The Rome Festival Orchestra began as a vision of a summer symphonic concert series of young American musicians in Rome by a group of Italians. In addition to their love of symphonic music and America, one of the goals of the concerts would be to use these concerts to help Italy fight the cold war propaganda of the Italian Communist Party. The Italian Communist Party was using a series of concerts by Russian musicians to help them win votes. The hope was that the new series would help see that non-communists promoted the fine arts the same as the Russians.
The group had even chosen a name—The Rome Festival Orchestra. All they needed was a plan, but none of them knew what they would need to do to bring their vision into reality.
In the summer
of 1971 a young American conductor, Fritz Maraffi, was conducting a
series of symphonic concerts featuring American and Italian musicians.
His concerts were receiving glowing reviews in all the major
Italian newspapers. The
group recognized in Fritz Maraffi and his concerts a way to turn their
vision into reality and approached him to become the Musical Director.
Maestro Maraffi was honored by the faith the group had in him and
meetings began to make the vision a reality.
After several intense meetings, the Italians agreed to Maestro Maraffi’s three conditions; that the Rome Festival must:
The festival would help every participant find artistic and spiritual inspiration by organizing visits to Rome’s cultural treasure. Each artist would walk in the footsteps of all the composers who came to Rome for enlightenment. The Festival would apolitically create international and cultural exchange and respect by inviting participants from different countries. The Italian founders would not invite their artists or promise repertoire to their presenters.
In the fall of 1971 and spring of 1972 the newly formed Rome Festival Orchestra began the enormous task of pulling together a series of six concerts of different programs in the summer of 1972. Again, music critics, music lovers, and the Italian founders were delighted. However, Maestro Maraffi knew that the Festival was a long way from where it needed to be. After each year’s performances, the Maestro and his group have conducted a review of the performances, the logistics, and quality of the artists to make changes to keep the quality of both the Festival performances and the artists’ experience at a high level and to also allow the Festival to continue growing.
During the next 30
years, under the guidance of Maestro Maraffi, the Festival would
continue to grow, hitting the following milestones.
· The American volunteers created an American charity to support the American artists and ensure the survival of the Festival.
· The concert schedule expanded to 16 concerts based on six programs.
· The Orchestra performed throughout Italy, on the Italian networks, and on the continental network, Eurovision.
· The Rome Festival Orchestra benefited about sixty artists annually and ranked in the top six Italian Orchestras.
· The Festival added an international concerto competition.
· The Italian volunteers, none of whom where the original founders, created the Associazione “Rome Festival” to receive direct grants from the regional and national government and built a local base of support independent from entities controlled by the founders.
· The Rome Festival Orchestra performed at St. Peter’s in the Vatican and international festivals of important orchestras.
· The Orchestra presented Christmas concerts in Sicily in addition to its summer season.
· The Festival added the Rome Festival Orchestra to perform baroque and rococo operas as well as operas of Mozart.
· By the end of 1992 critics were comparing the Rome Festival Opera favorably with one of the most important opera houses in Rome—the Rome Opera.
· The Festival was now benefiting 70 artists annually.
· The American charity has continued to grow and receive many more contributions and grants to support participating artists.
· The Italian Associazione assumed responsibility for supporting the Festival performances and received modest by symbolically important cash and in-kind support from the city, county and state governments.
· The Associazione put together a prestigious Honorary Committee that includes over 25 members of the Italian Parliament.
· The Orchestra regularly performs works like Debussy’s La Mer, Ravel’s La Valse and Daphnis et Chloé Suite n. 2, and Richard Strauss'Don Juan and Tod und Verklärung.
· The Opera performs operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, and the Wagnerian composer, Humperdinck.
· The Festival added the Rome Festival Ballet, chamber music series for pianists and classical guitarists, the Young Artists in Rome program for children’s opera parts, an international competition for operatic voices, and an international competition for ballet dancers.
· The Festival continued to refine hotel accommodations, scheduling, and cultural and social programs to make artists more efficient, productive, and comfortable.
· The Festival grew to just over 50 performances and benefited 15o artists from nine countries.
In 2002 the Festival added a
residency opportunity for concert choral singers and expanding its
volunteer program in Rome. And,
as happens every year, the Maestro met several music lovers
who came to performances 20 or 25 years ago. They marveled
at how the Festival has evolved.
At the end of the 2009 Festival, the Maestro and his staff, veterans and newcomers, reviewed all aspects of the Festival and began planning how to improve the 2010 Festival.
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