The John Hall Venice 50th Anniversary Reunion Event
May 17, 2014 in Venice, at The Hotel Monaco and Cini Foundation, San Giorgio Maggiore

Starting with a cocktail party on Friday night at the Hotel Monaco, the event went on with a brilliant lecture from 1978 alumnus Adam Lowe about his team’s recreation of the stolen ‘Marriage at Cana’ by Veronese at The Cini Foundation. This was then followed by a tour and a wonderful drinks party in the cloisters of the monastery with a performance from Dame Emma Kirkby, alumna of 1966, who is now a world famous soprano and expert on early music singing, accompanied by the brilliant Simone Colavecci on theorbo. The acoustics on Longhena’s stone staircase were superb! Finally there was a spectacular gala dinner in Palladio’s fabulous refectory. Thanks to all who came and made it a night to remember for ever!

> Click here for photographs of the John Hall Venice 50th Anniversary reunion dinner

Comments from alumni from the first 1965 Course who came to Venice to celebrate in February 2015. They invited the current 2015 alumni to prosecco in Franco’s Osteria alla Bifora in Campo S.Margarita.

“There are in our existence spots of time
Which with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue…”

We set off for Venice 50 years ago, none of us I suspect, able to imagine what cultural and social delights lay ahead of us in the first ever Venice Course. Nor could we possibly have foreseen that some of us would sustain the friendships made in 1965 over the course of 50 years. I for one could not have imagined when I was 18 that I would ever be this old! But when we are together I don’t feel old at all. We may all be experiencing the hazards of advancing years but the magic of Venice 1965, ‘a spot of time’ returns and our youthful selves are not far away. In fact, on this particular visit I caught fleeting glimpses of our younger selves running for vaparettos, dancing in the hugging room, discussing philosophy over cappuccinos on the Zattere, in various costumes making our films, becoming acquainted with beautiful palaces and churches, Titians and Tiepolos, meeting Peggy Guggenheim, piped aboard HMS Troubridge, getting drunk, wearing carnations….

We have all at different times returned to Venice and we have celebrated significant anniversaries together in London. Some went back last year to celebrate the 50th Course but that was with students from other years as well. This one, the 50th year since the Course began, was arranged by us for us. It felt important to celebrate our friendships which began at ‘Cici’s’ in February 1965 and to celebrate what the Venice Course did for us all. How often we have talked about how the experience was life-changing, how it has resonated throughout our lives and how much we feel we owe to John’s vision in creating the Course. He brought us all together, a group of teenage strangers and our friendships began and developed against the most beautiful backdrop imaginable. Over the years a group of us has evolved into a 1965 Venice Course ‘family’ and how exciting it was after 45 years of absence to find and reclaim Della. Within a few hours it was as if she had always been there, similarly Liz who we had found a few years before but not had a chance to spend extended time with.

Those of us who stayed at Hotel San Stefano drifted down to breakfast just as we had all those years ago at Cici’s and similarly, as in 1965, we all met up for sunny lunches on the Zattere and spent these leisurely occasions catching up on life histories, reminiscing, laughing. We all so easily fall into each other’s company and any intervening years seem quite irrelevant. There was renewed pleasure in revisiting favourite buildings now perhaps appreciated even more profoundly: the Miracoli, San Zaccaria, the Frari. And the magic of Venice never goes stale. Wandering around, over bridges, down alleyways, through empty squares and everywhere hearing the background ‘music’ of water and chugging boats remains a feast for the senses. At night everywhere still looks like the set for an opera. Indeed what better background for one of the finest renderings ever of ‘our’ song in the dark, under a lamp, memorably performed by Michael and Phillip while amused Venetians strolled by.

On our last night we were lucky enough to find a concert of music by Vivaldi being performed in Chiesa San Vidal. It was quite superb, a wonderful gift for our last night. We listened attentively, well aware of the privilege of hearing Vivaldi in his own city. But our less reverent teenage selves were still hovering around, distracting our older and wiser selves. The cellist was a dramatic performer: his arms swooped and sawed at his cello, his fluid body movements nearly took him off his seat and his head jiggled in all directions so energetically you could fear it might fly off. We briefly got the giggles!

It was wonderful to meet this year’s delightful students, our ‘descendants’, practically our relations! Indeed, Meriel’s great-niece was amongst this group, perhaps the first third generation student? There have, of course, been plenty of second generation participants; Michael probably holds the record, I would imagine, having dispatched all four daughters to Venice. I had thought the students might find it pretty boring, meeting us old fogies, as we must seem to them, but they welcomed us into their youthful midst, seemingly eager to hear stories from 1965 and we had a most convivial evening with prosecco. Cheering too to see how successfully Charlie has taken on some of the responsibilities of looking after the students with his usual flair and charm.

These 2015 students might seem to be our descendants but of course John is our remarkable and genial ‘patriarch’. Wonderful it was to end each day of our anniversary visit with dinners in various places along the Calle Lunga and John, as always, beaming benignly at each of us who were lucky enough to have had the privilege of being his very first group of students 50 years ago.

Sally on behalf of the Golden Oldies, April 2015

The Very Golden Oldies
by alumnus of 2015, Rory Fraser

Throughout our stay in Venice, there was invariably one thing which linked the events to which we were invited; this was prosecco – and plenty of it. After all, what better way to wash down a Titian, a bit of Tiepolo and a hint of Monteverdi, than with a golden glass of cordially bubbling booze?
Well, the Old John Hall drinks was no exception to this rather wonderful rule, and the mixture of the golden drink with the company of – what I have slightly cheekily referred to as – the Golden Oldies, was fabulous. As I noted in my diary early on in the course: ‘it would appear that John Hall is more of an institution than a course’, and this became apparent to us on meeting the exceptionally hospitable gang of groovy OJH’s. In fact, they made us feel old! For their enthusiasm, laughter, and spontaneous bursting into song was far beyond anything that we ‘youths’ could match.
This meeting reinforced something which we had all been feeling for some weeks: that the John Hall Course is extremely special. Whilst our contemporaries may be raving on the beaches of SEA (South East Asia), or saving the world in a Sloth Sanctuary, I somehow doubt that they will be flying out again in 50 years-time for a reunion. Furthermore, only a week after the end of the course, I am already noticing how it has changed my perception of many previously accepted things. In fact, the huge increase in my frame of reference has probably changed me permanently.
So, in 50 years time (around the John Hall centenary!!) I am fairly sure that I, God willing, will be one of the Golden Oldies, dishing out the prosecco…

John Hall Venice