Composer Brent Straughan is delighted to be bringing the Umbria Ensemble to the Cowichan Valley. (Submitted)

The Italians are coming to Cowichan, and bringing a great show

Talented Island musicians join the Umbria Ensemble for a special show in Duncan July 5.

The Umbria Ensemble are coming to the Cowichan Valley’s Christian Reformed Church for a performance on Wednesday, July 5 starting at 7:30 p.m.

The show is part of a concert tour, Appassionati Canadese, organized by composer Brent Straughan.

In a program that includes ‘Danny Boy’, ‘Abendsegen’, ‘Motherless Child’, ‘Log Drivers’ Waltz’, ‘Spoleto Largo’, ‘Saturna, Mayne, Galiano, and Saltspring’ plus ‘Song of Innocents’, you’ll hear Angelo Cicillini and Cecilia Rossi on violins, Luca Ranieri on viola, and Maria-Cecilia Berioli on violoncello.

If you wish to hear them, check out

But that’s far from all.

Conductors Nicholas Fairbank, Tony Booker, and Nathan Jacklin have also been lined up for the event, along with lyric Valley soprano Andrea Rodall, and Thomas Bauer on alto flute, Masako Hockey on percussion, Ken Heise and Margaret Dzbik on violins, Kenji Fuse on viola, Zachary Taylor on violoncello, and Darren Buhr on contra bass.

Straughan last week shared the following note about the concert.

“Recently my wife and I wintered in Italy. I wanted to work on my opera in the land where opera was born, music notation was invented, and violins were first created. We chose a borgo in Villa Montignaro in Umbria, the green heart of Italy, about an hour and a half North of Rome.

“Villa Montignaro has been in the family of Lorenzo da Pucci DellaGenga since 100 BC. It’s amazing what you can get done on a property when you’ve had 2,000 years to do it! Some farm families on the grounds worked generation after generation for 600 years. There were two popes in the family — one of whom was the first pope after Napoleon stopped throwing popes in jail. The buildings were all gorgeous stone, with walls at least a metre thick, heavily beamed whitewashed interiors with traditional tiled roofs.

“I rented a keyboard, bought a student violin and went to work on my opera. We made the pilgrimage to Puccini’s home in Torre del Lago to the North. Simonetta Puccini, Puccini’s granddaughter arranged a private tour of his home for us. It was very moving for me to be in the house of such a master, and to note the small bouquets of wildflowers left by children at the gate — imagine having a legacy such that small children leave such things at your door.

“Our host Lorenzo at Montignaro had a friend who played in a string quartet, and suggested we attend a concert. The group was the Umbria Ensemble. We attended a concert which featured background video from WWI and readings from the letters of Italian soldiers from Spoleto in that war. It was very moving. We were soon in correspondence with Maria-Cecilia Berioli, cellist of the group and Lorenzo’s friend.

“The quartet loved my music and said, ‘You must be very famous in Canada?’ I had to answer by gently explaining, ‘Not so much, we don’t really do ‘famous’ in Canada.’ They said they would like to tour Italy with my work, then come to Canada, and play it.”

Then I realized, well, no group in Canada is volunteering to do such a crazy thing, why not let the Italians do it? How could I help make it happen…Slowly the obstacles melted away.”

The first half of the programme is larger ensembles of 11 or 12 people, mostly strings sometimes with soprano, alto flute, and percussion.

“I have written or arranged all the music. It’s pretty tonal, if you can’t hum something from it by the time you leave, find me and I’ll give you your money back,” Straughan said.

“As a young composer I tried to write modern, music that would drive people from the concert hall like my friends were doing, but I could not. I gave it up immediately, realizing I actually like people to come to my concerts. If there are encores, they will be lots of fun.”

How much fun? Listen to Straughan.

“One day when I was living in Toronto the principal violist of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra called me up: distraught. She had arranged a chamber series which was advertised all over Toronto, and included her quartet friends from the Toronto Symphony. Alas, some sort of miscommunication had occurred with a publisher and the piece she had advertised was no longer available to her!”

She suggested ‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix, which she proceeded to play for Straughan.

“Over the telephone came this ghastly caterwauling heavy metal guitar sound which reminded me of an occasion in Saskatchewan when a Lynx screamed directly over my head while I was walking through the caraganas to shut in some turkeys for the night. My stomach fell through my boots.

“If you applaud a bit at the end of the first half, you’ll get to hear just how delighted I was” to fulfill her request, Straughan promises.

And “If you applaud a bit at the very end of the concert you’ll get to hear ‘Bad Romance’ by Lady Gaga arranged for string quartet, somewhat as Bach might have considered it. A commission from a doctor in Coupeville, Washington. Your children or grandchildren will know the tune.”

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $5 for children. Get them at the door.

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