Friday, 31 July 2015

The Greek gods I

They announced a summer rain storm. We had covered up all the equipment, sound desk, speakers, light projectors and microphones. Around six, it had not rained and the sky was clear and blue. It may have rained elsewhere, maybe the gods are with us and we will be able to do the show.
At eight, people started arriving. The mood was up. Musicians and dancers were in high spirit. At nine the show started. I hit the Tibetan bowl. Music started. Bach, Marcello and Vivaldi for the overture about the courtesan in a Venetian palace, then the songs. The lighting designer and I looked at each other after the third song: there had been a beautiful lightning in the background as the video of Neptunia was playing. The effect was gorgeous. But we were on our guard. Toward the end of the first part, raindrops began to fall; Karen moved to the side of the stage to finish her song. The audience noticed the rain but didn’t flinch. They were obviously enraptured by the show. “If the show was to go on, I didn’t want to do the next numbers with a ruined hairdo” she later joked. Amadeo was delighted. The lightning struck more and more often. We called the show off, as Karen was beginning her last song of the set. “Sorry, the weather forecast predicted the rainstorm, please come back tomorrow!” Amadeo’s voice resonated through the speakers. Withing a few minutes, the equipment was covered up again. The mood was high, despite the frustration.
An opening night we shall not forget.

Mount Olympus in the distance. But not so far away...

“The rainstorm came from Mount Olympus” Adam said.
Never forget the Olympians. How could Karen not think of that?

Thursday, 30 July 2015


I am positively exhausted. We did two run-throughs in a row despite the late hour. The first one was terrible and left everybody in a state of high tension. Amadeo didn’t spare anyone. Nobody spoke during the short break in between. It was nearly one in the morning when we began the second run-through. But I could feel the energy was better. Tired, dispirited or unhappy as we may have been, we all gathered our strength. It went, if not perfectly, then at least better than the first time. Amadeo’s tone eased down. We could sleep with a lighter spirit the few remaining hours we had left. It was past three in the morning.

I have often worked until late to finish my work, but I always kept a happy mood, happy as I would usually be doing what I love. Amadeo’s way, even though I may understand the reasons, is more reminiscent of the old fashioned ‘hard-labour school. Or gulag.  

Monday, 27 July 2015

A dream

I made this curious dream about Isabelle. We were having a meal and I suddenly realise how old, swollen and lined her face was. Richard, her husband was present to, although his appearance had not changed. Where was the beautiful Isabelle of not so long ago that I knew? Her face would continually morph into something different, but still retaining her basic features.
During the same dream, I was in a foreign city, trying to keep track with a group of friends. I kept pushing the wrong doors and ending up in a totally different place, as desperate and clueless as an ant caught in a maze.

Outside Amadeo and the light designer were still working. It was already nearly three in the morning.  

Friday, 24 July 2015

Five year old boy

I woke up with a long forgotten feeling. The sensation was a familiar one when I was a child. It disappeared as I would grow up. The very last time I felt that way was when I was serving my military duties. A feeling of powerlessness. That there was nothing much I could do but wait until it was over.
I was a five-year-old boy. Another day at the kindergarten had just finished. I was waiting in the hall for my mother to come and pick me up. I believe we were in late autumn or winter, because night had already fallen. But as a five-year-old child, the sense of time is elastic.

It came over me without me realising it. It said that the coming twenty five years would be hard ones, but that I would be alright eventually. I would be in a state of a blur. A protecting veil?
I didn't realise it then, young as I was. It came back to me much later. But I subconsciously knew where I was heading to. Life is just a game, even though many of us aren't aware of it.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

in July...

Friday 3rd: musical afternoon with Julia. The only one I will have with her during this stay. We played and sang Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Granados, Richard Strauss, Schumann, Grieg and Ravel. Julia was in good shape vocally, but doesn’t have the same energy anymore to sing for an extended amount of time. I struggled sight-reading Ravel's Sheherazade. Beautiful songs, but the piano part (a piano transcription of the orchestral score) was quite impossible to render.

Earlier that day... Met up briefly at a café with Vanessa and Hans before he took the train at Gare du Nord. I had not seen him since he returned to South Africa. Vanessa was the one who organised the reunion. Hans needs to get out of his shell. He has been spending most of his time doing real estate and teaching at his school. Still lives with mom. Not much of a private life. No time for it, he claims. But he knows very well... 

Saturday 4th: Meeting with Sébastien the sound engineer of the Lost Star project. A very likeable and friendly chap. We found out we had one key people in common: Julia! And the Steve Karen had been mentioning was none other that Julie Darnal’s husband. How tiny the world is…
We went through all the technical aspects of the show. All was well. I felt so happy to be in
Paris and have those two weeks or so to myself, seeing friends and family. Only the third day! Hooray!

Later that day: An e-mail from Greece: Adam told me I was needed back sooner in Kokkino Nero. Karen was in dispair. The musicians are at loss. Things could be dangerously catastrophic...

4th of July with Evelyn her family and some friends. My first Fourth of July with Americans, not that it really means much to me. I was happy to see Evelyn, and especially her daughter Imo. She’s grown into a beautiful, extremely smart and sensitive girl.
“Imo had been wishing for you to come" Evelyn told me, "but she said she would understand if you couldn't have”.
Salmon, potatoes, corn and an apple pie on the menu. “That’s the tradition” Evelyn told me. “And also talking about how great
America is” she added with a twinkle.  

Sunday 5th:A distressed call from Karen this morning which left me more than slightly annoyed. Her voice had sounded tense on the phone. She needed to see me at once. Things were out of control. I know the lady, I know the problem: insecurity. Once I had gone, she couldn't find her marks and panicked. The musicians were unable to do anything, as she relied on me 'the composer' to tell her what to do. I told her the only solution I could see now was to prepare all the backing tracks, music and vocals (especially) so that she would hear on stage exactly what is on the album. I would of course arrange some space for the musicians to still play at least something, but it basically a playback show. Why do I keep thinking of Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain?
I am to fly back as quickly as possible. Adam would get me the next flight. I still hope I will be fast enough in my work to secure some time to see a few friends.

I was really looking forward to be in
Paris to celebrate all the birthdays, my nephew’s, my mother’s, Philippe’s, mine, the premiere of ‘Thin Ice’ as well as my brother’s wedding anniversary. It would have been the first time in seven years or so.
We had a little family gathering today. Mathilde wasn’t there, as her presence was needed at some lingerie fair. “It’s rare when the four Ton That are together” my mother said with delight. Remembrance of time past when my brother and I had not yet taken flight from the family nest.
My mother’s condition has sensibly declined. However, when her spirits are up when I’m there. Even though I am fully aware of her condition, I don’t let it alter my rapport with her (just like I don’t like to talk like a retarded when communicating with a toddler).
Vanessa dropped by for an hour and proudly announced to my father that the series of concerts of his music which she had been organising for more than a year had finally been accepted and will take place at the end of the year. My father of course was very glad when he heard the news.
My brother insisted that I tried to stay until the 12th included. The decision doesn’t depend on me, but I keep my hopes high. My heart was heavy. Time with family is precious and I was upset I had to sacrifice it someone’s vanity project. Angry thoughts were zooming in and out in my mind like flies. 
As Karen had pointed out too often than not: I was paid for that job, and therefore was expected to do as I was told.
Wednesday 8th: Dinner with the Sanfilippo sisters, Vanessa and Cynthia. Could it just hang in the air, so I can enjoy it for a longer time? 

Sunday 12th: So I managed to convince Karen's entourage that everything would be alright and that there was no need to worry. (take a deep breath and once more with feeling)
Our last encounters were tense to say the least. I know that I should not accept any job offer if I don't believe in it. In my case, easy money is certainly not an option.
We celebrated both Vu An and my mother's birthday. Garden party, grilled steak provided by my brother. Vu An once again showered with presents. I even got one myself: a Bose portable music speaker. My brother has been quick to understand that I liked that object. The timing couldn't have been better: it would offer a few moment of solace in Greece!
The family mood was happy. But I was too cross with Karen to fully enjoy it.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Part of the process

Part of the process.
Sunny goodbyes. Amadeo gave me a bottle of a very special drink. He, Karen and Robert were all smiling happily as they were waving to me. “It’s a bummer that you are going away, but you will come back for the final preparation before the show!” Sylvie had said. The taxi took me to the airport in Thessaloniki, two hours drive away. The sky was blue, the air was warm. I ate a horrible tasting beef patty at the airport restaurant – 'Goodbye' it was named, served by not-too-kind waitresses but it didn’t matter. I felt good. Yes, back in Greece in 18 days.
The last rehearsal went very well. The musicians seem to know what they are doing, feel the music and get the spirit of each of the songs. Karen was very enthusiastic about the live arrangements. “It’s so rich and layered” she exclaimed after one rehearsal. Amadeo too, demanding a director as he is, showed signs of satisfaction. If everybody is satisfied, then I am satisfied.
“I’m so glad to be in Paris. Each time I’m back, it’s like waking up to a happy dream.” I said to Sébastien this morning after our tech meeting for the sound. Yes maybe that was a tad too enthusiastic. I had more than two weeks in front of me to just enjoy myself, see my friends, be with my family.
Part of the process? I guess it is a way to get philosophical when things don’t go the intended way. A mail from Adam, the producer of the show informed me this afternoon that the two rehearsals that followed my departure were disastrous. “The musicians don’t know exactly what they have to do. We need you to come back earlier. On the 14th at the latest” the email went on.
That is a bad sign. The musicians all seemed to be good and professional. I gave them tons of notes, took time with each of them to explain what I wanted. What else could I have done? The one thing missing – and it was crucial, was Karen’s singing. She had been practicing her moves with Amadeo and Robert, she sat with us during the rehearsals, read through her lyric sheets but had not sung a single note. I know she needs to feel a secure environment in order to sing. Being alone with the musicians and not being familiar with the sound of the new live arrangements must have distabilised her. I shall learn more from Karen when she is back in Paris.
Part of the process.

The other grey cloud came with an email from Shandy. Jay said he didn’t have a good feeling about the project and may not do it… I am starting to feel the same way. The music had been sent to the singer. The verdict from her was that the four songs were too heavy, too stressful, too similar - cello on all songs, she noted (it seems that the lady cannot make the difference between cello, violin and erhu, as the cello only appears on one song…)
Shandy ended the email writing that the music was too arty and that it should appeal to the general audience. I sent her a polite reply, explaining that the singer’s reaction was an understandable if defensive reaction to something completely foreign to her – after all, her credentials as musician were practically non-existent, so I wasn’t surprised. I suggested that they listened to the song again to get more familiar with it and let down their defences. The DunHuang Caves are not a holiday resort, I wrote back. Making easy-on-the-ear pop music for the exhibition would be as out of place as having a Lady Gaga song opening a show about Baroque music.
Another email confirmed my impression. They weren’t totally convinced by the music. Their explanation was confusing but I cannot force them to like it.
“I will let it sit and wait for them to listen to all the music again and make a decision” I wrote to Jay, who served as the intermediary between the two parties.
I felt bad for the musicians, for they gave me time for the pre-recordings, I felt bad because I wouldn’t be able to bring my parents to Vietnam at the end of the year.
One never knows. That’s my current state now. The day has been quite turbulent and nothing good can come out of it right now.

I must try to change my mind and not let my anger get the best of me. I was in Paris after all. Part of the process…