When naturalist John Muir famously wrote “the mountains are calling and I must go,” in a letter to his sister in 1873, he couldn’t have imagined the extent to which his words would be quoted, printed and hash-tagged 150 years later.
Perhaps, too, he’d have been unable to imagine the extent to which the siren song that so enchanted him would come to life in a different – and even more compelling – way each summer in Northern Italy, when the mountains, almost literally, burst into song.
Since 1995, the Dolomites, in the Trentino region, have played host to ‘I Suoni delle Dolomiti’ (The Sounds of the Dolomites): a festival conceived and actualised by Paolo Manfrini and Chiara Bassetti. To this day, the pair direct the festival, with the support of celebrated cellist Mario Brunello, who’s been involved with the organisation of the festival since its first inauguration. Since then, the end of each August has seen hundreds of national and international acts perform in a variety of venues around the region.
But these ‘venues’ are no ordinary architectural constructions: they are the mountains themselves. The surrounding jagged peaks form natural amphitheatres; the mountain lakes conduct sound and, in locations high above the tree-line, there is nothing to absorb the music, which soars and, at times, faintly echoes, in the thin, high-altitude air. You are fully immersed in both nature and song.
The setting of each concert – which takes place at either dawn or midday – makes access and dress code different from what other performances require, too: here, you will need layered outdoor wear and sturdy shoes and you, like the artists themselves, will need to hike some distance to reach each ‘venue.’ The walks aren’t too challenging, but some level of fitness is, of course, required – and guidance is given as to difficulty levels, so that guests can choose what’s right for them. That said, some performances can be reached by ski lift or shuttle service, and a number of events are accessible for those with disabilities.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about I Suoni delle Dolomiti, however, is that every performance over the five-week-long festival is free of charge; only the ski lifts and shuttle services, where present, attract a fee, as does food and drink, available at a number of events. There’s also a cost attached to the three day ‘trekking’ packages, which take a limited number of participants, along with the musicians, on an exploration of the mountains with alpine guides, experiencing small-scale, exclusive concerts and mountain hut living along the way.
The line-up for this year includes singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti, Carmen Consoli, Frida Balloni Magoni, the oboe-based Le Petite Écurie and Iva Bittovà. Excitingly, it is also twenty years since American trumpeter Dave Douglas was commissioned by I Suoni delle Dolomiti to ‘write a score dedicated to Alpine music and culture, with a focus on the Ladin tradition.’ The artist rose to the challenge with ‘Mountain Passages,’ a combination of trumpet, cello, tuba, drums and clarinet and received much critical acclaim – and now, on August 25th, he returns, on the shores of the Bombasel Lakes to again play trumpet alongside Michael Moore’s saxophone and clarinet, Peggy Lee’s cello, Marcus Rojas’ tuba, and the percussion of Dylan van der Schyff.
For more information and to book your musically-infused Dolomites break, go to Visit Trentino.