Actually I wanted to write this text on my way from Paris to Cologne in the train, but sitting together in the TGV (train grand vitesse = French superfast train) next to my good friend and pianist Steven Osborne prohibited me to do anything else but talking to him about life, love and music – which means this text had to wait until my next journey, which was obviously not theÂ drive in a rent-a-car from Cologne to Berlin the night after our concert in Siegburg, but now, a day later, on my flight from Berlin via Frankfurt to Boston (long live the online-checkin: I am sitting in the exit-row with endless leg-space – no seat in front of me!)..
In Paris Steven and me had probably given our best concert yet, wonderful program with a great improvisatory sense to it (we did the StÃ¼cke im Volkston by Schumann, Piazzolla’s Tango and the Sonatas by Alkan and Shostakovich). Unlike the concert in Antwerp where in my opinion we didn’t have the same confidence to be as free and spontaneous, in Paris’ Theatre de la Ville we had discussed our “game-plan” to explore a greater freedom in this repertoire which can easily become a bit measured (especially the Alkan can get stale when being performed to strictly).
It felt like being one of these story-tellers of the middle-ages who sit near the city’s walls with their curious audience around them, following carefully each word because otherwise they would miss the sense of the story. The Theatre de la Ville is located vis-a-vis the Chatelet, right at the Seine, in the heart of Paris, and while it looks all pompous and beautiful from the outside, the hall itself is modern, a bit like a University lecture-hall with the audience sitting in a half-circle around the stage, very close to the artists. Every row is substantially higher than the other one, so from each seat one has the perfect view over the stage – maybe that’s the reason why people love to come there (each time I have played there, the room was packed, and I think it seats at least 600 people, but this is a pure estimate).
But it might also have to do with the director of the hall, an old friend of mine, George Gara; he doesn’t care much about the “big names” but faithfully brings in younger and lesser known artists, most of whom he had kind of “tested” in his festival “Juventus” in Cambrai; this is a very different festival to what you might be used to normally: Each year he invites a couple of young, promising talents, let’s say in average four or five, the so-called “Laureats” who present themselves with a little recital – but they are also encouraged to play Chambermusic with the Laureats from earlier years who come back frequently like to family reunions. I am ashamed that I haven’t been back in quite a while (I am always torn in between having fun and enjoying life as a musician and spending some important time at home with wife and childâ€¦), because this group of Juventus-musicians is very inspiring to work with and to listen to; well, some of them became quite big stars like counter tenor Andreas Scholl, flutist Emmanuel Pahud or pianists Pjotr Anderszewski and Alexandre Tharaud among others.
Somehow “his” audience must trust him, because they always show up in large numbers, and maybe I shouldn’t be writing this here, but I am definitely no star in France – hardly ever playing there, not because I wouldn’t want to, but because there is a big number of excellent French cellists who really want to play there, and since I am not a very pushy person, I only go to this beautiful country once a year 🙁
Why am I sad about this? I have always been very francophil, learned a bit of French in school, lost my virginity to a lovely French flautist whom I dated for three years, starting with the fall of the wall Nov 9 1989 – gosh, 19 years, time flies, this is crazy! So whenever I am in Paris I start feeling incredibly nostalgic, dreaming of these days when I had no idea in which direction my life would be taking me. It is such a clichÃ©e, but it is the city of love, at least for me, with all these charming little cafÃ©s and brasseries, these romantic bridges crossing the Seine and all that flair no other city seems to have. Through this flute player I also got drawn heavily into visual arts, visiting often my favorite museum, the Musee d’Orsay, and feeling so stupid and ignorant next to her, who knew so much about it; somehow in my childhood I didn’t learn to appreciate the arts, so it needed nothing less than Paris to convert me.
And the food, you are asking? Mh, have never been the greatest fan of the haute-cuisine, since I like to eat; I have to have something on my plate, and afterwards I would like to have something left in my purse, so no, I don’t do haute-cuisine. Also I don’t have an elaborate taste with wine (to be truthful, I might be able to taste the difference between a Bordeaux and a Chianti, but I can’t remember it – so if you do a wine-tasting with me, I’d enjoy it immensely but would make the biggest fool of myself since I can’t put a name on a single wine, and I am not exaggerating), but I do love their cheese. I could kill for it, and it was one of the reasons why I left New York (I lived there from 1994-2001). If I don’t get enough cheese per week, I am really miserable. What else – the patisseries, yes, excellent, love them, but the normal food? Sorry for saying it, but I seem to be very unlucky with restaurants in Paris (except this time, we did find a nice little place very near the Chatelet, where we had the funniest waitress and quite delicious scallops) – Brussels for example seems to have a higher density of good restaurants.
But look who is talking: a self-declared gourmand, who loves to eat but can’t tell the difference between Chianti and Bordeaux. I should just shut up and close the computer, but my flight hasn’t arrived yet, and I am too lazy to get up and take my book out of my backpack. The difference between gourmand and gourmet? Maybe I am wrong, but I would say, a gourmet knows and loves to eat great food, and a gourmand loves to eat, period. On my first night in Paris, having traveled all day from Berlin to Weimar, where I had been asked to be the patron over a wonderful project (“every child an instrument” – very ambitious, because it wants to give every single child in Weimar a chance to learn an instrument, and since I do believe that for our society it is crucial to raise the next generation not only playing Nintendo and Playstation, but also being able to express themselves artistically, I happily “gave my name”, travelled there, talked and played a bit at the official introduction of the project), back to Berlin’s SchÃ¶nefeld Airport (missing two train connections, almost missing the flight, again!) for the direct flight to Paris Orly – I got to my hotel at 11:20 pm, and no restaurant in the neighbourhood was open, so I had to go to – Mcdonalds, can you believe that? First time in Paris for a long time, and I have a Big Mac, how sad does it get?!
Oh, we are landing in Boston, I’d better get ready for that difficult task, off to another Dvorak in one of the most beautiful halls in the world with one of great orchestras, what an honour, can’t wait, and yes, I will report how it’s going here…