‘Firenze Suona Contemporanea’ Arts Festival

The English composer Michael Nyman

It’s uncommon for a Florentine festival to focus on contemporary art, but then again, Firenze Suona Contemporanea is no ordinary festival. Created in 2008 with the mission of combining music and art through new experimentation, Firenze Suona Contemporanea returns for its 11th edition through September 27 with a series of exhibitions, installations and concerts across four locations: The Museum of 20th Century Art (Museo Novecento); the Tepidarium, a massive, Art Deco greenhouse in the Giardino dell’Orticoltura (Horticultural Garden on via Vittorio Emanuele); the Manifattura Tabacchi complex; and the Marino Marini Museum. 

The year’s festival is titled “The Monochromatic Garden,” after Zen gardens and the influence of Japanese culture on the West, and is directed by Italo-American composer Andrea Cavallari. Not interested in traditional divides between artistic media, the events calendar highlights the unification of music and image, resulting in multiple experiences that are certainly unlike anything else on offer in the city. Most of the festival will be free, subject to availability, with a small selection of the events requiring paid tickets.

Firenze Suona Contemporanea begins with a series of installation openings at the Manifattura Tabacchi complex, the centerpiece of which is the world premiere of Nyman’s Earthquakes by English composer Michael Nyman. Knighted by the Queen for his services to music, Nyman has written several operas and numerous film scores, and was the first person to apply the word “minimalist” to music as a critic. His newest work consists of five video installations scored to original music that explore various earthquakes Nyman has been connected to in one way or another. The installation will premiere at 9:30 pm, with Nyman in attendance to run the show, and costs €10 to attend. Nyman’s Earthquakes will then be on display from September 8-14, open daily from 11 am to 11 pm, and can be seen at no cost. 

Another display worth highlighting is DNA Has No Color, a glass sculpture by American artist Nancy Burson, whose storied career has brought her a great deal of acclaim. Her work has been shown in museums like the MoMA and the Met in New York City, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, though she is most famous for her contribution to computer morphing technology. This sculpture is designed to replicate the translucence of DNA as seen in a laboratory, emphasizing that race is a social construct, rather than a genetic one. The debut presentation will be at 6:30 pm at the Manifattura Tabacchi and the sculpture will remain visible through September 14, open from 3-11 pm each day free of charge.

While various other installations will be exhibited throughout Firenze Suona Contemporanea, the festival also incorporates concerts into their lineup. On September 11 at 9 pm in the Museo Novecento, Italian cellist Francesco Dillon will perform music by a selection of Japan’s best young, contemporary composers, exploring the connection between Western and Eastern music. At the same time and location on September 20, innovative Italian flautist Roberto Fabbriciani will perform a concert dedicated to Modernism, highlighting pieces from some of the best 20th-century composers. Both performances, as well as every other event held at the Museo Novecento, will be free while seats last. 

Two dates to circle on your calendar are September 15 & 25, since the festival coordinators have decided on approaching the concerts on those nights a little more creatively. On the 15th, a 9 pm performance by renowned flautist Michele Marasco, first chair for the Orchestra della Toscana, and pianist Marta Cencini will focus on musical minimalism, honoring composers like John Cage and Philip Glass. Attendance is free, but the location is a secret, only revealed when you contact the festival to reserve a seat. On the 25th, at both 8:30 & 10 pm in the Tepidarium, will be “The Guide to an Exhibition” by William Kentridge, a South African artist who is known for incorporating a variety of media in his work. Performed by Joanna Dudley, “The Guide to an Exhibition” uses video, sculpture and opera for soprano to express artworks actively resisting interpretation. This concert is one of the festival’s rare paid events, costing €10 to attend.

Firenze Suona Contemporanea concludes on September 27 with an ambitious homage to the experimental Fluxus movement of the 1960s & ‘70s titled Flash Fluxus!. From 6-10 pm, the Museo Novecento will be transformed into a continuous, immersive performance space as members of FLAME (Florence Art Music Ensemble), pianist Vincenzo Pasquariello, and many other actors, musicians and guests perform installations, music and poetry all throughout the museum. The performance is free to attend, and visitors are encouraged to wander around the museum at their own pace, effectively becoming part of the project through how they interact with the space. 

For a full schedule of events, check the Firenze Suona Contemporanea website, and reservations can be made by emailing festival@firenzesuonacontemporanea.it. (alex harrison)