Picture a summer evening in Provence, here, at Château de la Gaude. This is a place that takes one’s breath away. The light falls gently on the sweet vines and plants, growing up the old facade of the domain. The exquisite gardens are perfectly manicured. The trees sway in tune with the wind. Everything is glazed and lustrous. This evening is a special event at this venue. Normally, one comes here and chooses between three restaurants, wanders through the ornate gardens, and makes eyes at the art. Tonight, however, there is more: an outdoor piano concert. Chopin is on the menu.
This concert is part of an ongoing series each summer, hosted in various handpicked locations across the region. The formula is dreamy: 40 prestigious locations, 68 concerts and wine-tastings, music, from classical to big band jazz, played by world-class musicians. The festival is called: “Les Musicales dans les Vignes de Provence” (Concerts in the Vineyards of Provence). The full program can be found here.
We found seats (in this case, lovely lawn lounge chairs) and settled in with a glass of wine and a specially prepared picnic for concert guests. The wind had picked up that afternoon and the domain was already being serenaded by its gusts. The pianist came out and took a bow: Patrick Zygmanowski, a celebrated French classical pianist. He began to play and we were all transported.
In between pieces, the musician stood and gave us context - on Chopin, his life, his relationship to composition and the piano. He spoke of Chopin’s admiration for other composers. It was clear Zygmanowski was truly connected to the masters he has spent his life studying.
He recounted how Chopin was terrified to perform in front of larger audiences in grand concert halls. He preferred smaller, more intimate venues. Three days before large concerts he couldn’t sleep, eat and didn’t know what to do with himself.
Before beginning another piece Zygmanowski raised his hand and stuck his pinky fingers high in the air. He said that Chopin believed each finger has a personality. Chopin composed a series of studies (24) for the individual fingers. In each of these, the melody is played uniquely using that finger. He played that piece with very heavy pinky fingers, which held the melody.
He also enumerated Chopin’s love for other composers. For Chopin, Bach was the astronomer of the composers. Bach charted the musical harmonies in perfect succession, like the galaxy. He explored the space between notes and pushed the limits of their ambits. As for Beethoven, Chopin felt he understood a human being in perfect complexity.
With these soupçons of context, it was a true delight to hear each piece that followed. We took in the air, the moon above, the sky turning a pastel blue/pink/white and the dusk that grew wider with Chopin’s expressive notes carried out to the pink horizon.
If in Provence in the summer months, the Concert in the Vineyards series is a must.