Of course, when in France, one must do as all the other tourists do. I spent the next three days climbing the Eiffel Tower, dining at street cafés emanating that air of European sophistication, pushing through a hall full of tourists for a brief glimpse of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, walking through the lavishly furnished rooms of Versailles, passing under one ornately decorated bridge after another while cruising down the Seine river, looking at the sculptures of Musee d’Orsay, and climbing the hill up to Montmarte.
As beautiful as the sights were, the most rewarding experiences were found during the performances. I could definitely feel a presence as the first thundering chords of my orchestra echoed beneath the towering ceiling of the Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The French are rumored to be reserved– and god forbid, even snobby by some disgruntled tourists– but none of that seemed to be apparent here. Listening to the music that we had prepared in the months previous, with the intention of sharing it with a worldwide audience, the audience seemed entirely fixed on the performance, moved by the transcending power of the music. At the end of the performance, their warm and seemingly never-ending ovation, booming through the hallowed structure, gave proof that we had successfully reached out to them across the cultural barrier, with the universally touching beauty of music. All those hard months in rehearsal had paid off.
The next day, I set out for the road towards Belgium. Driving through the French countryside, the scenes rushing by outside the bus window appeared to be straight out of Van Gogh paintings that were in every museum we visited on the trip. The sky was the deepest cerulean blue, bounded by the golden yellow earth meeting it at the stark horizon line. Occasionally, the roll of hay or the mini-grove of scraggly stood out from the rolling monotony of the fields, in all their rustic and simplistic beauty. Even the motion blur of the bus painted the scene with bold, sweeping brush strokes as Van Gogh would have.
Brussels, unlike Paris, has many different faces. One minute, I saw the tall glass skyscrapers of the Financial District proudly standing, to be replaced moments later by the open-air markets of the ethnic immigrant districts bustling with energy, only to give way to the Vienna-esque main square and elegant aristocratic buildings near the museums of Coudenberg. Even in a city that looked far more modern in Paris in some parts, the sense of European beauty was preserved.
Our concert in Belgium, played in a nearby town of Bruges (known for its charming canals and bridges), went as successfully as our concert in Paris. People on holiday, on that warm, inviting Sunday, came to see us and did not hold back any applause. It was a special experience to share the music I loved with people who were absolutely surrounded by and greatly appreciated beauty. I am greatly indebted to these people of France and Belgium for showing me the world they lived in and embracing our love of music and making it their own, proving that music touches everyone universally. As my conductor would always say after a performance, “Bravo! Bravissimo tutti!”
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