From the concert halls of Chicago to the olive groves of Liguria, orchestra conductor Cindy Egolf has spent the last 15 years chasing the sun, better food and her passion for music.
What first brought you to the region?
I moved from Chicago – a city of more than eight million people – to the Italian Riviera 15 years ago. I was looking for something different… Better weather, as Chicago can be brutal in the summer and the winter, better food and to resume my conductor’s career! I knew I wanted to live in Italy and learn Italian so headed to Ventimiglia, but after the death of my fiancé, I decided I no longer wanted to be in the town. It was during a drive into the mountains that I came across the beautiful Dolceacqua! I had stopped for a tea and was casually asking about if anyone had a place to rent when one chap introduced himself and his flat. That’s what I love about the place: even if no one knows you and you can’t speak a word of Italian, like me when I arrived, everyone greets you and is happy to chat. I stayed in the village for nine years before I found my rustico. A rustico is a stone-built property, but at first I was just the owner of a pile of stones! I’ve spent the last six years working on it and just finished a glass conservatory. I’m high above the village and the last house on a very old dirt road – I dare you to try and find me! My only real neighbours are the wild boar and my 100 ancient olive trees. By the way, in Dolceacqua, the villagers say there are 2,000 ‘souls’. It’s poetic compared to Chicago.
You have built a career in music. What role has your move to Italy played in its development?
A conductor’s world is very male-dominated and it’s difficult to break into as a woman. In the US, our culture is much shorter and is much more flexible than in Europe, which has such grand traditions that stretch back centuries. In the 1990s, my stateside career was progressing as a conductor and a lecturer of music, but I had an accident just two weeks after I auditioned for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which put an end to my career. I returned to conducting two decades later, but I haven’t actually worked with any orchestras in Italy or France! My favourite places to conduct are in Eastern Europe, such as in Sofia
We’re coming up to ‘festival season’. Which events do you recommend?
Both Aix-en-Provence and Menton have wonderful classical music concerts in the summer, and I always love the Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo, which has just come to an end. Locally, there is the Festival Internazionale delle Arpe in the tiny village of Isolabona in Italy every July. Musicians come from all over the world with their harps to play here – I’m always amazed that they make such a trip! If you’re in the area next spring, there’s a gorgeous flower festival that takes over Dolceacqua at the end of April: Carugi in Fiore.
How have you integrated into the international community of the region?
I’ve lived all around the world, but never sought out the expat community before I moved to Liguria. Today I work closely with the Professional Women’s Network (PWN) – I organise the luncheons and events in Monaco – and have been a member of the American Club of the Riviera for four or five years now. Both do wonderful work and address very interesting topics. I recently did an event for the PWN called ‘Manage like a Maestro’, which looked at the similarities between conducting and managing a large business or corporation –we use many of the same tools!
For readers visiting Dolceacqua and the surrounding area, where can you recommend if they want a quintessential experience?
The agriturismo Locanda Degli Ulivi, every time and forever. I absolutely love the people who run it and the place, with views of the mountains and the valleys, all the way down to the Mediterranean Sea… Bliss! €25 will get you a four-hour meal, but there’s no menu because they serve what they have on site. You need a whole day to enjoy it!
*Originally published in the May-June 2018 edition of Riviera Insider (#178)