When it was first held in 1953, the Ravello Festival was conceived as a tribute to Richard Wagner, who was so fond of the location he used it as inspiration for Klingsor's garden in the second act of Parsifal. For decades, Wagnerian music has been the soundtrack of the Festival, but in recent years the programme offers throughout the summer diverse genres of music (classical, jazz, pop) and artistic events.

However, the Concert at Dawn (Concerto all’alba), held in Villa Rufolo, still remains the most eagerly awaited event of the season. It is held on the stage, spectacularly overlooking the sea from the Belvedere of Villa Rufolo, and annually gathers visitors from all over the world. This year the concert was entrusted to Venice's Orchestra Filarmonica La Fenice, brilliantly conducted by Alvise Casellati, who created a strong emotional effect on the audience.

Ravello Dawn Concert © Fondazione Ravello | Pino Izzo
Ravello Dawn Concert
© Fondazione Ravello | Pino Izzo

Unfortunately, bad weather forced the festival to move the concert into the Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer, whose large windows allowed us to see daybreak gradually light up the coast, while a streaming video from the outside was projected onto the backdrop.

The program opened at 5am with the première of War Silence, for piano and orchestra, a work that the Ravello Festival commissioned from young Italian composer Cristian Carrara to celebrate the 100th year of Italy’s entry into the Great War. A work of great clarity and simplicity, Carrara’s music reached the audience with its suggestive, rhythmically intense writing, where one can easily find echoes of jazz and film music style. The piece was agreeably performed and the pianist Michelangelo Carbonara and the orchestra finely conveyed all the evocative character of the score.

Commonly known as the Triple Concerto, Beethoven's Op.56 was composed in 1803 and presented  in Vienna only in 1808. The Triple was kept in the shadows by critics as an exterior and trendy work; the truth is that it isn't a canonical concerto, since a real dialogue between the orchestra and the soloists is lacking: someone described it as “an amplified piano trio”, with the orchestra often reduced to generic accompaniment.

Nonetheless, in this performance, the orchestral players displayed a sense of entertained participation, in spite of the scantiness of their parts. The soloists, pianist Josu De Solaun, violinist Stefan Tarara and cellist Eun-Sun Hong (who showed very elegant phrasing), didn't dominate the sound. Perhaps they did not team up perfectly in every moment, but it was truly exciting.

As for Fauré, famously an elite composer more than a favourite of the public, conductor Casellati was good at revealing the discretion and elegance of Pelléas et Mélisande's language. The orchestra conveyed the sense of intimacy of the score, its interior, elusive beauty, calibrating instrumental colours and expressive shades.  

Then came Dvořák's Symphony no. 7 in D minor, where the composer tries one of his most ambitious purposes: to combine a tragic epic dimension with a sound formal unity. Casellati revealed some inspiring high points of the score, especially in the outer movements. The woodwinds prettily complemented the strings all over, but particularly in the tenderly phrased Adagio. The scherzo was delivered free from any heaviness, while in the finale Casellati built the tension step by step, until evidencing the music's tragic nature.

In the end, as the audience called out for more, Casellati played Grieg’s “Morning mood”, which (it goes without saying) is the traditional encore of the Dawn Concert, which once again gave the spectators an amazing, deeply heartfelt experience.