Placement report: Long way to achy feet and green new world

Placement report: Long way to achy feet and green new world

Today, we are happy to share Milena Janković's diary, written during her placement in the Festival Pianistico Internazionale Bartolomeo Cristofori 2021. Milena is a participant of the Atelier Elefsina-Beirut. 

If the first impression is what makes your image of a city and its people, then I would say that Padova is a warm, welcoming place filled with brave new people, ideas, and challenges.

Or at least that is what I thought after a 15 hour long ride from Belgrade to Mestre, where I arrived around 3 AM. What to do in Mestre at 3 AM? Well, it appears that the best option is to make friends with Padova locals and ask them and their friends to take you to your destination. I couldn’t say that it was a smart or a safe decision, but it turned out to be the best one. My passenger friend and his friend were the first people that introduced me to Padova, and took me safely to Plaza della Valle. As a young woman, it was a bit scary to sit there alone early in the morning, but I remember the feeling of safety, excitement and warmth of the last days of summer, just before the sun was supposed to come out. Luckily, I easily got in touch with Alessandro Tommasi, artistic director of the Festival, who was already wide awake (and slightly nervous before the first day of the Festival) and welcomed me to his home around 4:30 AM. What a way to meet an artistic director! In his pajamas and slippers! I could see that Alessandro was welcoming and kind from our first words exchanged – me, tired and exhausted and him, anxious and awake. It turned out to be the best way to meet someone you’ll work and spend the next five days with.

If I would have to say how I felt on the first festival day, my answer would be – wildly underdressed. From my understanding, festivals are a hectic field where people are only trying to achieve the tasks they have in a pair of jeans and comfortable shirts. Although this understanding was somewhat right, I still had to keep in mind that the world of classical music necessarily brings classiness with it. Next to the flawlessly prepared Alessandro and his colleagues Ilaria and Federico, I felt like a small child in the world of adults. Luckily, the team was welcoming and understanding, and I never felt a word of judgement. There are four more days for me to be dressed appropriately, I thought.

When the conference started on the first day, in Italian, I took some time off to wander around Padova. Alessandro asked me to buy some water for participants and it was the first time I showed how nervous I was to be here – I felt like first year of college volunteering in a foreign environment. Alessandro had asked to bring water for the participants and I couldn’t find recyclable bottles or cups anywhere! As if that wasn’t enough, once I brought the water, I put it on the participants’ tables and Alessandro moved it immediately, in order for the camera frame not to grab plastic bottles there. Our topic was, obviously, the green new practices in the cultural worlds – which in no way go together with non-recyclable plastic. I felt that I have failed terribly, but of course, kept the poker face and carried on with the rest of the duties.

Our first concert was at the Teatro Verdi, where the festival was opened. There I saw once again how everyone came prepared – all of a sudden, Federico, with whom I have spent the entire day with, has changed to a suit! Although I have felt a bit nervous once again, I have slowly starting to feel how I was becoming a part of the team – Ilaria and myself were giving away tickets and badges and I had the chance to spend some hours at the theatre by myself, reserving seats for important guests. Ever since I started to become interested in culture, and within my first steps of professional engagement, my favorite part of it was being backstage and wandering around halls, theatres and culture centers. It always gave me a feeling of satisfaction – seeing what no regular visitor can see and experiencing these venues from a different perspective. To have the opportunity to spend some time at Teatro Verdi while Ian Bostridge and Saskia Giorgini having a rehearsal was far beyond my silly dreams.

If spending time inside spaces of history and culture is my favorite thing, then a second favorite would definitely be spending time with artists and festival guests. That’s why the second day of the Festival I cherish because of Gabriele Mirabassi who performed at the Chiesa di San Gaetano alongside with Enrico Zanisi. Alessandro has once again given me a very (not)stressful task of guiding the guests from the Church to the Letterario Treccani restaurant. For me, it is always important to keep the professional relation with important guests, but these two have instantly started to joke about giving a task like this to a girl from Belgrade! Although we did find our way (which was, I underline, not complicated at all), it was funny to think how I was joking around with one of the world’s most renowned clarinet players, just chatting and joking, nothing much.

On this day, we have taken the Festival to the Barco Teatro, where experimental piano music was on the repertoire, alongside with extremely tasty cocktails made my Mr. Paolo. Also, this event has led to Ilaria, Federico and me to become friends – and of course, that’s what cocktails are for.

There is a reason why I included the ‘achy feet’ into the name of this report and why I have complained about coming unprepared. Apparently, although Padova is not very big, the Festival and exploration of it requires (at least for me) to walk around 14km each day. That’s why I remember it not only for the Festival memories, but also for the wildly uncomfortable shoes I had brought. The third day has started to take its toll. But I would say that my pain was taken away when coming to Istituto Maria Ausiliatrice, in order to prepare for the concert of Eleonora and Beatrice Dallagnese. Here, I already started to share the heartbeat with this festival and already knew the dynamics: I was waiting for the piano tuners, setting up the chairs, welcoming artists for rehearsals, being with Alessandro and Ilaria and helping out with everything needed. I also remember this day because I took a walk with Alessandro to finish some task – and I remember telling him: “Alessandro, everybody in Padova knows you!”. I really had this feeling – on our short stroll, Alessandro has stopped to chat with at least 5 people, inviting them to concerts and the venues. I remember having the impression of being with the dedicated festival manager – one who is always in touch with the community and surrounded by them.

While the Institute was a fairytale-like experience, I was asked to wait at Sala de Giganti for our next performer. At this point, I thought that Padova could no longer surprise me, but Sala de Giganti has completely failed my beliefs. I remember trying to grasp it with my camera and trying to share the experience with my friends and colleagues from Serbia, but no video could transfer the feeling I was having inside. I remember closing my eyes and appreciating every moment spent there with enormous feeling of gratitude and privilege. I have also made another friend there – a beyond-kind guard who only knew a few words of English and me knowing only a few words of Italian – we communicated with hands, phones, Google translate and every other tool we had, but we always shared a smile and managed to understand each other.

Speaking of friends, my friends from home have told me to enjoy my time here, have good pasta, and every other stereotype you could say about a trip to Italy, including finding a nice guy who would take me for a ride on his scouter! Well, I did find someone to take me for a ride, but it turned out to be Ilaria. I think that she will never forgive me for screaming and being completely afraid of this ride, but hey, at least I could say to my friends that I found an amazing girl who did this for me! We took a ride and ended another festival night at Barco Teatro, sharing our thoughts and excitement about this wild ride of a festival.

My achy feet have taken me to Giardino di Palazzo Papafava, another hidden yard of Padova city to live my fairytale festival on. I would say that at this point, I could easily take over some of Ilaria’s duties if only I spoke Italian! I was fully present and operative, and together with Ilaria was a part of a dream-team. What truly made me happy was each ticket we sold to students at price of EUR 1, supporting youth development and accessibility to prestigious festival performances. If Milan is the Italian capital of music, then Padova was at that moment the capital of brave new spirit in the classical music world.

From a private yard to Teatro del Seminario Maggiore! Once again getting lost and wandering around, I have somehow managed to come to the venue and listen to rehearsal. To be quite honest, I knew that my time at the Festival was running out, so I tried to spend as much time as possible with people I was there with, enjoying every second of Ilaria and Federico’s company.

The last day of the festival was another rainy day which has taken us to the outskirts of town. A concept quite new for me, a venue as Patronato di San Carlo. This kind of venue selection has once again showed the openness and approachability of this festival, aiming to make music accessible to everyone. However, the amazing concert is not how I will remember my last festival day, but rather the late night dinner at Alessandro and his girlfriend Lara’s place, with Antonii Baryshevskyi himself and his girlfriend. Although not a man of many words and a good friend of Alessandro’s, we have shared a splendid plate of a classic aglio e olio pasta made by Alessandro - what else can you ask for in the heart of Padova? Maybe someday I could say – oh, that guy?? Yes, we had some pasta together a long time ago.

At Serbia, we have a saying that could roughly be translated as “three days are enough for each guest”, meaning that any more than three days would be overstaying your welcome. I turned out spending six days in Padova, at festival director’s place and couldn’t say I ever felt under-welcomed or like a burden. However, I did feel like it was difficult to say goodbye not only to Alessandro, but also to Lara, Mr. Pinton, the Bruno brothers, Ilaria and Federico, the amazing festival team.

Professionally, I would say that this festival has thought me that festivals are similar everywhere – the rush, the organization, the processes and the tasks are no different for artistic directors or volunteers – we will discuss about its policies but also at the same time distribute promotional materials or chairs together. Furthermore, the peek at another culture’s creative development and cultural policy practices should fundamentally be given to every festival manager as a right within its first years of career development – there is no such thing that could empower you or boost your experience such as being present at a festival or any other professional medium somewhere other than your usual surroundings. For me, one of the most important aspects of this visit would be having a discussion with Alessandro and Antonii at the last day, where we all agreed about festivals’ dynamics, its randomness and rules, potentials and challenges.

Privately, I would still say that this dinner was everything I asked from the festival and more – having honest discussions with young professionals of my age, making friends at most unusual place – the home of your (artistic) director, sharing a bowl of pasta. It could definitely sum up the wild ride of Bartolomeo Music Festival 2021.

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