To tarry in Paris

During the beginning of February, I visited and stayed in Paris for longer than I ever have before. This was due to a fortunate number of events that happened to coincide: Fulbright mid-year meeting (including a performance at the American Cathedral in Paris), lessons with Louis Robilliard and Thierry Escaich, and the inauguration weekend of the new organ at the Philharmonie de Paris. Since I was there…

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I still have to pinch myself sometimes, when I see things like this.

The Fulbright mid-year meeting was full of presentations by scholars and students describing what they had learned and discovered by this point, halfway through their year abroad. Subjects ranged from nuclear fusion and alternative energy sources to linguistic study of Occitan and to teaching English to French students. While the two days were long, the extreme variety between topics of conversation, the friendliness of all participants, and the beauty of the venues made the time seem to fly.

For the first day of the mid-year meeting, our rendezvous took place at the George Marshall Center, which was built in the 18th century by architects of Louis XV and decorated accordingly. Owned by the Rothschild family through WWII, this headquarters for the Administration of the Marshall Plan for European Economic Recovery was purchased by the US State Department in 1950 and has been beautifully restored. Of course, part of the morning of this first day was taken up by tours with curators of the building.

The second day of meetings found us at the Hôtel de ville in the 4th arrondissement. Not to be confused with the English “hotel,” a French “hôtel de ville” takes care of municipal concerns and is the seat of Paris’ City Council. After the monarchical George Marshall Center, this post-revolution building proudly displays its “République française” heritage through the symbolism etched into its very walls.

Katie Minion and I presented a program of Bach, Dupré, Escaich, Langlais, Tournemire, and Widor on the organ at the American Cathedral in Paris for the Fulbright attendees and we were especially thrilled to be able to show them “backstage” and answer any questions about the organ that they might have. Even better – they had lots of questions and were extremely enthusiastic!

I made a quick trip down to Lyon to meet the beautiful 1880 Cavaillé-Coll organ at St-François-des-Sales, have a lesson with Louis Robilliard, and to visit the beautiful sights. A mere seven hours were not nearly enough but I did manage to see Vieux Lyon, the cathedral, and the basilica! Perhaps the only disappointment was, although this is known as the gastronomic capital of France (which also is, arguably, known as the gastronomic capital of the world), my lesson finished too late for me to visit any restaurants and have local specialities… so, I had my first French burger! I also didn’t have a chance to photograph the organ. These are excellent excuses to go back…

The weekend was full of events featuring the new Rieger organ of the Philharmonie de Paris. I’ve never seen so many Parisian organists in one place, especially since the Conservatoire de Paris decided to also hold a kind of alumni event celebrating the 20 years of Olivier Latry and Michel Bouvard’s “reign” over the organ program. I was lucky to have tickets to the inaugural concert, which featured Bernard Foucroulle, Philippe Lefebvre, Olivier Latry, and Wayne Marshall, but they were right below the pipes. Complementary earplugs were available at the entrance, and if that wouldn’t warn of what was in store, nothing would! The variety of performers showed much of the possibilities of this instrument, which was especially constructed to perform with orchestra. I wish I had had the opportunity to hear it do so, but I will have to wait for next time.

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Thierry Escaich improvised accompaniment to the 1925 Rupert Julian film, Phantom of the Opera and displayed some of both his legendary rhythmic sense and motivic direction. Following the movie, Olivier Latry presented the organ to the many children in attendance. The audience was able to see the second console (mechanical) and follow Vicens Prats, one of the flutists of the Orchestre de Paris, into the organ case, where he and M. Latry explained and explored the instrument.

During the days in between these amazing events, I was able to be a bit of a tourist, finding the passages couverts, the oldest bakery in Paris (although the chocolate eclairs are quite overrated), some fantastic places for fresh oysters, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, and simply wandering along the Seine. However, after these 12 days, I was ready for a vacation… although I arrived in Toulouse just in time for three lessons!

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