On Growing (Together) Musically and Interpersonally
“Voyage, voyage!” was the order of the day this past December for 36 selected mdw students: they were off to Paris for a joint orchestral project with the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris. At neighbouring stands and as stand partners, Parisian and Viennese students spent a week making music together that culminated in a sold-out concert with the Chœur de l’Orchestre de Paris under the baton of Patrick Davin at the Cathédrale Saint-Louis des Invalides, which towers imposingly over the similarly named park complex that extends out to the Seine.
Their performance of Ein deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms featured vocal soloists who likewise study at the two universities: baritone Edwin Fardini from the CNSMDP and soprano Caroline Jestaedt from the mdw, who arrived in Paris fresh from performances with Marc Minkowski. Brahms’s ever-impressive choral classic was preceded by an exquisite entrée: the short but acoustically overwhelming Psalm 129 setting Ils m’ont assez opprimé dès ma jeunesse, penned by Lili Boulanger (*1893), the younger sister of the legendary composing professor, conductor, and composer Nadia Boulanger. Lili (whose given name was Marie-Juliette Olga) found success as a composer early on: 1913 saw her become the first woman to win the renowned Grand Prix de Rome, which was awarded from 1803 to 1968 to students of the Conservatoire—including Hector Berlioz, Charles Gounod, Georges Bizet, and Claude Debussy. Though the 20-year-old was unable to take full advantage of the period of study in Rome to which she was thus entitled, her further composing activities did receive support in the form of a contract with the publisher Ricordi. Plagued by illness her entire life long, Lili Boulanger passed away in March of 1918. Around 40 works by her are known, and some of these were performed anew to mark her memorial year of 2018—a worthy (re)discovery.
This collaboration between the two universities’ orchestras was designed as a multifaceted series of projects: November 2017 saw students of the Conservatoire de Paris travel to Vienna for an orchestral concert at the Vienna Konzerthaus together with students of the mdw. In that project, carried out as part of the contemporary music festival Wien Modern, the programme included Viennese and Parisian compositions: Ilan Volkov worked with the young musicians to realize the spectral sounds of Hugues Dufourt’s Le Passage du Styx d’après Patinir; their focus shifted to refining percussion sounds for the world première of Das Imaginäre von Lacan by Iris ter Schiphorst; and in the Accordion Concerto by Georges Aperghis, the young French musician Jean-Etienne Sotty was given an important, career-boosting opportunity to play the solo part. This joint performance in Vienna can be listened to at the mdwMediathek. Furthermore, the Webern Symphonie Orchester’s concert trip to Paris was captured in video form as part of a collaborative effort of the two universities’ AV centres—documentation to which we eagerly look forward.
For both the students and the team that accompanied them, the exchange and experience entailed by this trip were broad-based. Their one-week stay offered them the necessary time and leeway to get acquainted with the Conservatoire and with how studies there are structured. The Viennese guests were impressed by the recital of Philippe Bernold’s flute class and the humorously and poetically staged concert Violoncelle de mer given by the class of Jérôme Pernoo. Enjoying concerts and meals together (from mussels in the cafeteria to petits fours at the palace occupied by the Austrian Embassy to pizza beneath the Eiffel tower) offered manifold opportunities for exchange—both with the participants’ Parisian colleagues and among the “Viennese” themselves (who hail from 16 countries!).
The metropolis of Paris, for its part, offered wonderful sights, cultural pleasures ranging from concerts at the Philharmonie to jazz jam sessions, and edible delicacies—along with its share of idiosyncrasies. But happily, most of the items that the participants had presumed lost or stolen eventually reappeared. The political unrest that had played a disconcerting role during the weeks of preparation preceding the project ultimately posed no limitations. And the wayward orchestra bus eventually did reach the hotel following removal of a few construction site barricades. Belgian conductor Patrick Davin, on the other hand, manoeuvred with assurance and humour, rehearsing the musicians in three languages in order to most ideally convey his interpretations of the programmed works—which were realized to outstanding success with this group of personally and musically wonderful young musicians.
The general thrust of the feedback, in any case, is clear: let’s do this again sometime! À bientôt!