Genoa Bridge: a farewell concert, and then the inauguration ceremony

From July 27 to August 3: here’s what’s going on during the final week before the new Genoa Bridge is opened to traffic

On the night when it came time to say goodbye to the worksite where they built Genoa’s new bridge, workman held their mobile phones aloft ready to snap a photo of a bronze plaque bearing their name. A concert by the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Antonio Pappano,  honored a procession of over 1,000 workers, technicians, engineers whose names were engraved on this bronze plaque to record all those who built the new bridge to replace the Morandi, which collapsed in August 2018 killing 43 people.

The plaque and the concert were tangible signs of appreciation for people who had worked day and night on the construction site during the last week to keep their promise and inaugurate Genoa’s new bridge on August 3. Seven days spent finishing up the last tasks: asphalt paving, signage, glass windbreaking panels, the opening of the motorway junctions. Seven days that started on Monday July 27, with a concert organized by Webuild Group to say goodbye to the bridge it built with Fincantieri before delivering it to the city of Genoa. Under the banner bearing the slogan #Iwasthere.

The concert that celebrated the workers who built the bridge

The celebration of the workers who built the new Genoa Bridge began at 8:30 p.m. on July 27th, when Maestro Antonio Pappano lifted his baton and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Orchestra began its performance with the notes of Samuel Barber’s Adagio. A poignant melody that wafted upwards to the top of the 40-metre-high (131 feet) piers of the bridge, before giving way to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

The concert was attended by local authorities, and also by hundreds of workers who had been toiling on the bridge for months. Webuild CEO Pietro Salini addressed his greetings to them.

“This bridge represents the gigantic pride of being part of this dream, together with wonderful people who put their hearts into their work,” he said. “It was made by all of us, Webuild put its heart into it. We are the ones who built it, the people here tonight know how to get things done. Tonight, we say thanks to the people who put their hearts into this work.  It is thanks to them that we can say: We made it.”

And commenting on the six-metre bronze plaque unveiled during the event commemorating those who worked on the bridge, he added: “It gives me great satisfaction to stand here before more than 1,000 names engraved in this great plaque. Their actions have given confidence and hope to the whole country in such a complex year. This bridge is first step of Italy’s re-opening, and you have shown that we can get up and running again, and well.”

It was clear from the start that the construction of the new Genoa Bridge would be a completely new experience. And it was also immediately clear to Maestro Antonio Pappano when he arrived at the construction site in the afternoon for rehearsals. When he saw the 1,067 metre (3500 feet) viaduct over the Polcevera River valley, he was speechless.

“This is a real debut,” said the Maestro just before performing. “Tonight, we perform music by Beethoven, who was the greatest ‘musical architect’ in history. With his creativity, his skills as an experimenter, his drive to finish a project, he is the perfect metaphor for this evening.”

At the bridge worksite, packed with workers still in overalls, the notes of Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony “Eroica” washed over the audience. The overture was also used by the Italian broadcasts of Radio London during World War II, to give a message of hope in the darkest hour to all of Europe (in Morse code, three dots and a line form the “V” of “Victory”). “Eroica” is a symphony of titanic strength in which Beethoven expressed the elements of man’s drama and the heroism of symphonic music itself: fate knocking on the door and man facing destiny with courage.

A metaphor for this bridge.

The construction of an infrastructure work, symphony of arts and crafts

On the construction site where Genoa’s new bridge was being built, the machines have fallen still.  Silence has replaced the noise made by the over 1,000 people who for a year have been relentlessly working to compete their task. Now it is time for music.

There is a European tradition that links music to the workplace. In Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, concerts were often dedicated to workers: classics for a new and different audience from the traditional bourgeois. And in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s, the commitment of musicians such as Luigi Nono, Claudio Abbado and Maurizio Pollini “illuminated the factory” with different sensibilities and experiences.

In a concert, the last note is the moment that comes before silence. In a building site, it is the instant in which the hands become still. Ezio Bosso, the late maestro and composer who passed away after a long battle against illness, said that “the last note does not exist, because every instrument that stops playing leaves room for another.”

Thus, when work on new Genoa Bridge is completed, the example it has set will pave the way for other projects across the country to be completed by adopting this faster and more efficient method, and leaves room to imagine the rebirth of an entire country accompanied by the music of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

In an orchestra each member is obliged to listen to himself and others. The same happens in a construction site. The thousands of men and women who in little more than a year have built the new Genoa Bridge have become an orchestra, in a symphony of arts and crafts. In the restricted space of the construction site, and at a disturbing time, every movement, every action, every purpose was measured by the movements, the actions, the intentions of others.

This perception emerges vividly by observing the final days of the work on the bridge’s deck, in a swarm of workers who are following a precise pattern.

The orchestra plays a single piece of music.  Delivering a work means saying goodbye, putting it in the hands of someone else, of the people who will use it. And yet, like Bosso said, this construction site leaves a replicable model that can be used elsewhere in Italy. This work has convinced many people that “the last note does not exist,” because the new Genoa Bridge, born from a dramatic and unforgettable tragedy, is and will remain the heritage of everyone. Just like music.

Athens and Genoa, celebrating a great infrastructure work

A thread connects Athens and Genoa, the locations of two projects built by the Webuild Group and designed by architect Renzo Piano.

On 26 June 2014, the Webuild Group (then Salini Impregilo) organised a classical music concert in the Piano-designed Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre in Athens which became a major attraction for European arts and culture. Entitled “The Crane Dance” (because the movement of the cranes accompanied the music of the orchestra), the concert celebrated the idea that an infrastructure work could embrace art and beauty.

The centre and the bridge are linked by Webuild and the architect Renzo Piano, who designed the bridge over the Polcevera to be perfectly integrated with the environment and to tell the story of this city.

“It is a Genoese bridge, because it is a bridge that does its job well. It is an urban bridge,” the Genoa-born architect said. “And it is the child of a tragedy. I came up with the idea, it’s the people who built it. This is not a bridge, it’s a ship, a white vessel. It’s sober, simple, strong.”

Six years after the “Dance of the Cranes” in Athens, Renzo Piano attended Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Orchestra’s concert in Genoa. It ended with the notes of Italy’s national anthem, and the bridge was illuminated with the red, white and green colors of Italy’s flag, just as it had been every night starting from Italy’s lockdown.

August 3: the inauguration of the new Genoa Bridge

 A last week of intense work, with dozens of people toiling day and night to put the finishing touches on the bridge. The final sprint at a construction site that ran a marathon without stopping once. The finish line is on August 3, when the inauguration ceremony for the new Genova San Giorgio Bridge begins.

As announced by the Mayor and Commissioner for Reconstruction Marco Bucci, the ceremony will be attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, confirming the symbolic value of this work. On one hand, the ceremony will commemorate the 43 victims of the collapse of Morandi, and on the other highlight the success of an all-Italian enterprise.

“I have three thoughts: the first is for the 43 victims and their families,” said Bucci at the concert at the foot of the bridge. “Then my thoughts go to the city of Genoa and its 600,000 residents who suffered the collapse of the Morandi.”

Turning to the workers of Webuild and Fincantieri sitting in the stands, he said: “Lastly, I think of those of you who worked on this bridge. You are talented, you are technicians at some of the world’s leading companies, and you have worked with both your head and your heart. You worked with passion. You are the Italy that gets things done. And you can now say to everyone: “I made this bridge.”