Monday, 18 May 2009

Art as the answer

I missed the last performance of Janacek’s opera, The Makropoulos Case. I was curious to see the way the director would stage the story. Since the play I want to write shares similar themes, it would have been interesting to see it. Alas, that was not meant to be.
Instead I was invited at the BNF (the new French National Library) for the opening of an exhibition about the lithographs and printed works of French artist Jean Michel Alberola. The man obviously has a phobia of the crowd and didn’t show up. His works do reveal this side of him, a game of riddles between words, colours and shapes, discreet, playful sensitive and slightly austere. Something between Dada, Guy Debord’s situationisme, pop art and Oulipo… I brought Ulysses along and he was very happy to see the works.
There might be a possibility to do an exhibition of Al Hansen’s work. I had talked about that with Bibbe when I was in New York a couple of years ago. At that time, I thought Simon, who knew the director of the Centre Pompidou, would be willing to introduce me to him. But he refused, saying that it was a delicate situation and that he didn’t want to give the feeling he was using his connection. Philippe, the friend who kindly invited me and Ulysses this evening, said there might be some ways if we managed to find a link between Al Hansen’s works and those in storage at the BNF. Al Hansen is virtually unknown here – although his grandson Beck, is indeed quite celebrated in France, albeit as a pop musician. Philippe’s interest rose when I told him about this big retrospective of Al’s work at the Köln State Museum and another one, entitled Playing with Matches which he did with Beck. Al Hansen is quite a maître à penser for me, though without the rules and laws. He celebrates life from all its little corners and unexpected turns. I really want more people to discover him.
Since the BNF was located near one of my favourite movie theatres in Paris, I suggest to Ulysses  to end the evening with a film, the excellent Good Morning England. Exactly what I needed in these time of mourning. Something light, entertaining, filled with joie de vivre and hope – and lots of 60’s rock music!

Michel Alberola: 'Up to date'

Friday, 15 May 2009


As too often in my life, music is my only haven. I am trying to organize some singing sessions with friends. My piano is tuned, so it would be shame not to take advantage of it.
I’m gathering a few singers here and there to go through a repertoire including part-songs, duets and lieder. Only boys for now, so I had do search through many scores to find the adequate material. Beautiful a cappella Schubert four-part songs, as well as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov’s which I had never heard before. Singing in Russian may take some time, so we began with Schubert, even if German isn’t a language any of them can speak. Mozart’s Notturni would have come next, but there were written for two female voices and a basso. So we had to leave them aside. 
People should know more of the joy of singing together. Beside the music, it also creates great vibrations that spread all around. I always feel rejuvenated after a singing session. I introduced Ulysses to a few duets that I have been working with Julia and Isabelle. Now the plan is to settle a few dates in June for a couple of private performances among friends. Good friends, good music, and good food. That’s the perfect combination.


Sometime, love comes and leaves in front of one's eyes and one can only remain passive. As two friends said : "It’s you, I and us." 
Most of the time, one of the three is missing. From the beginning, I had this odd impression that whenever Andy was not around, I didn’t feel him at all. As if the very concept of him in the relationship did not exist. When I think of it now, I would almost say that his physical presence was like a mirage, that he never completely allowed himself to materialise in our story. It was a weird impression. Whether we feel or do not feel for someone. This void was an unknown sensation I had never felt for someone. Was it all a masquerade ?
The answer has not come to me.
It’s now ended. I didn’t have any part in the finality. Andy left one morning. The atmosphere was very silent but heavy. He had told me the previous night that somebody like Alo was more suitable to me. Later in the day he sent me a text message thanking me for the relationship. Was this the end? 
Last week we spent the whole Sunday afternoon playing music together. It was the first time. I showed him music that aren't usually played on the flute, artsongs and lieder I'm singing alone or with others. It was a beautiful moment. Dense and deep.     

I could only watch it happen. Andy has never been good at expressing his feelings. There was never any ’us’.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Yundi Li

Yundi Li in concert tonight! At last I’ve had the chance to catch the pianist on stage – thanks to my long time friend Vanessa. He was to give a recital at the Salle Pleyel.
“Remember, An, it’s the Salle Pleyel. Not the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées!!!” she added with a smile when we called each other to confirm our appointment.
The previous time Vanessa and I were to meet at the Salle Pleyel was a few years ago when I got two invitations for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Orchestre d’Île de France. They had performed my father’s music many times so it was natural he be one of the guests for the event. Since he could not go, I inherited the tickets. The program included works by Sibelius and a few other contemporary Scandinavian composers and was to be conducted by Jacques Mercier. That is, that was the concert we were supposed to see but which I didn’t see for I saw something else instead, unaware of the fact until nearly the end.
We had set an appointment twenty minutes before the concert. The week had been filled with shows, opera and concerts and I joyously immersed myself in it.
I arrived early at the venue and waited for Vanessa. When the bells rang to signify the beginning of the concert, there was still no sign of her. I left her a message on her answering machine, left a ticket for her at the desk and went inside. The ushers showed me my seat; it was fairly close to the stage, on the right side. How splendid to get invitation and be treated with the best seats!  “I wish Vanessa makes it on time. She might show up any minute”. But she didn’t.
An elderly woman spotted the empty seat next to me and tentatively asked whether it was free, but I had to send her away. I desperately looked around me, hoping to catch the sight of her.
Then I noticed the red seats. Red seats? I had the vague memory that the seats were blue at the Salle Pleyel…  I didn’t push the thought any further and sat quiet.
 It was too late for her to see the beginning of the concert anyway. The conductor entered the stage. I was in shock. “Jacques Mercier looks so old!” I thought. The last time I had seen him was ten years before and he still had dark hair and seemed to be in his forties only. Now all his hair had turned white and he seemed to have aged thirty years. The change was dramatic!
Then the concert started. The music I heard didn’t sound at all like Sibelius. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any program so I had no clue what exactly would be performed that night.
However, I was amazed by the sound the orchestra produced. The Orchestre d’Île de France is a fairly good orchestra, but I had never been really impressed by them. This time, I was amazed by the rich colours and textures I heard and by the remarkable precision of the conductor. “The metamorphosis Jacques Mercier underwent as a conductor is startling! Very much like Pierre Boulez!!!” I mused.
At the intermission, I looked for Vanessa. Left her a second message on her answering machine. “How strange that she wouldn’t come…” I worried that something happened to her.
I killed time looking at posters promoting forthcoming concerts. Barbara Hendricks at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
“I would never go to see her.” I exclaimed.
Then it struck me. “How odd that they had to advertise for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées at the Salle Pleyel!!!”
I immediately found the answer: of course, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysée must be in renovation at the moment, so they’re using the Salle Pleyel for some of the concerts. How totally impossible such a thing was didn’t dawn on me. I had found the explanation and was happy with it, however twister and illogical it may be. I caught a glimpse at the program book. Indeed they had completely changed their program for the evening. How odd, how odd!!!
The second part of the concert was fabulous. Once again, I marvelled at the performance. What a shame Vanessa wasn’t there to witness that!!!
In the lobby of the theatre, I saw my music journalist friend Rémi who was surprised to see me.
“So you managed to get ticket for this concert??? he said. “That was quite a concert, wasn’t it?!”
We walked out to street as we were chatting. Rémi was in big talk with some of his friends, certainly exchanging their impressions of the concert. I called Vanessa to find out what had happened to her. Answering machine again. Then I lifted up my head and saw it: THEATRE DES CHAMPS ELYSEES.
“Waaaaa Rémi, I am at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées!!!!” Rémi looked at me with amusement. Of course, I was. He couldn’t have understood what I really meant, how I had been able to delude myself into believing I was at the Salle Pleyel in spite of all the signs shouting out the contrary. But how I found myself mistaking the two venues is still a mystery. How I got through the ticket control is easier to explain:  no one could have imagined that I wasn’t actually attending the right concert! Then I learned that I had just had the extreme privilege to hear Pierre Boulez conducting the Vienna Philharmonic for a concert that was quite the event of the season!  No one could have plotted it better if he wanted to!
So what had Vanessa done all that time? She later told me that she had been waiting for me at the Salle Pleyel indeed. When the bells rang, she asked the control desk whether they didn’t have any ticket under my name or hers. There was one, but not at the right theatre! Seeing that she was sincere and not trying some obvious trick to get in, they eventually gave her a ticket – a good one, she said.
Rémi wouldn’t believe me. No one would have dared such an implausible plot. There must be some lucky star above me!

Yundi Li gave us a marvellous concert tonight. Vanessa and I were amazed by his skills and sense of phrasing. This young man could do anything and do it with extreme sensitivity and brio. We were speechless. He approached these über-famous pieces (Chopin’s waltzes, his Andante Spianato & Polonaise, Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition, which he played instead of the works by Liszt as advertised on the program, a welcome last minute change!) in a fresh, unusual and unexpected way, making great use of timber, sound and harmonic textures. Li is going to grow into a wonderful world-class musician – which he already is.
The audience responded politely to his performance. It seems people nowadays look for big names or big chills. I over heard a snobbish middle-aged man who made clear his comments were heard by everyone in the lobby, claiming he found no musicality in Li’s playing, that he understood why Chinese people like him: because he was sweating as much as French rock singer Johnny Hallyday… Vanessa and I could only sigh at the stupidity of the remark!

Monday, 4 May 2009


Everything falls into place. I will be going away from September to December. I don’t know whether I should be coming to Chicago first then fly to Taipei. Dates and place are not settled. A lot of surprises may cross my path in the meantime.
My life as a nomad will resume soon.

Had Alo and Tsuyoshi yesterday for what was supposed to be a cinema club night. But it turned out that we got carried away in our discussions and we had to admit that watching a film would not fit the mood. Alo was very excited about the projects I am working on. He’s ready to help and do his best. I welcome help. For too long have I been this lonely hunter who believed that no one could understand or relate to him. I indulged being an alien.
For the past month, this attitude has shifted and made way to a healthier and more constructive one. Enough of this misunderstood artist drama! If I conceive it, I will achieve it.
But something went wrong in the course of the evening. Something sour. I talked too much. Conversations are pleasant and enjoyable when there is a real exchange. This time, I turned it into a show about me, myself and my great ideas. Alec Guinness tells it very wittily when, during some dinners at friends’ place, he realizes he has been talking too much. But there’s no stopping him.
No one is immune to some mishap. I take pride in being a good host, but there was something compelling I couldn’t resist. Something was turning sour in my life.