15 January, 2012

Rapateeka dôdô tah!

I have been involved in a very stimulating musical experience with Les Métaboles. We have given a concert produced by the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra which involved its brass section, a cello solist from the orchestra and our choir. This orchestra is one of the best orchestras in France so there was enormous pressure on us to deliver a satisfactory vocal performance. We could sense the high stakes as our musical director Léo Warinsky was very tense during all the rehearsals with the orchestra. We did our best to act professional.

Indeed, judging by the grey or white hair of most of the instrumentists involved, these ten gentlemen and one lady were not only among the best musicians in France, but they had been so for quite some time already.

I was extremely impressed by the clockwork precision of the brass section in playing a rythmical section that looked incredibly difficult on the musical score.

One of the composers of the piece we were giving was present and playing the piano. More pressure...

However, Ron Geesin turned out to be a charming Scotsman. He was always encouraging us, providing advice to the conductor on how the piece should sound. He was seemingly thrilled that his composition should be played and sung by such outstanding performers.

The concert was held at the Théâtre du Châtelet in central Paris. It was very impressive to be on stage in this huge italian-style musical theatre currently specializing in large-scale classical concerts and musicals productions. The concert was sold-out: over 2 000 people in the audience. Pressure, pressure, pressure...

The contemporary piece started with a synthetic and eery background. The brass instruments came in one after the other, adding tension to the musical atmosphere. Enigmatic cymbal and percussion interventions here and there. The texture of the brass became increasingly complex and dense, a climax was close...

And then the rock band crashed in! Banging drums, thumping electric bass guitar, mesmerizing keyboards, overwhelming electric guitar! We were giving "Atom heart mother" by the Pink Floyd, which Ron Geesin had first orchestrated in 1970 and extended in 2008. It is one of two examination pieces for the musical option of the 2012 French end-of-secondary-school baccalaureat exam. Our audience was composed of final-year secondary school students. The piece finishes with all instruments, rock band and choir giving their biggest sound for the final chord. The crowd went wild and we got a fullhouse standing ovation!

Despite the rock-and-roll nature of the piece, working with the Radio France Philharmonic gave this production an extremely professional turn. We had rehearsed our choir part separately before joining the orchestra. In all, we only had around three hours of rehearsal with the instrumentists in very brief sessions. We had very little opportunity to meet and socialize with the instrumentists, the conductor or composer. In a sense, I did miss the many opportunities for friendly interactions with professionals of the long rehearsal sessions I had known singing for Bangkok Opera. But it fealt great working again with professional musicians, and such outstanding ones too.

The production is due to be broadcast on national radio and national television so I hope this production will lead to other similar projects for Les Métaboles.
Atom heart mother
Pink Floyd, Atom heart mother, EMI

08 January, 2012

I'm not hungry no more

I think I have developed a certain reputation for enjoying food, preferably of good quality and in wholesome quantities.

However, this week I experienced the unpleasant feeling of not wanting to eat. My parents and I went up to the northern tip of Chile in the Andean village of Putre, altitude: 3 500 m. The weather was typical of what is called the "Bolivian winter": cold temperatures, rain and drizzle all day, all night.
Weather conditions were inhospitable and the feeling of uncomfort was made much worse by the thin air and low level of oxygen. Result: altitude sickness for my mother and me. Head throbbing, heart running wild, sleepless nights, falling asleep all day, feeling sick once in a while. Luckily we had no physical effort to make as we toured the region in a vehicle.

The only way to escape the rain was to move further up to the altiplano above 4 500 m where the sun would shine in the mornings, but of course, it made the altitude sickness worse.

We even went very high up to see the Andean volcanic peaks.

It felt strange and unpleasant to arrive at meal times and not want to eat at all, sometimes having to force myself to eat just a bit.

Luckily, by the third day my body had started to get used to the lack of oxygen and my appetite came back as the altitude sickness subsided. And then the weather cleared and the views were stunning!
Losing my appetite

5 250 m photo: Pheck Yin Cadilhon