Sep 08 2011
From St. Pancras Station in London, we departed right on time aboard the Eurostar train that runs underneath the English Channel. I must be honest; I slept right through it. I had been up until 4:00 am, and we left the hotel at 8:45. The waiting area for the Eurostar is clean and modern with dark wood and a nice news stand where I purchased some Cadbury candy bars (“official treat of London 2012”) that were new to me. The Wispa aerated milk chocolate bar; Twirl, the “intense chocolate hit”; and a Dairy Milk bar. Also one healthy treat, a Go Ahead! bar with crispy slices of apple and sultana. What is a sultana? The departure boards listed the time for the three stops on the train: Paris, Brussels, and Disneyland.
The Eurostar hits top speed almost immediately and stays there throughout. Co-Principal Flutist Damian Bursill-Hall had his GPS working. He reported the top speed was 185 miles per hour. Very quietly and very smoothly, the Eurostar rolls through farmland and a tunnel now and then. There’s no sign or announcement that you are going under the English Channel, but you’re under water for about twenty minutes. No one came through the car to sell snacks, but there is a snack car with the French ham-and-cheese favorite, croque-monsieur, and beverages are available. The train was almost anti-climactic. It zips from London to Paris in two hours. You’d hardly know you were under a body of water that has seen centuries of warfare and seafaring adventure. The train has been the subject of endless speculation as to whether it will ever turn a profit after all those expensive years of digging. A year ago, there was a fire on board a train that was quite scary and there has been the threat of terrorist trouble.
After check in, it was already 3:00 pm. I joined Dr. Ted Osial and his daughter Alyssa, who works at the Andy Warhol Museum, to look at the Musée d’Orsay. This amazing museum is a lavishly restored train station crowded with rooms of Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renois, Bonnard, and many more. The Café du lion listed Glaces Ben&Jerry for 4 euros, along with the salades Parisiennes with jambon et fromage.
In the lobby of the Hilton, I ran into Costas Karakatsanis and Barbara Blackmond. Their son was a QED Musical Kid in 1998. They hoped to see the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Philharmonie in Berlin, but the schedule didn’t work out. Instead, they saw pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, whose recital was interrupted by a cell phone ringtone that prompted him to rush off the stage. He returned to roar through the first half of the recital, taking no pauses between pieces. After the second half, he played no encores and seemed to be still in a foul mood over the interruption. Costas retired from Bayer, and mentioned how much he appreciates hearing about the Symphony’s travels. Barbara has an international health care law practice. They enjoy the Delta flight connecting Paris to Pittsburgh, and were staying at the airport after the concert to return home in the morning.
On the way to the Salle Pleyel, Principal Bassist Jeffrey Turner and I admired the Russian Cathedral, La Cathedrale de la Trinite Saint Alexandre Nevsky. This was the Nevsky who inspired Sergei Prokofiev and Sergei Eisenstein to create a masterpiece of Russian cinema.
Hélène Grimaud will be taking part in a five-part concert series devoted to her in November at the Salle Pleyel and Cité de la Musique. Her fans were cheering at the Salle Pleyel for her Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4. She played a Chopin étude as an encore. She was very relaxed afterward in her dressing room, where she spoke about her falling out with Claudio Abbado this summer, forcing them to cancel concerts. They disagreed over her wish to play a Busoni cadenza in a Mozart Concerto. She is so immediately likeable in person it is hard to imagine her having a dust-up with someone like Abbado. She’s working on a new novel.
Laurent Bayle is one of the most important managers of classical music in France. He described the amazing history of the Salle Pleyel, named for the composer Ignaz Pleyel, whose family operated a piano factory which is still represented by a piano showroom next to the concert hall. Laurent was delighted to bring the Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia orchestras within a week. In addition to the two French resident orchestras in the Salle Pleyel, he presents over 120 concerts from visitors like the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, who appear tonight with Murray Perahia. Paavo Järvi and the Orchestre de Paris play Beethoven’s Fifth on the 17th, Zubin Mehta leads the Israel Philharmonic in Mahler’s Fifth on the 18th, and the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Colin Davis perform the Beethoven Missa Solemnis on the 17th. Bayle feels that more must be done to bring in young people, for whom classical music is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
In the main foyer after the concert, BNY Mellon entertained clients. I spoke with Michael Cole-Fontayn, the Chairman for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, who told me the Pittsburgh Symphony concerts have been a grand success. He introduced Manfred Honeck, who explained his choices of encores. Michael Rusinek played fragments of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Piaf’s La vie en Rose in his cadenza for the PSO’s final encore at the Salle Playel, the Galop from Khachaturian’s Masquerade. Michel Sidier, the managing Director, Country Executive for France and Chief Representative for BNY Mellon, joined in a photo as did Anne-Laure Frishlander, the Directeur General of Asset Management for BNY Mellon. We talked over the economic problems which are pushing the financial world into uncharted territory. “Challenging” is the word, to put it mildly.
Volunteer in the Arts Award winner Frances DeBroff hosted Pittsburghers at her Paris apartment after enjoying the concert. Frances invited Jean Luc Tingaud, the conductor of Pittsburgh Opera’s Dialogues of the Carmelites last season. He will be back, having just received an invitation to conduct Puccin’s Madame Butterfly in Pittsburgh. It was his birthday. He blew out a candle on a chocolate torte that played “Happy Birthday” after it was lit. A taxi ride down the Champs Elysees past the brightly lit Eiffel Tower, with its spotlight beaming from the top, and we were home.