Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cantori New York - Flecha, Ben-Haim, Breit & Castelnuovo-Tedesco - 09/15/13

Artistic Director & Conductor: Mark Shapiro
Château Borély
Mateo Flecha: El fuego
Ballet National de Marseille
Paul Ben-Haim: Sephardic songs
Jonathan Breit: Recette de bouillabaisse
Opéra de Marseille
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Canciones gitanes – Rémi Jousselme
Jonathan Breit: Recette de bouillabaisse

Back in Marseille for more of the "20 lieux sur la mer" (20 leagues/places on the sea) events featuring Cantori New York during the "Journées du patrimoine" (Heritage days), my mum and I woke up early on Sunday to the sound of (Gasp!) rain. We, however, decided right away that we would not let a few drops get in the way of our carefully planned music-filled day, and after a robust breakfast, we headed to the Château Borély just as the weather was clearing up. If the general area was not as bucolic as I expected – some ugly modern buildings in the background kind of spoiled the overall view – the small-scale 18th century château, which these days houses the musée des Arts décoratifs, de la Faïence et de la Mode, was a charming residence.
It was also the location of Cantori New York's first mini-concert of the day, so at 11 AM sharp they all walked in and evenly spread along the main staircase in order to perform the piece of the hour, Flecha's "El fuego". The dramatic contrast between the hot-blooded lyricism of the catchy medieval composition and the cool elegance of the marble staircase, the vibrant harmonies from the fired-up ensemble terrifically enhanced by the incredible acoustics of the unusual space, the winning combination of the informal, seemingly impromptu, performance and the formal, quasi-aristocratic setting literally stopped everybody in their track and contributed to making these 15 minutes of heavenly choral singing a huge success and our indisputable highlight of the entire weekend. Seriously, who needs pastis when one can have a premium shot of Cantori for apéritif ?

Passing from the foyer of the stately Château Borély to the decidedly less visually pleasing courtyard of the Ballet National's building nearby, we also moved on to the many moods of love in the Judeo-Spanish culture with a nice assortment of Sephardic songs. The sun was finally shining and the attractive sounds coming from the choir quickly and effortlessly made our surroundings more appealing. The encore was our first, but definitely not our last, "Bouillabaisse" of the day, a song that was well on its way to becoming the biggest hit of the ensemble's first French tour.

After an enjoyable sight-seeing break in the afternoon, we made our way to the Opéra de Marseille for Cantori's last mini-concert of the day. We eventually realized, however, that the word about their presence must have spread pretty far out because when we arrived a good half hour ahead of the scheduled 5:00 PM starting time, the fancy 200-seat foyer was filling up so rapidly that we ended up in the first row. Still going strong after performing all over the city all day long, the choir looked more than ready to wrap up their mini-concert marathon in the city's most prominent vocal art institution.
Accompanied again by the superb classical guitarist Rémi Jousselme, they treated the captive audience to Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's highly melodic canciones gitanes, whose emotional directness and intrinsic musicality was beautifully rendered by the harmonious combination of voices and guitar. The overflowing audience was so wildly enthusiastic, with standing ovation and all, that they had to perform the "Bouillabaisse" encore not once, but twice.

The atmosphere eventually calmed down, and the Mediterranean exploration took an unexpected turn with some excerpts from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" assertively played by Victoria Harmandjieva, which had been listed as a "surprise" on the program. And then we all moved on to the official concert of the day with the Musicatreize ensemble, right around the corner.

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