Monday 10 October 2011

Henri Dutilleux: Thus the Night

There are some wonders in the world, people I look up to who send out warm rays of inspiration and hope. Henri Dutilleux is one of them. At the age of 95, he's as creative and dynamic an artist as he was fifty years ago. He still goes to concerts and events, has this lust for life that will keep him going for some more time. "Crazy about life as a child is" as he would like to say.
Of Henri Dutilleux, I only have a few distinct memories. I had never met him. My only link was this card he wrote to my parents when I was born.  My father told me a lot about this gentle man who would always support him by attending concerts and premieres or by giving him words of advice. He would never fail to send us a card every Christmas: an embossed golden Christmas tree on  a monochrome background . We would immediately recognize his angular yet elegant handwriting. It may have been the same card, save for the colour of the background which would change from one year to another, but we enjoyed the comforting familiarity it gave us.
I accompanied my father to the first screening of Ainsi la Nuit, a film focusing on Dutilleux's famous string quartet bearing the same name. The film itself was done like a TV documentary. Unfortunately, the director wasn't very inspired visually. The photography was dull and the colours fairly unattractive. However all was forgotten as soon as the music would be played. the performers, the Rosamonde Quartet are some of the best chamber players in France. Their interpretation was flawless. I just wonder who, beside the contemporary music afficionados would find any interest in this film.
"I know why this film has been rejected by tv channels", my father later told me. "It's because it's much too technical. Whoever doesn't have the knowledge of music vocabulary or isn't an admirer of Dutilleux's work will find himself completely lost."
As the master of ceremonry joked, regardless of the intrisec qualities of this film, if it was ever to be showed on tv, it would sadly be at three in the morning when everyone is asleep!
Quite expectedly, the Parisian circle of musique française was there, composers, famous or not, musicians, agents, relatives of Dutilleux, as well as a whole parterre of moths who would never miss a chance to rub shoulders with the 'chosen ones'.
Dutilleux was very moved by the events. He gave us a heartfelt speech from his wheelchair, his voiced charged with emotion, and even found the strength to stand up to bow to the audience.
"As you may all know, times for me are difficult now, because of my health so I welcome such moments of joy and happiness. Words will not be strong enough to express the joy I feel in my heart."
I looked at my father and saw that he was also very moved. How dearly he loved his master!

My father with Henri Dutilleux and the members of the Rosamonde Quartet

I wish I will be able to organise a great musical celebration when my father turns 80 in two years. A big celebration around the world. Spread the word!

"I finished the piece!" my father told us before dinner. He seemed happy. A month ago, he felt that it was possibly his last work. "I don't have the strength anymore. It comes out so slowly and any disruption in the daily life completely blocks me".
Fortunately, it was not the case. "I only have to fill some blanks, but that will be a child play" he added, smiling. 
I'm so happy for him. A happy state of mind is everything and I can understand how at his age, with my mother who has Alzheimer, with all the financial worries, it might prove difficult.
The house in Bretagne is sold, finally. My mother feels sad about it for she had grown a fondness to the place over the years. At last all our debts will be washed away. 
"Now I want to enjoy myself", my father told me. "We're going to go to Vietnam, then China. Better do things now that we still have the physical strength".
I know what he has in mind. He wants to see whether my mother could live in Vietnam if ever anything happened to him. She is so dependent on him now. Sending her to an institute in France would be too pricey. And I honestly don't think my brother would be able to take care of her. Vietnam is indeed a good - sunny, solution... For later...

The letter Henri Dutilleux wrote for my birth.

Dear Friend,

I was glad to learn about the birth of your son An, and I am sorry I didn't congratulate you and your wife any sooner.
I do recall how impatiently you were expecting this happy event whilst working on the score of my concerto. You nevertheless did an examplarary job and will be happy to know that the musicians of the Orchestre de Paris particularly praised this beautiful scoring.

Sincerely to you
PS. All my wishes for your personal work.

We queued up to greet Henri Dutilleux after the screening of the film. Everyone wanted to share a word of appreciation and praise to him. He was gracious and sincere with each of the guests. My father, as usual, fell short of words.But the old composer seemed truly happy to see him. 
"We don't see each other enough" he exclaimed.
When we were about to move on so the other persons could have share of time with the composer, my father pulled me and introduced me.
"My son!" he said.
Dutilleux looked up and held my hands. My mother had often told me how she would get a truthful impression of someone by the handshake. And she liked Henri Dutilleux. "Warm and sincere" she would say.
Warm and sincere it was.
"So what instrument do you play?" he asked. Of course, a composer's son MUST play an instrument.
"I play the piano". My hand was still in his.
Henri Dutilleux then turned to my father. 
"I am very happy to see you, Tiêt, but I'm even more delighted to meet your son!"
Did it sound true? It did. And I was finally meeting a man who had been a guardian angel to my father as well as a giant of music in the 20th and yes 21st century!

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