Jason in Paris

Jason is a junior majoring in music composition in Meadows School of the Arts and the recipient of a Meadows Artistic Scholarship. In Fall 2009 he is participating in SMU-in-Paris, where he intends to study the past and present culture. As a music and history student, he intends to pay close attention to the contemporary musical scene, the waves of cinematic history in France and the 17th and 20th century political history of France.

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A break from research: music and Versailles

EquestrianLouisXIV.JPGYes, it is that time of the semester when research papers start to clog your brain. I just finished perhaps the most difficult paper about the domestic and foreign reach of music and science under the Reign of Louis XIV. Although I feel quite scholarly now, the thought of another 15- and 8-page paper is a little depressing. Luckily, they deal with music too, so I feel somewhat at home!

A “beaucoup” of rain is coming this week too, just in time for our SMU-in-Paris Thanksgiving dinner. But, I have found relief in attending some quite inspiring concerts this past week. It cannot always be a dreary day when there is new music!

On Thursday, I attended my favorite performance at the Opera Bastille amphitheatre. Small, intimate and well-balanced acoustically, it is everything you want for chamber music. The piece was the German composer Wolfgang Rihm’s “Et Lux for male vocal quartet and string quartet,” a stirring yet beautiful composition, lasting 55 minutes.

The performers were admirable, with the vocalists effortlessly soaring through the late-Renaissance style polyphony, and the string quartet lusciously mimicking and supplying an ominous yet energetic ground. The piece was extremely well crafted, as if it were just one long melodious line giving way to three rounds of applause for the composer, who was in attendance, and the musicians.

Friday, I attended a concert at Cite de la Musique, which, like Opera Bastille, puts on a hefty amount of new music concerts with a packed audience. The concert focused on four Hungarian composers with the aid of soloists and the infamous Ensemble Intercontemporain: Gyorgy Ligeti, Gyorgy Kurtag, Peter Eotvos and Marton Illet (I apologize for the lack of accents and umlauts).

Starting the concert was Eotvos’ “Sequences” for chamber ensemble, describing different types of wind, with extremely complementary extended techniques on the flute. It was nice to hear a piece where extended techniques were not some circus spectacle but actually a meaningful part of the music. All in all, Eotvos’ piece had a spectacularly audible line of direction, and at no point could one feel lost or confused. However, in the “Illet,” I was a little befuddled. It was a meat-grinder piece, with choppy rhythms and comical chance music, something way overdone in the past. The composer was in attendance.

Perhaps a nice relief was the Kurtag “Four Caprices” for soprano and chamber ensemble. Describing Kurtag’s visit to Paris, they were dramatically and effectively sung by Natalia Zagorinskaya, the soprano, often to a captivating and magnetizing degree. Truly expressionist in nature, I felt.

And last, but not least, for this was my personal favorite, was the Ligeti violin concerto played by Diego Torsi. Everything you come to know about Ligeti, in my opinion, is beautifully executed here on the part of the performer and composer. I particularly liked the intermezzo; its string glissandi, harmonics and lowly buzzing gave way to an ethereal atmosphere that both the ensemble and the soloist played so well it was goose-bumping cool. The entire concert left me with a renewed sense of inspiration, and a welcome relief from research paper writing.ChapelatVersailles.JPG

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Last Friday, I also got to visit the grand Chateau de Versailles, quite cool. Hall of Mirrors, huge fountains and gardens, and so much ceiling art that you felt that any moment your head might get stuck in that position. The best part was imagining court life at Versailles as you walked through each room. For example, the composer Lully frantically running around for the king, writing this and requesting that. Ah, the life of Versailles…

JardinVersailles.JPGIt is a little distressing that I have only one more month here, but while I have thoroughly enjoyed the bread, strawberry tarts, gelato, concerts, classes, and the experiences I have had with friends (Euro Disney and Spain!), I am ready to return home.

The highlights have definitely been Euro Disney and Spain, as aforementioned, but getting to work in the Louvre and using Paris as a living museum has been incredible. Still, I feel that the greatest adventure was when I went to Cologne a couple of weekends ago. Nothing has lived up to that yet!

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