Whether in the subway stations or on the trains, on the bridges or at the open markets, music is everywhere in Paris. Some is better than others! L’Eglise de la Madeleine as a venue for a concert is spectacular. Music can be heard in many churches, but this one stands out.
The Madeleine is massive, impressive and beautiful in a classical way sitting at the top of the hill, with overblown columns and bleacher-like steps which are half covered with wooden planters filled with a jungle of luscious flowers and foliage. On the steps, crowds of picnickers lunched in the sunshine, grabbing the warmth and brightness before the season degrades into the cold and wet we all know (and love?) as Paris in the winter, while we sat in a sidewalk cafe with a cool drink, awaiting the performance of the afternoon . . .
Chinese Master musician GuoGan was engaged by the Madeleine for a public, free concert before his official performance at the Guimet museum. And it was an amazing concert. There was standing room only in the church, packed to the gills mostly with Chinese patrons. We scooched together on a cool marble step beside one of the pews until a few of the reserved seats were left empty. Then we claimed two as ours just as the concert started. We knew nothing of GuoGan, but he must be quite famous since the first half hour was spent listening to dignitaries, the music director and church leaders sing his praises, first in French, then English and finally in Chinese.
GuoGan entered the alter area of the church in a beautiful sky blue robe of heavy silk. With long sleeves deeply cuffed in white, the traditional standing collar, deep side splits, the body of the robe fell as if fluid to the floor. Beautiful.
The erhu is an ancient, traditional Chinese instrument and its apparent simplicity belies the complex compositions and sounds created by a master. Played with a bow, there are only 2 strings stretched from a snake skin covered sound chamber to a wooden handle topped with two tuning pegs . This is what it sounds like:
He played alone and with other individual musicians. First opening with the ave Maria accompanied by an organist, this seemed right for the magnificent Madeleine church. Although those two instruments made beautiful music together, it was the more traditional Chinese music we hoped to hear. We were not disappointed. In addition, he was accompanied, one by one, by musicians on Accordion, viola, guitar and voice, steel drums, a “wave”instrument, and techno sound and light (which was very bizarre to see in the church).
In contrast to the magnificent Madeleine is the gem of a musical venue, the Atelier de la Main D’or. The first concert of the season was also extraordinary.
Two Italian pianists played 4 hands on the Steinway to a sparse audience. It was a beautiful mild night, better for walking across bridges or sitting in a sidewalk cafe than being stuck in a little concert atelier down a narrow alley off Faubourg St Antoine. But we wouldn’t have missed it. The varied program which included Ravel, Rossini, Goya and Fronch was familiar and also included exciting new music. . . . Listen here!
Afterwards, a late dinner at the Kurdish place in the Passage Main D’Or . . . Yum!