Thursday, 28 June 2012

The man behind the smiling Montelago mask - part 1

The Montelago Celtic Festival's first shoots may have sprouted in 2003, but its roots had been gestating for some time before that. Indeed, its seed was planted some 20 years previously when a 21-year-old Italian traveller was taking a rest near a Scottish cliffside castle overlooking the deep, brooding waters of the fingers of the North Sea "somewhere near Inverness." As he sat in the spiritual silence, the air of bagpipes drifted into his realm from within the stony chambers of the castle ... and proceeded to change his life.

So enchanted was Maurizio Serafini with the experience that he - already a musician of various influences - took up playing the bagpipes himself. His commitment and determination - trademarks of his life - did the rest, with self-teaching and occasional learning trips to Scotland turning him into an accomplished practitioner of some repute.

But Maurizio is not just a musician that likes to travel - like most of his fellow marchigiani, he loves his homeland of Le Marche, and with a university background in the performing arts, he'd become involved in Macerata province's Terra di Teatri (Land of Theatres) initiative, where " theatre" means "anywhere capable of hosting a show - abbeys, piazzas, castles, parks, ..." and "show" means anything from music and dance to drama and film. (Convention is  not a feature of Maurizio's life.) Having already established himself as a preeminent Celtic performer, discussions with the province's then-director of culture led to the original idea of today's festival.

Hosted by the province on the alpine plain of Montelago not far from the festival's current location, the first edition in 2003 was a big success, attracting some 7,000 enthusiasts, who cleaned out the food provided within short order, prompting an all-hands-on-deck search for whatever comestibles could be found from establishments nearby. Maurizio's coup - first time out - was nabbing renowned Galician band Berrog├╝etto, whose performance remains one of his favourites over ten years of top-class acts.

As much as it's been a challenge attracting eminent groups, Maurizio's done an amazing job on a very limited budget, also bringing in Australian Celtic fusionist Mark Saul in 2006, Spanish virtuoso Hevia in 2009, and - his personal favourite - Celtic/world music group Kila from Dublin in 2010. This year he's done it again, with the Isle of Skye's cross-genre Celtic dance favourites the Peatbog Faeries topping the bill.

Maurizio's own bands Ogam and Mortimer McGrave routinely take the stage at Montelago, offering ambience and "music for the imagination" (Ogam) on one end of the spectrum, and rousing Celtic rock (Mortimer) on the other. This year he's chosen to rock, taking the stage on Friday 3rd August at 10pm.

After its promising beginnings, the festival has grown into an event keenly anticipated by the growing Montelago community, but where to from here?  "I'd like it to become a focal point for travellers and tourists coming from within and outside of Italy as they plan their trips here," says Maurizio. "For the Germans, Dutch, English, Americans and others making trips to this area, I'd like the festival to be the fixed point around which their other travel ideas are centred. And then also the new generation - I'd like to pass this on, for them to embrace it and take it forward."

After all he's accomplished with the festival to date, seems like he's got it truckin' down the right road - may the journey continue...

(The second part of this post can be read here.)

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