by Giorgio De Martino
From a distance, it looks the same as always. Imposing, perched on top of a hill that stands above forests and fields. With the outlines of its bell towers, porticoes, and view points, and with its soft terracotta and stone hues, you would never say that Camerino has been wounded. It still seems to evince its orographic and intellectual predominance – which it acquired over the course of many centuries of civilization and beauty – while looking out over a drapery of rolling hills. It is a noble city that was already flourishing and independent a thousand years ago. It is the cultural center that has been home to a prestigious university for seven centuries. It is one of the gems of the Marche region and Central Italy as a whole.
However, as you get closer to the outskirts, you come upon the first containers housing businesses or administrative offices. You come upon the prefabricated buildings where the people of Camerino have had to reinvent their day-to-day lives, at the foot of what was once their homes, their streets, which are still barricaded for the most part today.
Camerino carries the weight of a cumbersome investiture: it is the capital of the “crater in the crater”. The partially inaccessible historic center displays steel sutures and painful corsets harnessing churches and homes everywhere, holding up the cracked walls. The wounds are still there, in Camerino. Yet it is the ones that you cannot see that are more serious and run deeper. Those that are carried with dignity by the inhabitants, four years on from the earthquake that took their everyday lives from them, along with their points of reference, property and most of their certainties.
That fog that – on the morning of October 26, 2016 – made the scenery of this town that had been damaged by the first of many tremors surreal. That fog that still seems to render undefined and indeterminate a much declared, promised and planned reconstruction project that has struggled to take off.
And yet, despite everything, the people that live on these hills do not give up. Instead, from the very first day they have rolled up their sleeves. A portrait by Carlo Antognini comes to mind (which is often mentioned because it is accurate). Carlo Antognini who, 50 years ago, would speak about his beloved Marche, as a “region of industrious and virile solitude, inhabited by people accustomed to reckoning with themselves (…), a people which the daily practice of the sea and the fields has made taciturn, solitary, shy of easy openings, and nevertheless more prone to melancholy than sadness, to interrogation than anguish”.
On the morning of October 1, 2020, after 148 days of work, the architectural “cloud” of white perforated panels ceased to be a construction site and became a hub (of art, music, skill and the future). Camerino Music Academy, with its innovative skyline set harmoniously within the surrounding environment, built thanks to the funds and oversight of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, was preparing for an inauguration worthy of its beauty.
Many other clouds oversaw the scene with a threatening air from the fall sky of Macerata. On a whim they could ruin the celebration, as the ceremony was to be held entirely outdoors for health and safety reasons: partly in the square in front of the building and partly in the space that the Municipality had set up close by, connected to the event via big screen.
However, not one drop would dampen the inauguration of Camerino’s new musical heart, which beats in the area of the new university campus, and the rain would stay hanging in the unsettled (and merciful) early fall sky.
Veronica and Andrea were expected at the main entrance, where a wall of glass separated the inside from the exterior and filtered the sign naming the building after the Marche tenor Franco Corelli (who was Bocelli’s beloved maestro and friend). However, as soon as they got out of the car, husband and wife did not take the sloping walkway that would take them through the lawn to the entrance. They stopped before it, to fulfill an obligation that Veronica had taken on. Before the first interview and welcoming the authorities, they wanted to shake the hand of the man who was organizing wheelbarrows and pallets on a truck.
Michele Arcangelo Tarantino, had worked up until a short time before, laying the grass for the outdoor space and working double and triple shifts to finish on time. With his cap back to front and the complexion of someone who has spent their entire life under the sun, he is visibly moved as he greets ABF’s founder, introduced by Veronica, and briefly tells him his story. He’s seen three earthquakes, the one in Irpinia in 1980, which left him “homeless with five children”. The one in Umbria and Marche in 1996, which saw him working eight hours a day on the reconstruction sites. Then – having put down roots in Camerino – the earth trembled beneath his feet once again in 2016. If today the academy is surrounded by flawless turf, it is also thanks to his tireless work, which Andrea remarked upon and praised when thanking him: “It is people like you – he said – that make our country great”.
“The project does not end today. On the contrary, today it begins”, remarked ABF’s President, Laura Biancalani, to the journalists present. She went on: “Together with the local cultural associations and the municipal administration, we will strive to give the new generations musical training, to develop new talent and also bring talent from all over the world here to the Marche region. Because, with its university, with its wonderful historical center, Camerino deserves a place on the international stage”.
Yet it is also true that with the day’s inauguration, a complex and significant objective is being achieved, one that represents an important challenge for the Foundation and the entire community of Camerino.
It began with a letter from the cloistered nuns of Camerino. During a social gathering at the Bocelli home, a dear family friend (who had been contacted by the nuns) ensured that the letter was “posted” to the seat of Laura’s car. The nuns confided in ABF, recounting the state of prostration of this ancient town with a noble musical tradition that had suddenly found itself without its campus, which had been destroyed by the earthquake.
At that time the Foundation’s team was working on rebuilding the pre-school and elementary school of Muccia, yet decided to learn more about Camerino. It met with the mayor, the rector, the bishop and in the end accepted the challenge: to give Camerino a Music Academy once more. From then until today, navigating between the COVID emergencies and enforced interruptions, it took 9,000 hours of work and the involvement of 139 professionals, including technicians and workers, to get to the point that we can say that the challenge has been achieved.
Thus, the third major integrated project built by ABF in the crater of the earthquake that hit the Marche region is coming to a close. It comes after the reconstruction of the high school with a music-centered curriculum in Sarnano (2018) and the pre-school and elementary school in Muccia (2019).
Camerino’s home of music will also be a campus for Fermo Conservatory: an educational and artistic hub that is worthy of the noble tradition that has distinguished the cultural life of this place for centuries. Aesthetically appealing and contemporary, it will be open year round, ready to host conferences, events, study activities and workshops at the service of the community and it is already evident that it will become a symbol for the future of the art of music in the region.
With the Foundation’s direct intervention, the project was achieved together with the Special Commissioner for Reconstruction from the Italian Government, the Regional School Office (URS) of the Marche region, and the Municipality of Camerino. The previous building was irrecoverably damaged during the 2016 earthquake. This new building returns to its rightful key role in education and music production, attesting to the central position of art (and music in particular) within ABF’s educational projects, which is fully in keeping with the Foundation’s mission: “Empowering People and Communities”. Almost a decade after it was established, the Foundation is increasingly recognized internationally as a community leader.
The First Notes
Veronica and Andrea walk down the avenue that leads to the Academy. However, a necessary initial stop is already waiting for them, with the cameras and interviewer from RAI, the Italian broadcasting channel, on a bench with the school in the background. “Does music help you dream? I’m convinced of it, having made music my life. Music creates beauty and beauty, as Dostoevsky reminds us, will save the world”.
From afar you can already hear the notes of wind and string instruments intermingling. The academy is coming to life for the 160 students of Camerino and for the many more who will make use of this building: “I hope that the project, which was completed on schedule – continues ABF’s Founder – is implicitly a strong source of encouragement to a population that has suffered greatly. I hope that it is a sign of a new beginning that can instill hope, in everyone’s desire to return to normality as soon as possible”.
Finally, the Bocelli family reaches the entrance to the academy, with photographers, friends and ABF volunteers gathered around. Mayor Sandro Sborgia, in his tricolor sash, awaits the Maestro, as well as the military and religious authorities. There is the echo of a Bach suite for solo violin in the air.
The first ceremony appertains to the entrance to the Academy: the Adesso Musica association (represented by Maestro Correnti) has the honor of cutting the ribbon, together with our Founder. The inaugurations of all the classrooms and photos to commemorate the occasion, together with the donors, follow. Percussion room: between cymbals and snare drums, Andrea approaches and starts to play a marimba. Then it is the turn of the wind instruments: saxophones, bassoons and horns. As well as the violins, the stunning grand pianos and the fully-equipped multimedia room. Picking up a guitar, Andrea softly plays a De André song.
The project, which was designed by the Alvisi Kirimoto architectural firm along with Harcome, and rendered structurally sound and site managed by the engineer Paolo Bianchi, is not merely giving Camerino a Music Academy to accommodate the community’s students and cultural initiatives, but it will also provide the university town with a new architectural identity.
Spanning 700 m2, the academy has been built using modern, anti-seismic construction techniques. Built on two levels, architecturally it is an appealing and modern building. The series of openings to the exterior feature a stylized visual allusion to the unique “keys” of wind instruments.
There are ten themed teaching areas, from the classroom dedicated to Renato Zero for his 70th birthday, “Zero Settanta”, to the classroom named in memory of the famous songwriter and lyricist Giancarlo Bigazzi (whose wife, Gianni, was present on the day), to the “kindergarten” classroom where children can become acquainted with the art of sound through a series of musical workshops.
Furthermore, there are spacious communal areas and, on the ground floor, a 226-m2 auditorium with brilliant, advanced acoustic solutions. It has all been designed with meticulous attention paid to the concept of balanced spaces and a cheerful feel that can also be seen in the color choices (the dominant color is orange).
Between floors, the building is connected by an elevator and an orange resin staircase. Great attention was also paid to the lighting design: both the natural lighting, thanks to the succession of circular windows on the upper floor which have been placed at two different heights to allow the natural light to filter through the perforations of the metal sheet panels, and the artificial lighting, that features the same circular shape as the windows.
To the left of the entrance, a bold composition immortalizes the main donors who helped build this gem of a building. As Andrea Bocelli would emphasize during the course of the ceremony, “it is moving to scroll through the list of those who, despite the great difficulties that have emerged in recent months, have nevertheless wanted to honor their commitments and donate, despite everything. This makes us optimistic, if not from the perspective of reason, then at least from the perspective of will. And it is on them that we must count, to hope for a better future”.
Thus, allow us to mention the project’s partners, one by one: The PSC Group, Subissati, the Fondazione De Agostini, Poligrafici Editoriale, the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation, the Associazione Adesso Musica, The Senate of the Republic, Fabbrini Pianoforti, Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America, the Mike Ferry Organization, the Stewart Rahr Foundation, Stefano Ricci SpA, and the Columbus Citizens Foundation, together with Luxy, the Blackfin, Fondazione Varaldo di Pietro, Rotary Club Montecarlo-Piana di Lucca, Club Zeta3mendi, Confartigianato Cremona – Gruppo Liutai E Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria, Italy For Christ, SIAE, Shure, Lenovo, Amitie Sans Frontieres Firenze, Ermenegildo Gnutti, Targetti, Gruppo Giardini, and the Lions Club Busseto.
The Academy named after Corelli – one of the most acclaimed tenors of all time whose centenary will be celebrated next year – embodies a virtuous example of cooperation between the public and private spheres. As ABF Chair, Stefano Aversa, says: when we unite forces, we can achieve results that are extremely beneficial for society as a whole, capable of providing solutions to binding problems and important perspectives for the future.
In addition to the golden voice of ABF’s Founder, the first artistic steps of the new Academy would see a few artist friends take center stage, wanting to convey their support for the project and the Foundation through their presence and, in some cases, their performances.
During the afternoon ceremony, Renato Zero, Marco Masini, Serena Autieri, Giovanni Caccamo, Andrea Griminelli, Anastasiya Petryshak, Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, Andrea Paris, Carlo Bernini and Ilaria della Bidia were alongside Andrea on stage. These and others so generously and kindly supported ABF’s project during the 2019 fundraising campaign (“With You, For a New Beginning”) and were there on the day, virtually together with all the people who donated and gave their own little yet great contribution, to celebrate this new achievement.
Earlier in the morning, the actress and singer Serena Autieri had met Andrea Bocelli in the brand-new auditorium, a technologically-advanced space equipped with a multimedia system that can interact with the world. While beyond the glass walls, 40 young instrumentalists from the Academy’s Wind Orchestra were already rehearsing under the direction of Carlo Bernini (Carlo who has been working with this group for over a year for ABF and following their artistic development), inside our Founder was accompanying the beautiful and talented Neapolitan singer on the piano, performing an original and beautiful version of “O paese d’ ’o sole” which inaugurated the auditorium in the best way.
Roberto Drago, Chairman of the De Agostini Foundation (which donated this magnificent concert hall) was unable to be present. However, he wanted to convey his support (and satisfaction) with a video message, saying that he was “proud of having contributed to building a safe and modern structure, constructed with the most up-to-date anti-seismic construction techniques and an extremely low environmental impact. A resource for Camerino and the surrounding area”. Investing in young people, he went on to say “means investing in the future. This new multi-functional space will become a point of reference for the local communities for the musical study and training of many talented young people, who we wish a bright future and great personal and professional satisfaction”.
On the stage of the auditorium, the same one where the press conference would be held, Andrea sits down at the piano and improvises, while a crowd surrounds him and ABF top management officially sign the handover of the Academy to the town of Camerino.
Speaking with the Journalists
Due to current safety regulations, even the meetings with journalists were staggered in order to prevent gatherings: a few interview and then the press conference in the auditorium, with, inevitably, a small selection of media representatives present.
Andrea Bocelli emphasized the focus on the values of which, as Aristotle said, the roots are bitter but the fruit is sweet. “Without culture, without education, there can be no hope. With the Foundation that bears my name, after gaining experience in distant places such as Haiti, I thought that the time had come to work for the country in which I was born and which I love. In the face of the tragedy of the earthquake, I asked my foundation to make a special effort to contribute to the reconstruction process, starting with schools. After the schools in Sarnano and then Muccia, an opportunity presented itself in Camerino that, for me as a musician, was truly wonderful: to rebuild the musical heart of the town, which had been destroyed by the earthquake”.
The Tuscan tenor then put forth a consideration, almost an appeal, on the importance of reappropriating the territory: “for decades, people have tended to accumulate around the big cities, because they generally offered more opportunities. Today, however, we realize that that density can even be harmful and dangerous, while there can be many other logistical solutions for the life of each of us. We have a wonderful country, which is partly abandoned. It is thus more important than ever to retake possession of it”.
Creating bridges and helping young people in particular who, for different social, economic or health reasons, are struggling and cannot develop their talents. ABF Chair, Stefano Aversa, had this to say: “creating bridges through education, first and foremost, is the main step towards a higher level of performance, quality of life and also personal happiness”. Mr. Aversa also recalled how, in the Marche region, the Foundation has invested around six million euro in projects that, in addition to their undoubted benefits, have also powerful symbolic value.
Heartfelt thanks go to the donors, the volunteers, the members of the ABF team and everyone who helped build the academy, added Veronica Berti Bocelli, who expressed her great joy, as a Marche native, as well as in her role as Foundation Vice-Chair. Laura Biancalani, on the other hand, emphasized the crucial contribution of the whole community and the institutions who collaborated and assisted – each with their own skills and competences – a project that today has led to this striking result. In short, it was an endeavor of teamwork because “no one ever wins alone”.
The land on which the building constructed by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation stands was provided by the municipal administration and is located in front of the new university campus. After all, the university and music have always been Camerino’s beating heart and the hub around which the community has rallied and organized. The seismic events put this combination of local excellences to the test, as the buildings that housed the Rectorate, the Law School and the Computer Science Faculty, as well as a few scientific laboratories and classrooms, were severely damaged. Starting again with these two institutions and giving the community new points of reference means to give Camerino not only hope, but also a tangible identity that its people fiercely strove to preserve in the years following the earthquake.
Everything is ready for the ceremony, which could be followed live on television and on the Andrea Bocelli Foundation’s social media channels. Two parterres have been prepared, in order to comply with health regulations. The first is a limited-access gallery: it seats a limited number of personnel, donors, representatives of the institutions involved and journalists. The second, which is much larger, is located not far from the academy, so much so that the echoes from the applause can be heard from the stage. It is a spacious area, created by the Municipality, where 600 spectators have gathered and are about to watch the ceremony, which is projected live on a big screen, in complete safety.
The event is to be presented by Andrea’s friend and colleague, Ilaria della Bidia, who greets the military, civil and religious authorities present, including the Archbishop of Camerino, Monsignor Francesco Massara, who blesses the academy and all those present.
Mayor Sborgia is called to speak on stage first: “This beautiful and important building is owed to the generosity and commitment of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation and all those who took part. This building will allow our children to grow up and train and become acquainted with music and open their souls to beauty and the language of music. For us it will be a commitment that we will never forget. Everyone who passes through the classrooms of this academy will know that it is the result of the most beautiful part of people. We owe this to you, which is why Camerino owes an eternal debt of gratitude to the Andrea Bocelli Foundation and to all those who took part. We do not forget the efforts the Foundation made during the period of the pandemic emergency either, by supplying equipment to our hospital which had been converted into a COVID Hospital. We extend our infinite thanks for everything you have done, the entire town is in your debt”.
Giovanni Legnini, the Special Commissioner for Reconstruction, joined in the joy of the people of Camerino for “a place of education and cultural promotion, particularly that of music, which evokes values that will have to support the entire social and economic reconstruction and rebirth of this stricken yet beautiful place. Our deepest thanks and gratitude go to Maestro Bocelli, the Foundation that bears his name, all the artists present and to all those who have supported this extremely important project, which is a sign of rebirth”.
“Rebirth – which Maestro Bocelli would go on to highlight – which represents a moment of great happiness and hope for this region that is particularly near and dear to me for many reasons. First and foremost, because it is the birthplace of many greats in the history of singing, from Beniamino Gigli to Franco Corelli, who was my inspiration, maestro and great friend. If his voice had not touched my heart, perhaps I would have done something else, perhaps become a lawyer. The Marche region also gave me a very important person, my wife Veronica, who is my companion in life and also in the endeavor of this Foundation. This morning, in front of a project such as this (which is the emblem of “if there is a will, there is a way” and which has gathered the skills and genius of many people), I met a worker who was laying the grass. He had been doing it for three days, without almost any breaks, yet, despite the exhaustion of such a tour de force, he was content and happy with the result. Well, for me he is the emblem of hope. So long as there are people such as this, we can be sure that we will make it”.
The Corelli Academy is the work of many hands and the result of a journey that has seen the Foundation’s members exchange ideas with one of the greatest architects of our time, Renzo Piano, a friend of the Bocelli family, who was presented with the initial project (designed by a young architectural studio in Camerino, “Harcome”), developed together with civil engineer Paolo Bianchi, and Marco Facondini for the acoustics, and Mr. Serpilli for the system engineering.
In the common pursuit of the best possible harmony and empowerment of the new generations, Maestro Piano got the ball rolling by completing the team with one of his trusted collaborators, the architect Massimo Alvisi (Alvisi Kirimoto architectural studio).
As has already been mentioned, the academy was inspired by the matter of the clouds and draws the gaze towards the heavens from the interior, making it the perfect box that works like a music laboratory. Its sloping volume, with its clean, elegant lines, and the white metal sheet panel covering featuring even perforations of different sizes, fits perfectly within the setting, perched on the slope of the land and reclining on a glass curtain punctuated by gray pillars. The northern facade, which is visible from the street and upper garden, presents the building as though it were a box – with the panels suspended just off the ground. The side elevations betray its inclination and slope, while the southern facade, on the other hand, is visible from the ground floor with wall-to-ceiling windows, behind which we find the auditorium overlooking the historic center of Camerino.
Andrea Gianfelici (Harcome) was the first to speak on the inaugural stage: “When Laura Biancalani and I were thinking about the nature and purpose of the building, the concept of a space for meeting and sharing was clear: an element that had been lacking in our town for some time, after the 2016 earthquake. This container is part architects, part parents. We designed it to be a space that is clearly devoted to music, with beautiful classrooms where we imagined our children, in front of these portholes, so that they could watch the town during its rebirth. That is why we decided to donate our design and for this I would like to thank my two partners and the employees at the studio, as well as the project manager: it was really a wonderful example of teamwork!”
Massimo Alvisi (from Alvisi Kirimoto), in addition to ABF, thanked Harcome “which began this wonderful journey”. He also emphasized a word that was used by Bocelli during the ceremony: “harmony”. “This is a project that grew from an idea of harmony, from the unity of opposites, from the harmony of contrasts: of forms, of lightness and gravity, opening and closing. A project that is both horizontal and vertical. Renzo Piano’s advice was to create a design that could keep “nature and architecture” together, to open toward Camerino and evoke nature through color. A musical box able to reverberate extraordinarily well. So it was, and so we see that it is today, when we find the young music students and the great musicians here, together. And this determines a bright future for this project and for the whole community”.
Finally, it is worth mention, word for word, Paolo Bianchi’s speech, the Academy’s civil engineer and project manager: “I am not here to talk to you about square footage, or about seismic safety or energy efficiency, even if this is what you expect from me. Instead today I’m going to talk about emotion. I’m going to talk about the emotion that you feel when working with a foundation that shares all your values – honesty, commitment, passion and sharing for the development of the new generations. The emotion that you feel when you see the happy face of Andrea and his family, when – to use a soccer term – you score a goal, with an overhead kick, after a complicated maneuver lasting 150 days I’m talking about the emotion that you feel when spending your money, the money you donated that thus has double, triple the value. Money that has been earned with your toil and at your risk, with your work and your generosity. Of the emotion that love for your work gives you, which also helps you to overcome the complicated moments that life puts in front of you. Of the emotion that you feel when you coordinate a group of highly skilled technicians who make their personal differences disappear (and, believe me, it’s not easy) to try to reach the conclusion of a beautiful project such as this: a building that is a mixture of robustness, balance, beauty, practicality, technique and technology. I’m talking about the beauty of leading a group of about 170 people, many of whom have been helping us since Sarnano. It’s impossible to think that I will remember the all. There is one name out of them all: I recall Matteo Mimmo, the last of the laborers but first among men. Thank you”.
It was music that symbolically cut the ribbon and set the academy built by ABF in motion. The students of the Nelio Biondi Musical High School in Camerino and the academy’s instrumentalists accompanied the artists. At first they were conducted by Vincenzo Correnti, in their performance of Camerino’s anthem, and then by Carlo Bernini.
A riotous applause followed Bocelli’s performance of the aria “Ah, tout est bien finí… Ô, Souverain” from Massenet’s “Le Cid”. Performances by the flutist Andrea Griminelli, singer and actress Serena Autieri, and violinist Anastasiya Petryshak, were also warmly welcomed. To close, Andrea sung “Con te partirò” and then “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot.
The grand finale was with Renato Zero, Marco Masini, and Giovanni Caccamo, as well as Andrea Paris and Finazzer Flory, who joined their colleagues on the stage to sing the Italian national anthem, with hands over their hearts.
And for Andrea’s friend Renato Zero, who celebrated his birthday the day before, there was a special tribute of “Happy Birthday” led by Veronica Berti and sung from the stage and the audience. The artist reciprocated the good wishes, recalling his links with the area: “My father was from Serrapetrona and I was raised on ciauscolo and vincisgrassi. Thank you all”. At the end of the concert, Andrea wanted to personally greet those who had been following the event on the big screen, just a few hundred meters away. To then return to the call of the piano, in the academy, to make music far from the spotlights, together with his friend and colleague Masini.
Music begins again, in Camerino. Camerino begins again from the music and does so in great style, living up to the cultural center that it has been for many centuries and that it must return to being. The first, and most difficult, step has been taken.
From a distance, it looks the same as always. You would never say that Camerino has been wounded. From today, as you get closer to the outskirts, albeit aware of the rebirth that is still to be achieved and of its many scars as a town damaged by the earthquake, there is now a powerful sign that conveys hope and creativity. There is a cloud of sheet metal and wood and glass and cement, a hub of art and beauty, to remind us that there is no challenge that, together, we cannot overcome.