Sep 05 2013

Pittsburgh in Paris

Published by at 3:46 am under PSO 2013 European Tour

Champs-Élysées in Paris

Champs-Élysées in Paris

The Pittsburgh Symphony flew via Austrian Air to Paris in a clear blue sky with the good feeling of having made a great debut in Bucharest. Tubist Craig Knox wrote in a Facebook post of a meeting of low brass players who shared stories of the pre-Romanian-Revolution times while also sharing several Romanian liqueurs distilled from fruits and herbs. The minibar featured a small sample of BRAN, which the hotel front desk clerk said was a favorite of her grandparents who lived to 92 because they enjoyed a regular sip.

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Traditional Romanian spirits

Traditional Romanian spirits

I met Kenneth Wetzel, the Press and Information officer for the US Embassy in Bucharest, at the Pittsburgh Side-by-Side concert. Ken told me he was thrilled to hear the Americans making new friends in Romania. We shared memories of our favorite places in Erie, like Presque Isle. Although the post of Ambassador is currently vacant, a new Ambassador is expected this fall, so the chargé d’affaires is keeping order for the Embasssy.

On the way to the new Bucharest airport we passed an amazing mix of old and new in Romania. You see Soviet-style architecture; one building resembles a small version of Moscow University. At the airport the duty-free shop sparkled with an abundance of attractively displayed cheese, prunes, cookies, wine, liqueurs, and a CD of Ensecu conduced by Georgescu. A few folks were doing some banking at the Banca Transilvania counter.

I sat next to clarinetist Ron Samuels who is putting together a concert for late October at Duquesne University with Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and music by Debussy and Auric. Ron was reading “The Foreign Legion” by an author who was new to me, Clarice Lispector.

Ladurée

Ladurée

In Paris, I walked the Champs-Élysées to the tea room Ladurée, which has several branches including one in New York. It has long been a famous source of the colorful cookies known as macarons. A long line waited patiently to make selections that are packed in elegant boxes and lime-green bags. A few blocks further along the boulevard is the Gaumont Cinema, where the movies included some French films, the latest Percy Jackson movie, the bio-pic on Steve Jobs, Red 2, and more. I walked past the sad and empty decaying storefront of the Virgin Megastore – the erstwhile CD mecca in Paris, as well as in New York and Los Angeles. In the lobby of the Bucharest concert hall, it was nice to see three separate extremely-popular CD retailers selling hundreds of discs. More than I have ever seen anywhere. One of the CD sellers was the Romanian radio.

Le cinéma

Le cinéma

Speaking of radio, I enjoyed listening to Romanian Radio’s classical service and some of the pop stations in Bucharest. In morning drive, the classical station ran a Pittsburgh Symphony “Cinema Serenade” favorite with John Williams conducting Itzhak Perlman in the music by Carlos Gardel that served as a theme for “Scent of a Woman.” They played a lot of pop classical music hits in drive time, and for some reason even included a Frank Sinatra classic. One pop station was running a Michael Jackson weekend. In Paris, Radio France runs the classical music service France Musique, which just finished a suite of dances by Rameau from “Zaïs” played by the Musicians of the Louvre, followed by a Bach Cantata at 10:00 am on a Thursday. I’ve been enjoying the jazz station which has played two Frank Sinatra favorites already today, and Diana Krall who made a CD in Paris and Nat King Cole. Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grapelli were just on playing La Mer a great hit of Frenchman Charles Trenet later turned into a hit for Bobby Darin. Django and Grapelli are Paris legends. It’s great that they are still on the radio. Jazz was an importnat part of the history of the Salle Pleyel where the Pittsburgh plays tomorrow night.

Artcurial

Artcurial

Horn player Ron Schneider told me his colleagues Penny Brill and Paul Silver went to a synagogue last night for the Rosh Hashanah Eve service in three languages, although he felt the English was a little rough. The horn players on this trip have a room downstairs in the hotel, where they practiced yesterday enjoying great cameraderie with the extra players along for this tour including Alberto Suarez, the principal in the Kansas City Symphony, and Todd Bowermaster from the Saint Louis Symphony.

Also on the Champs-Élysées yesterday, I looked into the ornate art auction house and bookstore, Artcurial. There was an an amazing array of art magazines and journals for sale. You must tell me who reads these things. The classical music world has Grammophone and American Record Guide, BBC Music, Opera News, Strings, Fanfare, and a few others, but the art world swamps music for its exotic print journals. Jane Birkin was on the cover of one. She was the muse of singer Serge Gainsbourg who is featured in promotionaly-priced CD subscription deal for the newspaper “Le Monde.”

Delmontel patisserie

Delmontel patisserie

From the art library I took a taxi to the Rue St. Martyrs, said to be the Brooklyn of Paris and an evolving hip, lively part of town. I picked up a baguette at Arnaud Delmontel, which won the grand prix in a 2007 Parisian baking contest for the best baguette in the city. It was terrific, but I can’t say for certain it was better than la Gourmandine in Lawrenceville. My baguette was still warm from the oven. The area is known as “SoPi” for south of Pigalle. Fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who has created Madonna’s look more than once, is a regular in this part of town and often dines at the Casa Olympe. I didn’t see him, and in fact I didn’t see a taxi at the taxi stand for twenty minutes, so I asked a nice priest at the nearest church who told me to just stand across the street and flag one. When that didn’t prove successful, I moved on to a livelier corner. I could see lots of taxis with red lights indicating that they were occupied. I asked for advice of a sharply dressed guy who laughed and said “This isn’t New York. Just be patient.” Sure enough, along came a green light cab which took me back to the Arc de Triomphe. Maybe it was because I didn’t find a used record shop, but I’d say I’ll let SoPi evolve a bit more before returning — even with the delightful Arnaud Delmontel.

Delmontel macarons

Delmontel macarons

Dining in Paris is the thing. The Obamas had dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. I don’t think I’ll make it to the restaurant Jules Verne on the 32nd floor of the Eiffel Tower. The showplace of chef Alain Ducasse is 450 euros prix fixe, with reservations made months in advance.

I asked Dr. Fotios Koumpouras, the tour doctor, for the secret to a long life. He told me he was interested in an article this past year in the New England Journal of Medicine about groups of people in several parts of the world who reached their late 90s. The common denominator seemed to be eating a diet of wild herbs and naturally-grown vegetables.

Radio France Musique just played Debussy and now they’re playing Colin Davis’s recording of Berlioz’ Harold in Italy. Bonjour!