This July, Coregami is honored to provide apparel for the legendary Incontri in Terra di Siena chamber music festival in Italy (for which our very own Alessio Bax serves as artistic director!). The festival is the pride and joy of cellist Antonio Lysy, who spoke to Coregami last week to give us the inside scoop on this exemplary triumph of music and culture, held annually in the Val d'Orcia since 1988.
Born in Rome to an Argentinian father (legendary violinist Alberto Lysy) and an Italian mother, Antonio Lysy is truly a musician without borders. “My roots are all over the world,” he said. Lysy even recently learned he has family in central Ukraine and is working to aid them during the current crisis.
Nearly every aspect of Lysy’s life, too, has been lived across borders. He attended university in England, where he met and married a Northern Irish violinist (Margaret Flanagan), and has since lived, taught, and performed around the world, from Switzerland to Canada. He taught in the latter nation for over a dozen years, at McGill University in Montreal. In 2003, Lysy moved to California, where he currently lives with his wife and three children and works as the head of the UCLA music program, among other endeavors.
Lysy has performed with groups across the globe, from the Royal Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras of London to the Camerata Academica of Salzburg, the Zurich Tonhalle, Zagreb Soloists, Orchestra di Padova e il Veneto, Israel Sinfonietta, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. His work has won numerous awards, including a Latin Grammy in 2010.
But Incontri in Terra di Siena is no flashy international spectacle. It’s an intimate, close-knit celebration of the joys of chamber music, and it always has been.
Lysy began the festival back in 1988, fresh out of college, with a group of friends. “It started informally,” he said. It was just a way for us all to get together and perform and celebrate chamber music. It was like a working holiday. Everyone would bring their families, we’d all spend time together and play.” From there, the festival grew exponentially, attracting visitors from across the globe, such as Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola and three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn (both of whom spoke at Incontri in 2020).
The festival takes place in the historic Villa La Foce, originally owned by Lysy’s grandparents, Antonio and Iris Origo. A popular tourist site (single-handedly credited with the “revival of the Tuscan countryside” by Forbes), La Foce was recently featured on the award-winning television series Succession, among other prominent works of film and television.
Iris Origo was a famous Irish-American writer, known for her war memoir War in Val d'Orcia (1947) among over a dozen other works. Perhaps even more than her writing, Origo was celebrated for her defiance in the face of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during the Second World War. She and Antonio sheltered child refugees and aided escaped Allied prisoners of war and partisans, even though the Nazis took control of La Foce to use it as their regional headquarters. Even before the war, the Origos were avid philanthropists, having built a school for local children, roads, irrigation canals, and other infrastructure in the area.
On that note, Lysy says that the festival isn’t just about celebrating chamber music, local culture, and cuisine. It’s also about continuing his grandparents’ legacy of giving back.
The festival is supported by both a nonprofit in Italy and a U.S. affiliate, Friends of Incontri in Terra di Siena, Inc. This year, he’s attempting to connect Incontri to a charity composed of musicians working to aid Ukrainian musicians (HelpMusiciansUkraine.com). “We’re going to try to put something out on our website and at the concerts,” he said, “to talk about the cause and allow our community to donate. We want to do this in a way that’s meaningful, sufficient, and sustainable.”
In the 30+ years since 1988, of course, the world has changed. Incontri is no longer the only festival under the Tuscan sun. “The press started saying ‘What can you do that’s different? You have to be talked about!’ and so on, and I’m thinking, ‘Well, what do you want us to do… Play naked?” Lysy said, laughing. This pressure eventually led him to bring in a guest “artistic director” each year. Alessio Bax is now the third visiting artistic director at Incontri, and has served in the role for five years.
As artistic director, Bax is in charge of building a program for the 10-day festival, which includes around half a dozen concerts. This year, the lineup includes the world-famous quintet Les Vents Français, along with several prominent soloists, such as violinist James Ehnes and bassoonist Gilbert Audin, as well as both Bax and Lysy. The concerts will take place both in and around La Foce and in other nearby venues, such as Teatro Verdi in Florence and Teatro degli Avvaloranti in Città della Pieve.
Bax’s job is no token role. Lysy believes that crafting the schedule and the artist lineup is the make-or-break point for Incontri each year (and for any festival, for that matter). “You have to be a really great matchmaker to put the right people together,” he said. “It’s not so different from preparing a multiple-course meal, pairing various dishes. It’s chamber music, we’re playing together, so it just takes one person who doesn’t quite fit with the rest to throw the whole thing off-balance… It’s very difficult to craft that program.”
(On a culinary note, the festival also hosts several dinners, wine tastings, olive oil samplings, and other gatherings outside of the performances themselves.)
Despite all the pressures of a changing world, the festival remarkably has been plugging steadily along since 1988, never missing a single year, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was particularly disastrous in Italy. Even in 2020, Incontri soldiered on, holding two live concerts with social distancing protocols, with the rest of the performances live-streamed digitally.
This year, Lysy decided to add a literary component to the festival, “Parlando.” As part of Parlando, a guest writer (for this inaugural year, Louis de Bernières), is invited to experience the festival. Bernières, the renowned British author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, will then draft an article, journal, essay, poetry, commentaries, or other written piece related to music and the Incontri experience. Lysy plans for Parlando to become a regular addition to the festival, with a different writer-in-residence each year.
While on paper Incontri might sound like an exclusive, upper-class event, Lysy is committed to changing that impression. “There’s this misconception about classical music, chamber music, that it’s a snobby, intellectual thing,” Lysy said. “People think, ‘Oh you have to be able to understand the music.’ No, we want to make it accessible to everyone.”
Incontri in Terra di Siena's ticket prices reflect that inclusiveness. Individual concerts are only €35 (€10 for those under 25 years old) and full-length festival tickets are €170. The festival runs from July 21 to 29 this year, and if you attend, you’ll be able to see the musicians performing in Coregami apparel!
Readers can purchase tickets for Incontri in Sienna di Terra HERE.