Monday, September 17, 2007
Back from France...as I'd suspected, my technotwit tendencies (or inadequate laptop) prevented any blogging en route.
My play 'A Walk through the End of Time' was premiered on Saturday as part of the opening night of the Consonances Festival - a privilege indeed, and an astonishing experience.
The Alveole 14 of St Nazaire's former Nazi submarine base eyesore has been renamed LIFE and transformed into a venue for experimental performing arts which turned out to have a startlingly good acoustic; ours was the first show to take place inside it. Actors Marie-Christine Barrault and Charles Gonzales gave their all, director Ilonka van den Bercken from Amsterdam devised some beautiful coups-de-theatre, a young Dutch artist created projected drawings to illustrate the action in real time and the closing performance of the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time by Charles Neidich, Philippe Graffin, Raphael Wallfisch and Claire Desert was unforgettable. And afterwards the mayor of St Nazaire awarded me a medal. :-)
More pics on my permasite. For the moment, above: the American War Memorial on the beach at St Nazaire; the set inside LIFE; and a would-be playwright with Raphael Wallfisch (left) and Philippe Graffin (right).
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Welcome to LIFE, St Nazaire. The exterior looks as it always has - this is, after all, the old Nazi submarine base that the Allies never managed to destroy, though they left little standing in the rest of the town. But now St Nazaire has added to the place's usefulness as museum by carving into it a new centre for the experimental arts, featuring Alveole 14, a huge performance space with a back wall that can peel back to open on to the entire harbour...and it is here that my first one-act play, The End of Time, is due to be premiered one month from tomorrow, starring Marie-Christine Barrault. Philippe Graffin, Claire Desert, Raphael Wallfisch and Charles Neidich will play Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time in the second part of the evening. In a special pre-event event, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch will talk about her experiences in the Auschwitz women's orchestra, among other matters, and Philippe and Raphael will play the Duo for violin and cello by Erwin Schulhoff, who was later a prisoner in Terezin. It's the opening concert of the Consonances Festival and the full programme can be viewed here. It continues for a week and features a special focus on Ravel; performers include pianists Pascal Devoyon and Piers Lane, the fabulous Beynon girls (Emily, flute, and Catherine, harp), the Michelangelo Quartet and many more. Info on tickets is here.
Monday, September 25, 2006
A short report about Le Chant and a gallery of photos can be found on my permasite, however.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Friday, September 22, 2006
Back now, walking on air after an experience of the is-this-really-happening-will-someone-please-pinch-me-to-check variety. Briefly, 'Le chant de l'amour triomphant' raised the roof. It proved better than I'd ever hoped or expected - entirely thanks to the phenomenal team of musicians and Marie-Christine Barrault who performed it with absolute empathy.
A fuller report to follow - watch this space..
Monday, September 18, 2006
Here we are in St Nazaire, fresh off the train from Paris and preparing for evening no.1. Paris was wet, misty, oppressive - though, of course, beautiful as only Paris can be - but here the sea air manages to be crisp and mellow at the same time. The hotel has been wonderfully refurbished since my last visit 2 years ago and now Tom is practising his Mozart quintet. Avec le mute de practice, just in case some of the other string players are within earshot...and there are a few... We arrived just too late to catch the first concert of the evening - two per day, 6pm and 8.30pm - so acquaintance with the Quince Quartet will have to wait for the moment - but the later concert includes Philippe with his regular trio, Jeremy Menuhin and Raphael Wallfisch, in Beethoven's Op.1 No.1 and to close, the Dohnanyi Piano Quintet, which I haven't heard in decades.
My third visit here - so St Nazaire feels almost a home from home. It doesn't win on the Picturesque French Seaside Town stakes, since the Brits carpet-bombed it in the war trying to get rid of the German submarine base - the great concrete hulking eyesore of which has proved indestructible to this day. But there is atmosphere nevertheless; friendliness, enthusiasm for the festival and a flock of volunteers who support the festival with transport etc.
What I'm not used to, though, is feeling nervous. 'My' concert is on Thursday and with any luck I may meet 'my' actress, Marie-Christine Barrault, in about one hour's time. There's not much I can actually do, since the script is written, has been tweaked to accommodate the songs that Francois wants to sing and has now been translated into fine French too. Will the reality remotely match my mental image of LE CHANT DE L'AMOUR TRIOMPHANT? Or have I perhaps written - er - utter claptrap? Will Philippe actually want to walk from the back of the hall up to the stage, playing the fiddle, or is this unworkable? How are they going to get the string quartet on to the platform without holding up the action too much? Will Ruth like the Viardot song I sent her last week? It's all very scary, but up to a point all I can do is leave it to its own devices now....
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Next week, more good news: the St Nazaire Festival, where my new 'literary concert' script 'The Song of Triumphant Love' is being performed for the first time on 21 September - in French. Philippe Graffin, Francois Le Roux and the actress Marie-Christine Barrault are at the heart of it and it's the 'story behind the story behind the Chausson Poeme'. St Nazaire gets a mention, we've discovered, in the immortal Jacques Tati classic 'Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot', in which a very genteel lady gazes along the French coast and remarks, "Is that St Nazaire over there?"
Yes, it is. If I can get the laptop to do WiFi stuff (technotwit-dom permitting), I'll try to report while there. If not, A BIENTOT...
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Originally uploaded by Duchenj.
We are back home after ten fabulous days in France. First, a week in a 'gite' in the Loire Valley countryside near Angers, relaxing (me) and practising (Tom). Lovely food from local market, a little private 'piscine' in our jardin, some trips to see the chateaux at Usse and Azay-le-Rideau and a spot of wine-tasting for good measure... Then off to Philippe's festival, Consonanaces de St Nazaire, where I took this picture during a rehearsal for the Weber Clarinet Quintet.
Left to right: Philippe Graffin, Tom, Nobuko Imai, Gary Hoffman and Charles Neidich. And they were bloody fantastic. I sat by, watching the Tomcat and engaging in that time-honoured pursuit known in Yiddish as 'clibing nachas'.
The intensity of atmosphere in these chamber music festivals really has to be experienced to be believed. I've written about St Nazaire before (a post a few months back entitled 'My favourite festival') - suffice it to say that this small, quiet, pleasant, rather uneventful shipbuilding town on the Loire estuary is home to a festival that, thanks to Philippe, its artistic director, provides chamber music of the calibre more often heard at Carnegie or Wigmore halls. Apart from Tom's spot in the Weber with Charlie Neidich (who is a complete genius of the clarinet), another major highlight was hearing the Faure Second Piano Quartet in a performance by Philippe, Nobuko, Gary and Pascal Devoyon that made me feel I was hearing the piece for the first time - and so beautiful it brought on tears. The flow, the freedom, the richness of expressive range, the cohesion between the players and the sense of utter absorption in Faure's magical language - words, I'm afraid, don't do it justice.
Rodion Shchedrin was present throughout - he was the focus of the festival. Tomorrow Philippe is giving the world premiere of a new Shchedrin work, Concerto Parlando. Rather than sitting here blogging, I ought to get on the next plane back to Nantes... Shchedrin had brought with him one of his finest young interpreters, a hotshot Russian pianist named Ekaterina ('Katia') Mechetina who has just won the World Piano Competition in Cincinnati (more details here). She performed a number of his piano works, which are astounding: Shchedrin, a fantastic pianist himself, knows exactly how to exploit the instrument's potential and creates pieces for it that are immensely energetic and hugely demanding on any virtuoso's abilities, yet also deeply poetic. Cross Shostakovich with Keith Jarrett and double it.
Every festival, however, should have a British brass player. Martin Hurrell of the BBC Symphony Orchestra was there to be trumpet soloist in Concerto Parlando alongside Philippe (the idea was to create something along similar lines to the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto which features a prominent trumpet solo). Martin is a brilliant player but also happens to be the funniest guy on earth. His sense of timing ought to have propelled him onto his own TV show years ago. Around midnight a few days ago over a late-night repas of French wine and cheese, he reduced the entire festival table, including Shchedrin and his wife, the former Bolshoi prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya, to helpless, howling rubble with his impersonation of a certain 20th-century dictator which would make Charlie Chaplin turn in his grave. The experience won't be quickly forgotten...
We didn't really want to come home. But Solti is very pleased to see us.