Nassam alayna el hawa (Traditional Lebanese song)
Giuseppe Maria Jacchini: Sonata in A Minor for Cello and Basso Continuo
Uskudar’a gider iken (Traditional Istanbul song)
Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 6 – Third Movement
Cholzony od Jozefa (Traditional Polish song)
Mordechai Gebirtig: Yankele
André Klénès: La rose des vents
Eduardo Arolas: La cachila
Jean-Baptiste Morel & Marion Picot: Inukjuak
Jean-Baptiste Morel: Bass
Marion Picot: Cello
Time has been flying as I have been having fun (and a few passing frustrations) traveling through Italy and France for the past couple of months. But while touring various cities, towns and villages have been richly rewarding in terms of visual and gastronomical pleasures, live music has been sorely missing in my life, essentially due to limited offerings, bad timing, as well as professional and personal obligations.
Finally back in Dieulefit for a while, and just as the summer concert season was shifting into high gear too, the time had come to get down to business. Hence, my mom and I spent quality time carefully reviewing local cultural programs, occasionally lamenting the conflicting schedules of equally attractive events, and eventually coming up with a few alluring prospects.
Last Sunday was one of those days where three tempting musical happenings were scheduled at 6:00 PM in three different locations. Our choice, however, quickly turned to Pasa Calle and its promise of a special journey from Europe to the New World and beyond, courtesy of bassist Jean-Baptiste Morel and cellist Marion Picot, AKA Hors des sentiers battus (Off the Beaten Track), in the endearingly petite and exquisitely restored Chapelle Saint Jean, standing proudly on its wind-swept little hill outside Crupie, a tiny community that makes Dieulefit look like a hectic metropolis.
We could hardly think of a better way to spend our Sunday evening, and apparently neither did the rest of the small but dedicated crowd, which counted about as many Dutch nationals as French locals. The bucolic setting, the gorgeous weather, the light-filled chapel, the respectful audience, and the promising program, all contributed in making us feel that we had made the right choice.
The actual playlist, which had not been available until we got there as if to test our spirit of adventure, contained a highly unusual mix of original and reworked compositions from a wide range of times and places—the repertoire for bass and cello being rather limited—and would be accompanied throughout the performance by insightful introductions provided by Morel. So we all buckled up and got ready to enjoy the ride.
We took off with a piece written by Hors des sentiers battus based on Bach’s choral music, and sure enough, the duo wasted no time proving not only their compositional skills, but also their musical chops, as well as the excellent acoustics of the intimate space. The combination of cello and bass sounded even more exciting live than it had on paper, the vibrant spirit of the former counterbalancing brilliantly the darker hues of the latter.
Just when we thought it could not get any better, the two musicians transitioned seamlessly into “Nassam alayna el hawa” (The breeze blew upon us), a popular traditional Lebanese song whose best-known version is probably the one by superstar singer Fairouz. Moving from German rigorous exactness to middle-eastern exotic entrain cannot be an easy task, but on Sunday evening it was effortlessly accomplished.
Next, we jumped to Bologna, Italy, with Giuseppe Maria Jacchini, eminent Baroque cellist and composer, who tirelessly promoted the use of the cello as solo instrument (Bless his heart!). Vaguely reminiscent of Vivaldi’s infectious joie de vivre yet resolutely standing on its own, the sonata made smart and truly persuasive use of the instrumental combination.
From late 17th-century Italy we moved to 16th-century Vienna, Austria, as the Ottoman empire was indefatigably trying to take over the city, and the Turkish army was routinely launching into a türkü through which they expressed their ever-present desire to “go to Uskudar” (Uskudar’a gider iken), a district of Istanbul, their longed-for hometown where East meets West. Since then, the catchy tune has been famously adapted throughout the world, including the superbly soulful version we heard on Sunday.
Although he was not mentioned in the printed program, 19th-century Hungarian composer Bela Bartok made a surprise appearance with the “Burlesque” movement of his sixth (and last) string quartet. Updated for cello and bass, his trademark Gypsy-flavored music did not lose any of its rusticity or vivaciousness.
Sticking to Eastern Europe, we then got to happily indulge in a traditional Polish song with “Cholzony od Jozefa”, the kind of happy-go-lucky music played at wedding celebrations, as well as a Yiddish foray into the boundless imagination of Polish poet and songwriter, and holocaust martyr, Mordechai Gebirtig.
After barely a pause, we went on a search for more exotic fare, sailing away to the sounds of some deceitfully hypnotic maritime improvisations, before Belgian contemporary composer and bass player André Klénès provided the impressionistic touch of the evening with his delightful “Rose des vents”.
We eventually made it to Argentina for—What else?—some hot tango courtesy of Eduardo Arolas and his “Cachila”, “small bird” in high-brow language and “old car” in low-brow language. Regardless of the intended meaning, Morel and Picot’s version stood out for originality and appeal.
From South America we flew all the way up to the Canadian Artic with Hors des sentiers battus’s “Inukjuak”. Based on the 1922 Franco-American silent film Nanook from the North by Robert Flaherty, cello and bass made truly beautiful music together evoking the stark beauty and unforgiving harshness of the Nordic landscape.
Ralph Emerson once said that the voyage is the destination, and on Sunday evening, the audience got to experience a fabulously eclectic voyage thanks to our endlessly resourceful and virtuosic guides. As for the parting gift, the fearless duo evoked sunny and warm Algeria with the tango-infused chaabi song “Ana el warka” (I am a leaf), which concluded the concert on a dazzling and uplifting note.