Music Returns to Bordeaux with panache after covid slowdown
Emerging from covid lockdown of two years duration, the Bordeaux music world, in the south of France, is awakening again, and with some panache. The 13th annual l’Esprit du Piano festival recently concluded three weeks of recitals featuring some of the world’s greatest performers
The program included Grigory Sokolov, Lucas Debargue, Lief Ove Andsnes, the Russian-Belgian Irina Lankova, the promising young English pianist Julian Trevelyan and the much-decorated Japanese Kotaro Fukuma.
Artistic director and the power behind the event, Paul-Arnaud Péjouan, tells me he faced major challenges bringing this program to fruition. Travel had been hampered by covid restrictions until recently and Bordeaux remains something of a backwater in the music world. Péjouan’s efforts have helped change that.
Bordeaux pianophiles turned out in force for Péjouan’s mix of young discoveries and established greats. I managed to attend three of the offerings.
-- Lief Ove Andsnes, Norway’s best-known living pianist, holds an honorary doctorate from the Juilliard School in New York and has toured the world with his solo performances. Politically aware, he boosted the Janacek Sonata in his program notes by expressing the hope that the audience would pick up on the music’s “anger and sadness”, reflecting the “absurd war in Ukraine”.
His Bordeaux program left attendees perplexed, however, by his decision to string together without pause several unfamiliar pieces from Vustin, Janacek and Silvestrov. The post-interval rendering of Dvorak’s Impressions Poetiques, while superbly performed, was equally difficult to follow. One perfunctory encore capped the evening.
--Lucas Debargue, the popular bad boy of French pianism, is recognized the world over for his sensitive talent and his mastery of the repretoire. He is known for unearthing rarely heard pieces from such composers as Medtner, Szymanowski and Miloz Magin. But in Bordeaux he played it safe, playing a Mozart sonata, a selection of Chopin favorites and the big “Concerto for Piano Solo” of Alkan. The audence perhaps expected more, granting him a lukewarm reception.
-- One of the festival’s best surprises was the glamorous Russian-born Irina Lankova. Her evening was dominated by Rachmaninov and perfectly suited her origins. She has invented a program of music and fireside chats, creating a quick and pleasant connection with her audience. At ease between numbers, she chatted in relaxed manner notable for her erudition. Dressed in a modest ankle-length gown, she was all about music, not showboating. Contrary to several other women headliners in the piano world today, she says “I do not need to eroticize my looks”.
Her opening Rachmaninov Elegie No. 1 cast a silent spell over the Femina Concert Hall and she carried her charm through nearly two hours of graceful pianism. It is not unusual, she told me in an interview, to leave members of the audience in tears. “I also cry, at least internally, when I play,” she says.
The Esprit series has become a mainstay of piano performance in the Bordeaux region and Péjouan has fought to keep it going. He also created festivals in China where more than 200 editions have been produced over ten years. He is currently working on a revival of his Japan series. Already confirmed for Bordeaux next year are appearances by Nokolai Lugansky and Elisabeth Leonskaja. Péjouan says he is at work lining up his usual combination of established figures and less-known but promising players from around the world.
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