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Paris (I)

Thursday, 10 October 2013 , ora 9.17
A rehearsal at Salle Pleyel…

Because the tickets for the concert at Salle Pleyel on 2ndOctober - the third concert of the famous Orchestre de Paris in the 2013-2014 season - had been sold out for many months, I was invited to attend the general rehearsal. It proved to be an extremely interesting experience. At ten o'clock sharp, Paavo Järvi lifted the baton. First up was the last piece of the programme: Ravel's Bolerowhich was played unceasingly, with full intentness and involvement. A few missed horn sounds went unnoticed, as well as a tardy violinist's sneaky, guilt-ridden arrival. The conductor only cared about the artistic side and he built a strong and colourful interpretation for the score. After the final burst - surprise! A round of elated applause was heard from the balcony. Master Järvi smiled and unobtrusively gave thanks. Up next was Igor Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. There the working style changed radically, the focus was on the passages, with frequent halts and replays. Yet again, it seemed there was an issue with the horns; I tried to make out the conductor's words, but they were barely whispered. Onstage - complete silence. No one was moving. There were also issues with a trombone's entrance. The passage was resumed a couple of times, no one showing any signs of impatience or reproachfulness. The conductor's motions were sharp, calm and confident… The musical director's discipline productively complements the artist's sensibility. Time flies. After each of the three parts, again come rounds of applause from the heights of the balcony.

Break time. I lifted my eyes up and found the hall's balcony full of… eight, ten, twelve-year-olds. I saw them again in the lobby and learned from their chaperone teachers about the orchestra's agreement with the schools to send three classes each - about 100 pupils - to the general rehearsals. Thus, a class will return to the concert hall about three times in a season. Both the musicians and the children - who, I gathered, had come from schools located on the city's outskirts - were very pleased with this arrangement.

After the break they began working on Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. I was stunned by the orchestra's ability to jump swiftly and (seemingly) without effort from one extreme to the other, from Ravel to Stravinsky, then to Debussy and finally to Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 3. With Debaussy they focused on the particulars, on the cooperation among instruments, on the acquisition and perpetuation of the sonorous colours into a fantastic web of lights and soft shadows. The particulars were also the focus in Bartók's concerto. The soloist, Piotr Andreszewski - I recognized the Polish Institute's logo on the concert's poster - was greatly concerned, not as much with the continuity of a whole performance, as with his dialogues with the winds, the strings and the entire orchestra. He was listening very carefully while the orchestra members were listening as carefully. Music! Music is made here with respect, with emotional involvement, with lucid responsibility. That is the prerequisite for a successful rehearsal and, implicitly for the upcoming concert. A concert taking place in front of a hall full of knowledgeable music lovers or curious tourists, for whom Orchestre de Paris must perform convincingly and which must confirm every time its place as one of Europe's best symphonic ensembles.

… and a ballet performance at the Palais Garnier

Since 2006, the balletLady of the Camelias, designed by the famous choreographer John Neumeier, has remained one of the one of the most successful performances of the Paris Opera. This ballet is inspired, of course, by Alexandre Duma (fils)'s novel, of the same title and narrates Marguerite Gauthier's sad story. For his choreographic performance, Neumeier has chosen Frédéric Chopin's music. In the pit, an orchestra made up of the members of the famous Orchestre de Paris conducted by James Tuggle, was performing pieces from the Polish composer's two piano concertos and his orchestral compositions. Two pianists then shared the hardship of a solo piano recital of about 110 minutes. They were Emmanuel Strosser and Frédéric Vaysse-Knitter; sometimes up onstage in the heat of the action - as in the second act, 'At the Countryside', but most of the time hidden within the orchestra. Still, the coordination of the music with the choreography was impeccable. Neumeier started each of the three acts of his ballet with the same situation: a large poster announces the auction of the late Marguerite Gauthier's assets. Armand and his father are also present. The young man snatches a lovely evening dress out of a potential buyer's hands, a dress whose sight triggers the process of memory. The first act sees the meeting of the two protagonists at a Vaudeville show - a play within a play, where they witness the choreographed tragic love story of the frivolous Manon Lescaut and the knight Des Grieux. Subtly, Marguerite identifies herself with Manon and Armand with Des Grieux. This duplication is also present throughout the second and especially the dramatic third act, 'On the Champs-Élysées.' Why? Because, in Neumeier's view, Marguerite's tragedy is an unavoidable consequence of her addiction to luxury, jewelry and money, as is the case of the unfortunate Manon Lescaut.

The choreography is a mix of the neoclassical and the modern, with a stress on expressiveness and detail: a subtle hand movement, a light leaning of the head, a glance full of meaning or acrobatic leaps in which hope is painfully mixed with despair… Equally inspired by the story and the music, Neumeier has come up with movements of an unsettling tenderness and beauty. The two leads, Amelie Dupont and Herve Moreau, 'stars' of the Paris Opera Ballet, received a long standing ovation on the open stage.

I liked the performance; I appreciated it especially from an aesthetic point of view. But, I must admit and say that, despite the beauty of Chopin's music, unwittingly, during the drama's big moments, passages - which I could not subdue - of Verdi's La Traviatarang clearly and insistently in my ears. It is, I believe, the triumph of a genius' score, felt, thought, conceived and written especially for the characters and the theme against an adaptation using the musical score itself, composed by a genius, but unfortunately lacking a subtle and especially deep connection with the story it was chosen to support.

Cristina Sârbu
Translated by Adrian Dandu and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest