Friday, July 08, 2011

If Chopin had had Skype...

Nohant, deep in the countryside of the Loire region of France, used to be home to George Sand and, at select moments, also her lover, Frederic Chopin. Guests would have included the leading artists, writers and musicians of their day - not least (of special interest to me) Ivan Turgenev and Pauline Viardot. But today Nohant is home to a music festival and welcomes a whole raft of 21st-century musical luminaries instead.

Last Monday the Nohant Festival was planning to honour the great American pianist Byron Janis, who made some of the most stunning recordings I've had the good fortune to hear of repertoire including Chopin and Rachmaninov. Tragically he had to stop performing after developing psoriatic arthritis in both hands in the 1970s, though he kept on as long as the condition would allow. Now he is 83.

He couldn't go to Nohant after all, stricken with inflammation in a sciatic nerve. Cue wonders of modern technology. They hooked Janis up via Skype instead for an interview with the festival president, Yves Henry. The occasion was a screening of a new film by the award-winning director Peter Rosen, The Byron Janis Story.

And that should be quite a story: for one thing, Janis studied with Horowitz for four years; for another, among the accolades that have come his way include being the first American artist to be sent to the USSR in 1960, opening the first cultural exchange between the two Cold War adversaries. Incidentally, his wife, Maria, is the daughter of the actor Gary Cooper.

Even more intriguing, though, is the news that Janis has recently published his autobiography. The title?  CHOPIN AND BEYOND: MY EXTRAORDINARY LIFE IN MUSIC AND THE PARANORMAL. Investigate book and CD further, right here. 

I can't help wondering what Chopin would be doing if he were alive today and had access to Skype, film-making, et al. I suspect he would shun the lot of them. While Liszt would take copious advantage of it all, would be tweeting happily ("@SandAuthor thx 4 glorious w/end chez vous, how goes w Little ChipChip, hugz, Fxx") and would probably have a TV series to himself, Chopin would be one of those artists who'd pitch up out of the blue from time to time to give a recital unannounced in some out-of-the-way spot to which his aficionados would flock, alerted by word of mouth only.

The festival winds up on Sunday with a recital by Helene Tysman. Meanwhile, here's Byron Janis himself...