Thursday, December 17, 2009
Chance chamber music
December 1st was a chance day. Having closed up our rented apartment in Paris my wife headed back to London while I took the TGV train from the Gare de Lyon to Avignon en route to Le Barroux. When I arrived in Avignon in the late afternoon I dumped my backpack at my hotel and hurried off to Wolfgang Zuckermann's Libraire Shakespeare (post follows) before enjoying a leisurely meal and what I planned to be an early night.
After the usual reasonably priced and excellent fare (and red wine!) at Les Artistes I was walking back to my hotel along La Rue de la République at 8.15pm when I noticed a large poster for an interesting concert at L'Opera. The performers were the Trio Chausson and what caught my eye particularly was that there was a composer on the programme who I had never heard of. Moreover the concert was that evening, it started in fifteen minutes and I was ten minutes brisk walk away from L'Opera.
As I do not benefit from BBC-style expenses I settled for a 7.50 euros seat in the 'gods' for the concert. This turned out to be a remarkably wise choice (chance?) as chamber music recitals in the Avignon opera house, which is a little gem dating from 1846, are given on a wooden platform built out over the orchestra pit, rather than on the stage within the proscenium arch. The reflective surface of the platform projects the sound out and up meaning the sound in the 'gods' was better than that in the stalls for many concert halls.
The Trio Chausson's performances of Haydn, Beethoven and Mendelssohn confirmed their reputation as meticulous yet extrovert young musicians. But the mystery piece was the highlight of the evening. It was Extrait du Trio - Three Portraits of a Stainless Purity by the French composer Didier Gicquel, with three movements dedicated respectively to Günther Anders, Conlon Nancarrow and Christophe Ponfilly. This twenty-minute work is atonal without being hall emptying and has the two string players doubling on banjo and thundertube. The effectiveness of Three Portraits of a Stainless Purity can be judged by the very enthusiastic reception it received from an inevitably conservative audience on a bitterly cold Tuesday December evening.
So who is Didier Gicquel? Well he seems to be a pretty well kept secret and I have been unable to find an English biography or any recordings of his music. So here is my own attempt at a biography conflated from several French sources.
Born in 1958, Didier Gicquel concentrated on composition after studying bassoon and organ. He has written around forty works principally for chamber ensembles. His style is unashamedly atonal, sometimes modal and polytonal and uses quarter tones to add colour. He is particularly sensitive to to the poetic and theatrical aspects of music and his pre-occupation with the lyrical is reflected in his compositions. Despite his low profile his music has a high standing in contemporary music circles in France and in a concert in Paris in June 2009 it was programmed alongside that of Olivier Messiaen, Maurice Ohana and Francis Poulenc.
Chamber musicians and concert promoters among my readers looking to extend their repertoire would do well to follow this chance chamber music path to the elusive Didier Gecquel. Now discover some Rare Romantic Requiems in Avignon.
No photos of Didier Gecquel, so that is the first appearance I think on the blog for our Bentley piano. Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk