Festival hits high notes under the Tuscan sun

Tuscany’s summer cultural festival has become a highlight of the region, especially for the town of Cortona, attracting everyone from the curious to Hollywood celebs. This year the Tuscan Sun Festival features Sharon Stone, Greta Scacchi and Jeremy Irons on the, um, menu. Packages are available for 2000 euros pp, and some events cost as little as 30 euros.

In the 1990s, American hedge-fund manager Barrett Wissman and cellist Nina Kotova had often discussed organizing an event somewhere in the world where friends could make music together. As regular visitors and part-time residents in the Cortona area, Wissman and Kotova talked about bringing together musicians, as well as artists from many disciplines, with their neighbour, Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. Mayes suggested that Cortona might be the suitable location.

The Tuscan Sun Festival debuted in 2003, aiming to breathe musical life back into the beautiful Tuscan town, combined with enthusiastic international artists. Since then, the festival has become an annual event.

Wissman pleaded guilty in 2009 to securities fraud as part of an investigation of corruption at New York’s $US122 billion pension fund. He was also the chairman of the talent agency IMG Artists, which represents classical musicians at the festival. He stepped down and was replaced as chairman by Charles Hamlen and IMG still plays a key role at the festival. This year it runs from July 30-August 7. Each evening, concerts featuring some of the world’s most distinguished artists are held in Cortona’s romantic-period theatre, Teatro Signorelli.

Some festival highlights include:

  • A dinner on July 30 hosted by James Suckling, former senior editor of the Wine Spectator, including dinner at the Michelin-starred Il Falconiere Relais & Chateaux resort, featuring six of the top syrah wines from the region.
  • July 31 features a private tasting hosted by Marco Molesini at his enoteca in the heart of Cortona, sampling the best wines the region has to offer, attending the opening gala dinner of the Tuscan Sun Festival at Il Borro Wine Estate, the stunning winery and private estate of the Ferragamo family, who will personally host the event. Many of the festival’s artists will attend the dinner including Sharon Stone and Greta Scacchi.
  • On August 1, the opening performance of the festival Cortona’s Teatro Signorelli. Dedicated to Argentina and its most seductive dance, legendary pianist Martha Argerich leads an exceptional night of Tango variations by composers such as Ginastera, Piazzolla and Bacalov. Attendance includes pre-concert and interval champagne and a post-concert reception and dinner in honour of the performers.
  • On August 4, Sharon Stone and Jeremy Irons feature at a post-concert gala dinner hosted by the highly-rated winery Tenimenti d’Alessandro, famous not only for its 95+ rated wines but also its extensive contemporary art collection.
  • Each year the festival presents authors and lecturers who give readings and talks. Past authors have included Frances Mayes, Professor Guido Paduano, Matthew Gurewitsch and Barry Unsworth.  Some of the lectures are free.
  • There are also vineyard excursions and cooking demonstrations. Renowned Tuscan chef Donatella Balducci will demonstrates techniques and recipes of traditional Tuscan food.  The price is a reasonable 30 euros pp. Menu: Crostini with fig marmalade and fennel ‘cinta sinese’ (sienese wild pork) salami ;  ‘Farro’ (a Tuscan wheat) soup with porcini mushrooms, from Casentino;   Cod cooked in ‘zimino’, a typical Tuscan vegetable sauce;  San Giuseppe doughnuts.

Getting there: Cortona by train from Florence, Milan, Rome and Naples. Camucia is the name of the station which sits at the foot of hill of Cortona. Buses and taxis run between Camucia and Cortona – distance is 2km. Cortona has many free and pay car parks. Although it is possible to drive and park inside Cortona, all of the free parking is on the outside of the city walls.

Tuscan Sun Festival Office – (during the festival only)
Piazza Signorelli 14
52044 Cortona
Tel: + 39 0575 62767

Terretrusche Ticketing
Via Nazionale 42
52044 Cortona
Tel: + 39 0575 606 887

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