News that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are producing Chateau Miraval wine on their estate in Provence topically compliments my current thread of music and place. The power couple reportedly bought the nineteenth-century Chateau Miraval - seen above - for $60 million, and a previous owner was Jacques Loussier. He owned the chateau from 1970 to 1992 and installed a recording studio there in 1977. Studio Miraval, which in its heyday offered state-of-the-art technology, a resident chef, three apartments and a swimming pool, was used by Loussier for his own recording projects and also hosted many famous guest artists. Part of the Pink Floyd’s seminal album The Wall was recorded there in 1979, and a Pink Floyd wine produced on the estate subsequently became a best seller.
Jacques Loussier is best known for his Play Bach crossover albums. But in 1974 the pianist stopped touring with his Trio and six year later retreated to Miraval where he composed his Lumières: Messe Baroque du 21e Siècle – Enlightenment: Baroque Mass of the 21st Century. Scored for countertenor, soprano, mixed voices and orchestra with additional percussion, the Mass mixes baroque, classical, jazz and rock in a pioneering experiment in musical ecumenism. The countertenor part was written for James Bowman and the Enlightenment Mass was premiered at a festival of sacred music in 1986 and performed at the consecration of the new Évry Cathedral ten years later – an event for which Edith Canat de Chizy’s Messe brève de l’Ascension was commissioned. Despite the release of a now deleted commercial recording – the CD seen below shows the interior of Évry Cathedral – the Enlightenment Mass is today forgotten. Which is a pity; it has similarities in style and intent to Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, and both works are a curious mix of the sublime and what Harold Schoenberg described in a review of Bernstein's Mass as "fashionable kitsch". There has been a recent revival of interest in Bernstein’s Mass and with barriers between genres tumbling Loussier’s Enlightenment Mass also deserves reappraisal,
I have to confess to being a fan of Jacques Loussier, and after hearing him in concert I wrote in a very early post “if you've never heard Loussier live you've missed something… in a world where academic analysis and MP3 downloads prescribe our musical tastes we are in danger of losing sight of the importance of live music making". But in the same post I also wrote “my admitted ambivalence about Loussier has stemmed from a concern that his performances on record can get perilously close to 'elevator music'”. So back in 2005 I was grappling with where crossover fits into classical music’s big new ideas, and eight years later I am still grappling. Yes, dumbing-down must be avoided. But we – and that includes me – must also beware of dualistic attitudes. Why, for instance, does the Independent enthuse about a year of Benjamin Britten on the BBC but deplore two weeks of André Rieu on Sky Arts? The problem is the term ‘crossover’ has become a dangerous pejorative as reader Dave Harmon eloquently reminded us several years ago:
By all means let's encourage active and critical listening. But let's also acknowledge, without condescension, that some people's personal level of active listening will be satisfied by musicians like André Rieu. If they never develop an appreciation for Elliott Carter ... so what?If Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie can produce wine and Jacques Loussier can play Bach, why can’t André Rieu play Johann Strauss?
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