It is, in fact, midnight in Paris, as I write.
I am remembering the first time I visited the City of Light with the Pittsburgh Symphony. It was a three-week tour in 1985 that took us to a number of capital cities, none more eagerly anticipated than Paris. Unfortunately, we arrived mid-afternoon, the hotel rooms weren’t ready and many of us had to be at a rehearsal just a few hours later for a Mozart Piano Concerto. Fortunately, we were staying at the Hilton adjacent to the Eiffel Tower, and I was able to find a few minutes to walk outside and stand in its iconic shadow, experiencing a thrill that is repeated every time I see it.
There have been many subsequent visits to this city, and each time I have been able to take in a few more sights, explore a few more museums and sip wonderful coffee at a few more cafes. I have certainly come to count this as one of my favorite cities in the world.
Yesterday, we were fortunate to have an entire rare day off. I and a few others traveled by train from the Gare St. Lazare (immortalized by Claude Monet) to the town of Vernon, about an hour outside of Paris. From there, a transfer bus took us to Giverny, the home of Monet in his later life. There, in 1883, he purchased a house and sprawling property and developed, over a period of many years, the beautiful home, gardens and water lily pond (etang des nymphe) that inspired some of his most famous paintings. The property has been lovingly restored based on photographs, paintings and contemporary accounts, and we were awed by the beautiful, lush gardens and the pond, which is so like the magnificent painting we are fortunate to have in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. It was truly a memorable day.
Of course, I found time to visit as many small cafes and bistros as possible in our remaining precious free hours, the food and coffee being always a highlight of Paris.
This afternoon, we all gathered together again for a rehearsal and concert in the familiar acoustics of the modern Salle Pleyel.
As orchestra librarian, I strive to have all tour music preparation completed in Pittsburgh before departure, with tour duties mostly confined to distributing folders, fixing a few last minute difficult page-turns and being available to the players for other small needs.
However, this afternoon, I was called on to make changes in the Symphonic Suite from Janacek’s Jenufa that the orchestra will premiere tomorrow in Dusseldorf. Manfred Honeck has created his own suite, choosing some of the most interesting orchestral moments from the opera and rehearsing it along the way. As with most premieres, revisions tend to occur during rehearsals, and this was no exception. Shortly before rehearsal today, I was given some alterations to make in players’ parts: a trombone added to a bassoon passage, a trumpet doubling an oboe, removing some accents and changing some dynamics–routine tasks at Heinz Hall where I have a photocopier, bright lights, table space and usually plenty of time, but more of a challenge with only 45 minutes, dim lighting, no photocopier, etc…I was rewarded to hear the rehearsal go smoothly and look forward to the premiere performance tomorrow.
I had the pleasure of listening to the concert from backstage, my location being especially favorable to the heroic horns and the elegant sounds of concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley’s solos in Ein Heldenleben. As always, the Paris audience was enthusiastic, showing their appreciation for the orchestra with rhythmic applause and drawing encores from both pianist Yuja Wang in the first half and the orchestra at the end.
As we say “au revoir” tomorrow and depart for Dusseldorf and the remaining stops on our tour, I know that in my heart, I’ll “always have Paris…”