Tuesday, 14 December 2010

In Paris

The gate to the Louvres

I didn’t manage to see as many friends as I wished during this visit, but I was glad to finally catch my friend and music lover Rémi. As often the case, he offered to meet for a concert. Valery Gergiev was playing the complete symphonies by Gustav Mahler, and the crazy man had decided to put symphonies for every evening! Rémi had heard the 1st and 5th two days before and had insisted that I came tonight, which I did without any hesitation. Tonight, the 4th and 6th symphonies were to be performed. Not the shortest pieces of music ever. We knew we would be completely knackered afterward. In spite of that, the concert was beyond my expectations. Very rarely in my life had I witnessed such a symbiosis between conductor and orchestra. They were one. Gergiev has a very unusual way of conducting: he’s shaping the sound with his hands and the musicians understand what they have to do. Giving the beat and keeping the tempo are the last things you see him do. During the intermission, I heard some music critics voicing out loud their discontent – did Gergiev really know what he was doing; did he have anything to say with this music? Was he a poser, an illusionist without any depth? I was shocked to hear that but I understood how unsettling it could be for people who like to know and control what they hear when they are facing a musician who creates a personal world out of an already written piece of music. I wonder how these live performances would sound on record. But as a live experience it was extraordinary. 

Mona Lisa on sale

Rémi also attended an auction of André Jolivet’s archives: letters, manuscripts, concert programs, photos and scores that belonged to the composer. Among them were two letters written by my father to him when he was still a young student struggling to become a composer. Rémi bought the letters as a gift for my father and wanted me to hand them to him. I read the letters on my way back from the concert and saw this young man named Tôn Thât Tiêt, before he was my father, before he had created all this wonderful music, a young man who had left his native Vietnam and lived in a small chambre de bonne in Paris and didn’t know what his future would be made of. In the first letter, he was asking Jolivet to accept him as a student after being rejected from the school; in the second, written some three years later, he was talking about his condition as a Vietnamese composer. I was incredibly touched, reading these lines, especially now that I was living in Taiwan with no certainty at all about my own future. His handwriting had barely changed: small, elegantly shaped letters. The signature was exactly the same nearly fifty years before.

Le Jardin des Tuileries sous la neige
The Tuilerie Garden under the snow

Les Halles & Eglise St-Eustache

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