesbotschaft’, ‘Kriegers Ahnung’, ‘Ständchen’, ‘In die Ferne’, ‘Abschied’; string quintet in C major op. 163.
Montalcino, Montefollonico. Once an impregnable fortress and now centre of Brunello wines, Montalcino is a walled hilltop village with magnificent views and a collection of Sienese painting in the museum. Wine tasting and lunch here. Evening concert at the Chiesa del Triano, Montefollonico, with Nabil Shehata (conductor), Alessio Bax, Maja Avramović (violin), Esther Hoppe, Daishin Kashimoto, Annabelle Meare, Lise Berthaud, Lawrence Power, Antonio Lysy, Christian Poltéra, Emmanuel Pahud: J.S. Bach, partita for flute in A minor; Busoni, sonata for violin and piano no. 2; Giovanni Bottesini, ‘Gran Duo Concertante’ for violin, double bass and string quartet; Richard Strauss, ‘Metamorphosen’.
La Foce, Castiglioncello del Trinoro. Villa La Foce, former home of Iris Origo, has a wonderful garden designed in several stages by Cecil Pinsent. Private tour with Benedetta Origo, Iris’s daughter, followed by lunch. Evening concert at the Chiesa di Sant’Andrea, Castiglioncello del Trinoro, with Alessio Bax, Lucille Chung, Antonio Lysy, Daishin Kashimoto, Emmanuel Pahud: duo sonata programme to include Debussy, Cello Sonata No. 1 in D major.
Siena. Siena is the largest of the hilltop towns of Tuscany. The cathedral museum contains Duccio’s ‘Maestà’, perhaps the finest of all mediaeval altarpieces. The cathedral itself is an imposing Romanesque and Gothic construction of white and green marble with outstanding Renaissance sculpture and painting. Drive to Pisa airport and fly to London Gatwick, arriving c. 8.30pm. Please note this tour departs from Heathrow and returns to Gatwick.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,860 or £2,630 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,050 or £2,820 without flights.
5 concert tickets (worth c. £120), flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 321); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 3 lunches and 5 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturers.
Relais Il Chiostro, Pienza: 4-star former friary dating to the 15th century close to the main square. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking on this tour, much of it on roughly paved and often steep streets and in hot weather conditions. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. There are late nights throughout the tour, but most mornings start at 10.00 or 10.30am. Average distance by coach per day: c. 65 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.