A lovely litte dose of French half way through the week in cold november – don’t mind that!

Francois-Xavier Roth brought his Les Siecles across La Manche for an evening full of French music by Debussy and Ravel. Roth founded the orchestra in 2003 and it is made up from young players from all different French ensembles – and what a dynamic bunch they are!

The evening started of with Claude Debussy’s Jeux. A wonderfully light playful piece which was Debussy’s final piece for orchestra. Back in music classes in secondary school I did a presentation on Debussy and remember quite vividly what an interesting character he was and the varied inspiration he drew from. This piece is certainly no exception and sounds so very typical Debussy – if there is such a thing, considering how different some of his pieces are. The whole piece has a mysterious feel to. Jeux – Play – the music certainly is very playful and you could imagine a lot of different plays taking place. For me personally it was probably children running around and discovering a big park, coming across all sorts of things – flying leaves, a water fountain, a little dark forest…you can very much tell that it is a ballet score and it would leave a lot of room for interpretation for a choreographer.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet joined the orchestra on stage for Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. Having seen him perform Ravels G Major concerto last year at the Proms with Nicholas Collon I know how magical his play can be! This time Bavouzet actually brought his own grand piano with him – a Pleyel as far I am aware. A beautiful instrument with such a warm tone – especially in the bass notes! It just added another layer of texture to this beautiful piece of music. The orchestra had such a colorful dynamic – it was fascinating to watch the woodwind section all sway in exactly the same way – everybody was just really an integral part of this performance. Well – as for Bavouzet – he did it again for me! His play just makes your spine tingle! Whilst Ravel’s music is mesmerizing it was elevated to another level for me personally tonight! Orchestra, pianist and conductor – all were one! We even got a little encore from Bavouzet: Ravel’s Jeux d’eau. Here he finally got to show what his right hand could do as well… lovely little gem which somehow tied the first and last piece of the concert together.

After the interval followed another Ravel: Ma Mere L’Oye. Another ballet music – this time with a very unusal accompangement: Gregoire Pont – an animator! Yes, you read that right! He has a passion for classical music and over the past few years he worked togehter with Les Siecles to broaden the audience for classical music with the help of musical excerpts combined with animation and video. During tonight’s performance he was sitting on the side of the stage and doing live animations and drawings to this fairy tale like ballet. It was absolutely fascinting to watch! You could see he was emerged into the music himself because is drawing was perfectly in tune with the music! A fantastic idea that really took you on to a journey where you didn’t quite know what he was going to do next! I was very excited to read in the programme that Gregoire will do an operatic premiere – Lyon Opera is doing a staging of L’Enfant et les Sortileges only using his projections. Having seen the opera myself I would love to be able to see this version of it! This is a really great way of interacting with the audience in a different way and getting younger listeners interested in “boring old classical music”. Whilst the drawings might have taken the focus a little bit away from the music you were transported into a different dimension – everybody was in their own little bubble – following the animation whilst drifting along in the music. I would definitely be up for going to another concert like this!

Debussy’s La Mer concluded the evening. I don’t think the piece itself really does need a lot of words – you could just drift along and get lost in the sea of music… It was something magical to have a French orchestra and French conductor perform French composers… there was just anothe texture of melancholy and deep understanding in their play… with such top notch and hand picked musicians you can develop such a deep connection to the music and this really came through! Royal Festival Hall was so quiet – you could hear a pin drop! The tension really was palatable – especially during the pianissimo parts of the evening – you were holding your breath with the musicians excitedly awaiting the next bar of music!

It most certainly was an enjoyable evening reminding me that there are other great, almost contemporary, composers out there other than my favourite Russians… will definitely have to dig out those Ravel and Debussy albums hiding in my collection…

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