Sep 08 2013

The Pittsburgh Symphony in Paris

Published by at 2:09 am under PSO 2013 European Tour

Pleyel piano

Pleyel piano

Composer Ignaz Pleyel is immortalized in Paris by the theater that bears his name. His piano company still exists with a showroom next to the Salle Pleyel, where the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has performed three years in a row. A white art deco instrument was in the window. The Pittsburgh Symphony arrived Friday night, and their fans were not disappointed. This time, they brought along pianist Yuja Wang, who has appeared often at the Salle Pleyel in her grande vitesse career. She is just 26 years old. A French TV crew followed her during rehearsal and interviewed PSO Music Director Manfred Honeck.

Yuja Wang's little black dress

Yuja Wang's little black dress

In every interview, she is asked about “the dress.” For Paris, it was a short black dress with a short, shiny top section that appeared to be a sort of vinyl or plastic material and a small off-center skin-revealing circle that ups the erotic wow a bit. Mon Dieu! You will find Yuja in Paris Vogue, in Cosmopolitan – and in Gramophone next to the article about Furtwängler.

It was very wow from her Tchaikovsky which was as fast and furious as you could imagine. She heard the European rhythmic applause — that prompted an encore of Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Euridice in Yuja’s own arrangement.

Noah Bendix-Balgley has six chances to wow on this trip with his solos in Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. He has been a rock star of the European Festivals tour. I wondered if the Paris public loves Strauss as much as the Germanic world. They asked for two encores and got Schubert and the Rosenkavalier Waltz at the end of the night.

Salle Playel rehearsal

Salle Playel rehearsal

The patrons were backstage to say hello to Maestro Honeck — Reid and Abby Ruttenberg, whom I had met at Pittsburgh Magazine Best Restaurants party a few years ago, Bob Egan, Barbara Forrester, Tom and Jamee Todd, Three Rivers Arts Festival and Carnegie Museum Board member Alice Snyder, and Frank and Angela Grebowski. This group could not be more congenial or pleased to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony cheered in far-flung places. They also have been kind to me when confronting them for a comment on the concert.

It was fun to see Pittsburgh Chamber Music board member Frances Debroff and daughter Jill, who praised Noah. Emmanuel Hondre, the Production Director of La Cite de la Musique and the Salle Pleyel, told me he loved the concert. Mr. Hondre laughed with Principal Trumpet George Vosburgh about the glory of the brass in the Strauss, which played the offstage music from a stairwell. He is excited about a new Paris concert hall designed by architect Jean Nouvel, set to open in 2015 or 2016. He expects the Pittsburgh Symphony to appear there regularly.

Le Boeuf sur le Toit

Le Boeuf sur le Toit

I walked back to the hotel with Honeck family members Simeon, Teresa and Anna Maria. Teresa made me laugh, coaching me to say the German expression, “Lass dein Haar herunter,” literally, “let your hair down.”  It seemed that’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Symphony did in Paris.

Before the concert, I wandered along the Champs Elysee a bit more. I peeked at the menu of Le Boeuf sur Le Toit, named after Darius Milhaud’s surrealist-ballet music with the same name, recorded by Leonard Bernstein and others. It’s translated variously as the “bull on the roof” or the “nothing-doing bar.” These days, it seemed pretty elegant and sedate inside.

Monet house at Giverny

Monet house at Giverny

I connected with Pittsburgh-born missionary Alfonso Feria and his scooter riding son for a journey to Claude Monet’s home at Giverny. The artist’s studio is in Normandy, less than an hour from the beaches where the Allies landed to turn the tide of WWII. Al Feria has worked for two decades to establish the United Church of the Marais. It’s more than 400 years old. There were just a handful of members when Al arrived. Now it’s thriving with a special outreach to artists in the Marais near the Bastille Opera.

Al Feria’s dad went to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and his mom worked for Fred Rogers. He helped me seamlessly negotiate the two subway lines: the train from Gare Lazares to Vernon, and the bus to Giverny. The French ask you to validate your ticket “compostage” by inserting it into an automated date stamper.

The real Water Lilies

The real Water Lilies

Giverny has only been a tourist magnet since 1980. An army of Impressionism fans arrives daily now to pay respects at his last residence. A plaque honors Philadelphia philanthropist Walter Annenberg for funding construction of a walkway tunnel under a road.

The gardens look exactly like Monet’s Water Lilies paintings at the Carnegie. The flowers were fantastic everywhere. I must look into who Monet’s gardener was. He looked out his window at a riot of color. The house has paintings arranged on the walls, in the bedroom, living room and kitchen. There is still a flock of chickens and a rooster, and a sign asking that they not be disturbed. The gift shop is enormous – the largest I’d ever seen – with an 800 euro scale model of his kitchen. I bought a calendar and a tea towel.

Crêpe at Giverny

Crêpe at Giverny

We toured the modern addition of a museum with an exhibit by Hamamatsu, the Japanese artist influenced by Monet. The museum has its own spectacular gardens.

I made a note to look for three French films: “Hôtel Du Nord”, “C’était un Rendezvous” by Claude Lelouch, and “Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire,” starring Pierre Richard.

In the airport security line, cellist Aron Zelkowicz was wearing a curious T-shirt that was inspired by an internet viral video, “Honeybadger Don’t Care.” Aron told me I must see the Piatigorsky video where the filmmaker spends the entire documentary trying to secure an interview with the great cellist. He also recommended the classical music film “Small Miracles,” starring Meryl Streep, “Playing From the Heart,” and the “million dollar trio” video with Jascha Heifetz, Artur Rubenstein and Gregor Piatigorsky.

Principal contrabassonist James Rodgers knits

Principal contrabassonist James Rodgers knits

The Charles De Gaulle airport bookstore Relay included the French film magazine SoFilm, and the “50 Shades of Grey” novel – still a bestseller in French. On the charter flight, the Lufthansa magazine had an interview “Rock ‘n’ Roller der Lüfte” with Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of the heavy-metal band Iron Maiden. Bruce is a licensed pilot of the Boeing 737 and 757, founded his own company Cardiff Aviation, and served as marketing chief for Astraeus Air. Iron Maiden has sold over 90 million records. So far I don’t own one.