Local Musician and Teacher Performs in Italy, Czechia
By WRILEY NELSON
Local musician and teacher Timothy Iversen recently returned from a marathon of work and travel in Europe. The long-serving Cooperstown High School music teacher and performer spent nearly six weeks practicing his craft for a variety of audiences in Italy and the Czech Republic, working all night and exploring the accumulated centuries of history and culture by day. The schedule was grueling but fulfilling; Iversen spent just under two weeks touring Italy with the Syracuse-based jazz ensemble Central Winds, then served as musical director and composer for a performance at the prestigious Prague Shakespeare Company Summer Intensive.
“The jazz ensemble is a very solid, excellent group,” he said. “I’ve been playing with them a few times a year for the past five years or so. I couldn’t turn down the invitation to perform in Italy.”
Central Winds spent four to five nights each in Rome, Florence, and Venice, playing to packed crowds in some of the most historic and scenic venues in the world. They spent two nights playing across the street from the Coliseum. Iversen made a point of spending every available minute exploring the cultural heritage sites.
“Italy is so staggeringly full of history. You could live a lifetime there and still not get it all. It’s just too much,” he recalled.
The group got a private tour of the Coliseum, including many underground artifacts and remains, as well as an overview of archaeological work at the site. They also enjoyed an extensive tour of Vatican City.
“The Vatican tour was one of the most astonishing and beautiful experiences I’ve ever had,” Iversen said. “They had such incredible collections of classical and Renaissance art and architecture. The collection of Roman and Greek antiquities was unbelievably beautiful and large.”
After Rome, the group moved to Florence and then to Venice. Iversen took every opportunity to visit the Boboli Gardens, Uffizi Gallery and other historic cultural sites. In Venice, he toured a large collection of medieval weapons and torture implements in the Doge’s Palace.
“It was disturbing to see the history of how people abuse each other,” he said, “and even more disturbing because a lot of the weapons and devices were really beautifully made.”
An Italian relative of one of Iversen’s colleagues took him for a private driving tour of the countryside around Venice. He found the perspective of an ordinary local resident to be very different from that of a professional tour guide.
“Italians have a different perspective on all the history they live around,” Iversen recalled. “Driving through the countryside, we went past some kind of Roman marker, which was probably 2,000 years old. He pointed it out but was very flippant about it: ‘Oh, that’s just a marker, we don’t need to see it. I’ve got better stuff in my house.’ And sure enough, he did! I’ve got to think some of that stuff wasn’t quite legal to have, but it was an amazing collection.”
After the whirlwind tour of Italy, Iversen settled into Prague for three weeks as musical director for a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Prague Shakespeare Company Summer Intensive. This six-week program draws college upperclassmen studying acting at an elite level from around the world. In each of the three-week sessions, the young actors rehearse and perform 13 full productions. Iversen was invited to participate by SUNY Oneonta theatre professor and longtime Prague Shakespeare Company Director Dr. Kiara Pipino, who also organized one of the jazz performances outside of Venice.
“She wanted to do a musical of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and asked me to write it last winter,” Iversen said. “The problem with that is that it’s Shakespeare. Normally if I’m working on a musical for someone, they’re going to hand me a sheet of lyrics and the first thing I’m going to do is hack it to bits to make it work musically; I’ll change the order, work on internal rhymes, change phrase lengths, that kind of thing. You can’t do that with Shakespeare. We kept the text intact for the music, which was a real challenge. I spent probably nine months on it.”
“The ending didn’t quite work and I had to re-write the whole thing in a night,” he continued. “I didn’t sleep at all…but it was very gratifying to see such great students and performers working on my music. It was so incredible to see that kind of talent, let alone be able to work with them.”
Although he spent every evening working on the show, Iversen still took every chance to explore one of the world’s most beautiful, historic and well-designed cities.
“I really got to explore Prague because I was there long enough, and usually had about half the day to look around,” he recalled. “I tried very specifically to get away from the touristy areas after a while and really see every part of the city. I even played in a park a few times; I was out practicing one day on the guitar and a man came up, flipped my hat over and threw some money in it… When you stay in one place long enough, you can really start to see the difference between that culture and your own. It gives you an appreciation for the things we do well here in the U.S. and for the things that the other culture does well.”
“The public transportation in Prague, for instance, was just incredible. It goes anywhere you could possibly need to go, and you can get a one-year unlimited pass for around US $70.00. That’s your entire transit budget for the year.”
He also noted the strong theatrical culture in Czechia, saying that Prague had more theaters and playhouses than he had ever seen in a single town. Along with other group members, he visited a perfectly preserved 18th century baroque theater and a modernist theater with a rotating seating house built in the 1960s.
Asked for reflections on the trip as a whole, Iversen dove into the many local food cultures he enjoyed and then discussed the broader benefits of travel.
“All the food was incredible, as you might imagine,” he said. “Italy was a lot of pasta, cheese and vegetables, of course. Czech food was very different and very heavy. The Czechs eat meat with their meat and meat on the side. I had no complaints there…I think I finished the Italy tour with 27 types of gelato under my belt. Any time we were out and I saw a new flavor, I made sure to at least try it.”
“Everyone should go to Europe,” he concluded. “It will change the way you look at your own country and your own life. It will make you think about what we do here and what we don’t do, appreciate the things we do better and think about what we could do better. I think Mark Twain said, ‘travel is the best way to remove prejudice,’ and I couldn’t agree more.”
Otsego County residents have had life-changing adventures abroad. Travel changes people for the better, and stories of travel can inspire local communities to engage more fully with the world around them. If you have a story of work, study, or exploration overseas, contact News Editor Wriley Nelson at NewsDesk@allotsego.com to bring your story home.