The people of Provence, we have learned, don’t give standing ovations. They do roar in approval. And at the end of Sunday evening’s violin and piano concert in Aix-en-Provence, they roared not once but twice, both before and after the encore. Both times they also broke afterwards into rhythmic applause for more, until finally the house lights came on. The concert, by a violinist and pianist who played beautifully together, was that good.
Forgive me for not telling you about Aix’s two-week Paques, or Easter, Music Festival before rather than after it took place. I should have bought tickets myself before the last concert and brought my cousins to the city’s spacious Grand Theatre de Provence last week during their visit.
It wasn’t that I doubted the quality of the music; Yo-Yo Ma was among this year’s headliners. It’s that I dreaded the prices — $135 for some of the evening concerts and $95 for the orchestra seats Sunday (a 5 p.m. start). But once again, our gracious landlady, Martine, set us on course.
She told us, in so many words, to buy the much cheaper nosebleed seats, the ones four levels above the stage. Then, at the break, she said, move down. “Everyone does it,” she said. And so, on a whim Sunday, 30 minutes before the concert, we bought two of the last $20 seats, so remote that there was no way to see the stage short of standing. We managed to reposition ourselves before the concert began high above the eighth-row orchestra, looking down on the stage through an iron gate. (My mother, who stood in the back of New York’s Metropolitan Opera as a child, would have been proud.)
The soloists were Renaud Capucon, a 38-year-old violinist who also is the founder and director of this 14-day orchestral and chamber music extravaganza, and Mikhail Pletnev, a 57-year-old Russian pianist, who among his credits lists multiple nominations for Grammy awards and an appearance in 1988 at a super power conference in Washington D.C. Capucon, among his many credits, has appeared as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic. Pletnev, like Capucon also a conductor, only recently returned to performing after a six-year pause, according to an article in a music journal.
On the program were four pieces, two sonatas by Mozart and one each by Schubert and Beethoven. Both performers played beautifully, their instruments whispering during pianissimos and drawing to a pause after some retards. Their hands seemed to dance above keys or strings during the fastest, most technically challenging sections. But it was the ensemble of their instruments, the musicians’ interaction, that made the second half particularly exquisite. The third piece, Mozart’s Sonata No. 42 for violin and piano, stole the evening, with its slow and sonorous andante followed by its breakneck-speed presto. Both men pulled it off with aplomb.
Should you have the chance to visit Provence next spring, time that visit for this Easter festival and do go. There’s also an opera festival in Aix each summer, too.
We stopped at the bakery for bread on the way home and heard a voice call our names. Martine, it turned out, had gone to the concert as well, buying the nosebleed seats and following her own advice.