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Organist’s space: events, organ travels and player stories

Diary of a Page Turner | Mascioni Organ at the Portuguese Sant’ Antonio Church in Rome, Italy

Rome skyline

This post is part of a series where I share some of my world travels where my love for organs has taken me. I help friends, associates and fellow organ lovers with projects that mean I get to see new and old organs in gorgeous settings and really experiment with this instrument.

Following hard on the heels of the work in Lyon, I had to travel to Rome where an engagement to turn pages on the new Mascioni Organ at The Institute Portogese Di Sant’ Antonio in Roma (IPSAR) was scheduled in just a few days.

Arrangements had been made for my musician who was able to fly direct from Lyon to Rome, but unfortunately (with no such arrangements for me) I was left to drive the 600 or so miles taking an overnight stop in Tuscany to break the journey.

The journey from Lyon to Tuscany and then Rome…

It is said that all roads lead to Rome, perhaps indeed they do, but there is no denying that some are better than others. I chose the Via Aurelia which leaves Tuscany as a grand and well made dual carriageway but as the distance to Rome diminishes, so does the road size and quality. In the final approaches one is left with the distinct sensation of being on some rather ancient and badly maintained fairground ride. If I had been drinking Martini’s while driving…they would very definitely have be shaken, not stirred.

Rome is a magnificent city. Everybody should surely visit at least once, even if the price of ice cream, which is made nowhere better than in Italy, does occasionally make international news. For the wary driver, take note. There is a huge one way system that follows the river which must be crossed to take an opposite direction. Many roads are also extremely narrow and parking is almost nonexistent except for the occasional multi story. The drive from Lyon had taken about 10 hours, the last 3 miles to the hotel another 2. Not just due to traffic but navigation around numerous Senso Unico (one way) roads of which my SatNav was clearly unaware, demanded the skill of Bear Grylls. Having long abandoned the satellite technology I eventually relied upon a setting sun and none to good city roadmap to find the hotel.

Finally…reaching my destination…

Hungry, thirsty and tired I joined my performer who was remarkably fresh from his neat, short flight and raring to go off into the night in search of food and fun. The performers just have no idea what the assistants have to cope with! I just needed a bed.

Giampaolo Di RosaWe were met at the church by Giampaolo Di Rosa (picture left) the director of music and skilled organist. He is especially fond of improvisation and has recorded 3 CD’s in that style on the instrument in Sant’ Antonio. The concert that I was joining was one in a series that was given as part of the ‘World Organ Festival’ taking place in Rome with ancillary concerts in Portugal.

The church of Sant’ Antonio is in the high baroque style, not large perhaps seating just 300 or so. The decoration is full of colour, gold leaf and paint abound (see bottom left picture) –  no less so than on the magnificent organ case above the main door (bottom right picture).

Portuguese Church Alter backdrop

Poruguese church west end organ caseAnd then I meet the Mascioni Organ…

It has to be said that Italian pipe organs of all ages have a unique flavour quite unlike any of the instruments found in British churches. I had wondered if such a new and large instrument as the Mascioni might have allowed itself a little more freedom of expression than I had become accustomed to in Italy. The 4 manuals play 47 speaking stops are all set out on mobile terraced console.

Organ Console

A division of the organ is located above the Sacristy to the right of the alter with the rest of the organ in the west end case and on the galleries to either side. To be fair no other locations in this building were possible but the space restrictions I am sure worked against an instrument of this scale sounding at ease.

Rome in May is unbelievably hot. Despite the instrument having been tuned on the day of performance, it was clear that keeping an instrument of this size in tune in 3 locations in the building and with fluctuating temperature was a full time challenge and one the tuner would never completely win.

To pass time in the afternoon we took a trip down to the Pantheon. It is quite remarkable to visit a building of this scale that has stood as a place of worship for almost 2000 years and survives to this day largely structurally unaltered. Even more remarkable was that we got there at all. My companion instructed the taxi driver to take us to the Parthenon. I am sure that would have been equally interesting, but we had neither the time nor the fare to complete the trip and after some confusion we got to the expected destination.

The Concert we came to play for…

The concert, Widor 5 & 6 had been especially requested, was scheduled for 7.00pm. Fortunately the sting had left the temperature as by well before  7.00pm  the church was near to full. As ever my colleague provided a faultless performance with 2 encores before the audience seemed satisfied and let us depart for a nearby restaurant.

Rome was busy and beautiful. 2 days far too little time to explore a fraction of what the city has to offer. There are an abundance of churches and fine instruments which perhaps like Italian food provide a delightful light and varied palate. But if its steak and kidney that you crave, you just can not beat a beautiful English Victorian concoction.

If you are interested in my travels and organ experiences, make sure you follow the series. Similarly if you have had a great (or even a small) adventure with a historic organ and want to share it with me or my blog readers – then please feel free to comment below to let us all know about it.

Rome skyline image courtesy of: sborisov / 123RF Stock Photo

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I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.