It must easily be the rainiest days Florence has seen in a while but the two of us are here for a single weekend, no longer, and therefore the city needs to be discovered quickly. The first evening is spent entirely with wonderful Tuscan food but for the second we plan something else. Flyers in English on posts on the cobbled streets advertise a classic string concert tonight by the Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina at Auditorium di Santo Stefano and we decide to go should we find the location – it is meant to be one of the oldest churches in Florence. Neither of us can speak Italian but we understand enough to know that the Florence Chamber Orchestra is performing tonight at St. Stephen Auditorium. Classical music is wonderfully universal, the listed titles announced from Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi are timeless and do not contain any singing and we identify strongly with the flyer’s statement: “Without music, life would be a mistake”.
For a minute the idea pops up of seeing Italian opera instead (as we are in Italy) but we do not pass any theatres or at least we don’t see any.
We do not see the prices for ice cream on the Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge) either, having been distracted by the only five minutes of sunshine we will get that day, and so get stung badly, paying 20 Euro for two cones of two scoops of gelato. For this very reason we decide for the cheapest seats for the concert when we find the venue – it is no more than five minutes away from Florence’s most famous bridge and as most things in Florence best to be reached by foot.
When we arrive for the actual concert later in the evening we are part of an international audience and what seems to be a mix of tourists and music teachers. No one is seriously dressed up and neither are we with our tired feet. I am also sure that everyone at least got soaked once today, some people still wear rain ponchos and do not hide their guide books on Florence in their local language. And that is fine. If I was a tourist back in London, not speaking the language, I would probably check first if Cirque du Soleil was in town, then Stomp or a mime show and then afterwards would look into seeing a ballet somewhere. But then I have never been in that situation back in London.
The concert tonight is just over an hour and that is exactly the right length after a full, long day of rubbernecking and wondering, being busy taking photos and buying fridge magnets, astonished and full of admiration – all of it while almost permanent walking. My eyes would not be able to follow much action on stage tonight but they still hypnotised follow the violin bows on the Flight of the Bumblebee and when the Four Seasons are being played. We have heard these masterpieces in advertising for beer, lottery tickets and in waiting queues over the phone hundreds of times but in privileged situations like this I am reminded why the English language differentiates wisely between the verbs “to hear” and “to listen to”.
Listening to an actual harpsichord (or cembalo) is a rare treat as well and the only reason I regret not sitting closer to the stage – I’d loved to see it being played but the sound is wonderful even at the back and therefore I don’t feel bad about closing my eyes. There is so much you can see in Florence on a single day! I summarize the haunting pictures in the Boris Zabarov exhibition and Dante’s picture in the Duomo cathedral. On a rainy day there was no point going up the dome for the view (tickets were sold out anyway) but we admired the murals on the inside and we might take binoculars with us next time just to have a closer inspection of the paintings on the ceiling. After quickly popping into the lobby of the museum dedicated to director Franco Zeffirelli’s costumes and his film and stage designs we climbed up the park to the Piazzale Michelangelo, then sat in the dark Basilica di San Miniato waiting for the rain to ease off and before admired the extraordinary cemetery surrounding this church. Back down in the city centre we escaped from the rain into the Galileo Museum which merged astronomy, astrology and alchemy in an absolutely enchanting way. No wonder my eyes and feet are tired at the end of the day.
I am listening to the evergreens of classic music in this beautiful old church (first documented in 1116 respectively) with its lush décor and feel tired but happy and thankful for the wonderful day I have been given. Most of tonight’s music is well known and has the effect of relaxation and we could not have asked for more. In Italy you see Pinocchio on every corner shop so we discussed this classic a lot but the ancient myth around Leda seems to be very present here; and Medusa, the archangel Michael, David, Leonardo Da Vinci, heaven and hell, saints, fauns and centaurs can be seen everywhere. Of course Ms. J.K. Rowling called her centaur Firenze!
We will go to bed smiling and think of what else will await us tomorrow in this beautiful place on Earth.
**** out of 5 stars
The Auditorium di Santo Stefano (St. Stephen Auditorium) is in the centre of Florence.
Ticket prices for the Florence Chamber Orchestra start from 25 Euro.
We bought ours directly at the venue. For online booking in advance visit www.florenceconcerts.it