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The Bee and the Water

Sophie Gravier

Yesterday I took a bee from the water. She struggled, flapping her wings to no avail. She seemed so weak, so determined in her desire for life, so impotent despite all her exploratory science, and so solitary, despite her admirable solidarity as a worker dedicated to her community. I put a stick in the water, she clung to it, exhausted and, when put on the grass, moved a little, coming back to life, little by little before resuming her vibrating sound. How could she have fallen here? Was it to drink? Had she thought she'd seen a water lily? Did she want to be reflected by the water and make herself beautiful?

The following day, in the same place, I returned to see the inert body of a bee floating in the same puddle. Was this my little suicidal narcissist of the previous day? Or another equally imprudent? I did the same as I had done before, but I'd arrived too late. The bee had been united with her creator. I was sad all day. Sadness that made my stomach hurt. 

I feel so close to my little bee that the tears run down my cheeks and fall on the ground. Caught by the wind, one of my tears falls in the puddle which becomes more salty, more fragrant, brighter in the sun. And the reflection in the water resembles a flower. 

The Fire of Passion

Sophie Gravier

To say the third concert of pause festival was dedicated to fire is tautology of the scene. It’s immediate force. When Daniel Barenboim asked Pierre Boulez why the tempo of his works were so far from the reality when he was conducting an orchestra, Pierre answered, ‘when I compose, it’s water. When I conduct, it’s fire. The tempo is not the same.’

Let’s continue the metaphor. Earth represents that which is acquired, tradition, finished work, something that has resisted time. Water is work in evolution, a process of making, sensibility in action. Air would be inspiration, something which comes from outside, which comes from divinity. Fire is work that is born, right now, in the moment. The stage is proof of fire. Here, the expression ‘jump into the water’ is misleading because water puts out fire. We jump in before the performance, but not during. During we burn, we take risks. Recorded music takes us far from fire. Classical music, with its complexity, removes us from fire. It’s a great effort for the performers to forget the work, the technique and artifice, and return to the truth. Maria Callas is Fire; Josef Hassid is Fire; Leonard Bernstein is Fire. Martha Argerich is Fire.

With Manuel de Falla, we are in the representation of Fire. In his canciones populares españolas, the composer turns folklore into song. He is searching for the essence of his art, and gets a fix on it by writing the famous duende that consumes gipsies and flamenco musicians. Perfectly accompanied by Élodie Vignon on piano, Sarah Laulan offers us the beauty of a flame, the image of fire. The Spanish public celebrate her, as when a foreigner begins to speak our language, concentrating on the subtleties and making us aware of the sophistication of a language we use without noticing.

With Julien Brocal and Dana Zemtsov, it’s not the fire of Atlanta but a flickering in the night. Something intangible, wild and extraordinarily natural. The pure inspiration of Nigun by Ernest Bloch.


Fire is most difficult for the French: our art is cut from its roots, too sophisticated, our language too fancy. For the English, already distrustful of human nature, too. Germans, behind their extreme efficiency, are in an ideal and ingenious world. It’s easiest for Russians, Spanish or Africans: Fire is in their genes.

However, it’s Isabelle Duthoit who is true fire tonight. An artist who produces work rarely, and seldom in professional circuits. The fire startles the organisers, the performers and the public. We are ready to see it in a cinema but not in real life. Isabelle enters the stage in a trance but in absolute control; she makes us think of Janis Joplin, Nina Hagen or Björk. She reminds us of an animal, a united force of all senses, a deep cavern. But she is unique! Her friend, trumpeter Franz Hautzinger is at her side, though no instrument is as raw or truthful as her human voice, brutish, to the point of obscenity. Laure Stehlin and Robin Scott Fleming represent civilisation observing a natural phenomenal: two vulcanologists faced with Etna in eruption.

With Franck’s Piano Quintet en F Minor, Julien Libeer (piano), Rosanne Philippens and Caroline Goulding (violins), Dana Zemtsov (viola) and Camille Thomas (cello) gave us one of the greatest moments of the festival. All their art and the beauty of their souls was thrown into the fire of passion. A fire, internal and profound, that could enflame the world like a match dropped on a tank of gasoline.

After the concert, the audience was found gathered around the cello of Camille Thomas as she played Bach, the fire of a star to which this marvellous artist gave her all.

Turns in the air

Sophie Gravier

Fanny Ardant claimed we should listen to contemporary music in great bathtubs of hot water or perfumed milk. La Donaira is more rural and mountainous, but the spirit is the same. First we climb a path to the heights. For a concert celebrating the element ‘air’ it seems natural. It would be possible to climb blind. To feel the irregular alignment of stones beneath our feet. To the left, resinous rosemary, further ahead, lavender, to the right a breath of fennel. The sound of the stream that goes to water tomatoes in the garden can be heard further off.

The air thickens and we enter the belly of the night. Stones crunch underfoot and the waterfall echoes. We’re almost there. We enter a kind of space with a roof that floats in the air, where a splendid grand piano is placed. A Steinway called desire. During the day, the walls are a view that catches the breath, the night leaves all to the imagination. It’s a new moon this night, and Venus allows us to stretch out on hay bales covered in soft cotton. Memories of childhood in the barn, laughter and the smell of bread dipped in hot milk.

Last night, for the Earth night, man and the elements were one. The earth was our audience. This night is different, we are in the studio of artists . . . who live in the open air.

Julien Libeer and Rosanne Philippens use the full palette of colours in Ravel’s Sonata for violín and piano. A little more purple in the ‘blues’ to evoke the lilac land of Andalucía, and quicksilver that makes «Perpetuum Mobile» fly away. The alchemy continues with Laure Stehlin and Robin Scott Fleming. Searching, and digging the sky as as Baudelaire said, interrogating the silence of the night. The music is in their fingertips. Suddenly, Lidy Blijdorp sings with her cello. Incomparable — the night enjoys it. Then, Damien Westrelin’s piano answers the saxophone of Gerald Preinfalk. Damien’s refined and delicate manner of playing is perfectly married with the voice of a Paganini of the Wind, an Eole of brass. The genius of Preinfalk’s music lifts the roof. His fingers alone decide whether it is midday or midnight. He paints, yes, but with blood, tears, laughter. The night ends with the generous voice and soft temperament of Sarah Laulan. Julien Libeer returns for a homage to Aretha Franklin. And it is time for a party: at La Donaira Apollo and Bacchus are never far away. The mornings are flooded with rose dew drops. In the evenings, the comforts of a glass of rosé.


Sophie Gravier

On the edge of Christianity, the most extraordinary revelation, so rich in art and wisdom, was the invention of the Holy Spirit. The Father and the Son were not enough, we needed the ‘breath of life’ (pneuma in Greek).
The Father is Tradition, Earth and Water. The Son is what shakes up tradition and makes the world evolve: Fire and Air. We need both to have what Goethe calls ‘roots and wings’. Without wings, one is alone, lost. ‘Der Welt abhanden gekommen’, says Rückert. Without wings, we are frozen, necrotic. Lacking something to connect us, to enable man to understand opposites are necessary and complementary.
It is the Holy Spirit. Or the breath of life. Or just the Spirit. Or so many other words that successive civilisations have imagined to define or appropriate this brilliant idea.

In music, it is the mysterious link connecting the artist’s heart, intellect, soul and fingers in one movement, one single arch,  in one moment of time and for eternity.
In life, it is what plunges us into ourselves, deeply, and into the world, focused and open. Otherwise it is crazy or fragmented.  

The Holy Spirit has another name.
It is what makes Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince say: ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye’.
It is the spirit of the music of Mozart, the Salt of the Earth, the Power of Fire, the Miracle of Water, the Grace of Air, and what unites them. 
It is the unknown name declared by Turandot at the end of Puccini’s opera. ‘His name is:  Love.’

Animal, we are not bad

Sophie Gravier

Pure natural musicality. A notable guest of the Pause project at La Donaira (a type of Andaluz Villa Medici reimagined by Pierre Rabhi) the Dutch cellist Lidy Blijdorp stops in front of us. 

If it is true that musicians are extraordinary animals, then Lidy Blijdorp is music from her feet to her head. Or from her mane to her hooves. Behind her cello, she is a thoroughbred running through the mountains. In life she is ‘a bird’, according to her friend and companion Julien Brocal. Great body of a heron, brightly coloured plumage dress, the shoes of a squaw. Her laughter bursts like a scream that slams into silence. When she talks, her big blue eyes come alive and are filled with pictures. The words jump and jump, staccato.  The legato and all the nuance is reserved for her dialogue with the instrument.

‘My two brothers used to play the violin. My mother told me: choose your instrument. At six, I went to a concert, I saw the cello and said: I want that!’ Her father used to work in the archives of the Ministry of Culture, her mother teaches English literature. ‘My mother had studied music as a child as a child. She used to play with us. My father didn’t, and my brother played the piano. One day, he said: music is a girls’ thing. So my father said: I’ll start. And he learnt the oboe.  My brother continued. Today he is a doctor and plays jazz.’ 

Lidy is the only professional musician in the family. One of her sisters is also a doctor, the other a professor of fine arts. ‘I was very timid. And I had a very good teacher who talked to me in images, with colours. This is ideal for a child.’ She grew up in Leiderdorp, a little town in Holland. ‘I couldn’t see what else I could do other than music, although I used to like languages . . .’ Later she moved to Brussels to study at La Chapelle with Gary Hoffmann. ‘He was always very clear in his explanations. Thanks to him I learnt to polish the details without sacrificing the line.’ 

Lidy likes composing, and playing jazz. ‘I have a good ear for harmony, but I don’t have the time. No sooner do I get started, than I have a concert.’ Classical music, however, fills it with the billions of possibilities of interpretation that are open to an artist. ‘I try to first find the character of the work. That’s the most important. The rest flows and the work is never ending .’

She met Julien Brocal at La Chapelle. ‘He was playing in the dark, I approached. He said to me: let’s play together. It was spontaneous. We breathe the same. For her duo, Lidy Blijdorp has done a transcription for piano and cello from Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky. She likes all music but has a weakness for Ravel. She’s enamoured of his sound, she would like to play it on the clarinet. She talks to us about the orchestra she set up as a teenager. ‘We touch a note and we hear a symphony. It’s magic!’ Then adds: ‘Too bad it’s the leader who decides everything . . .’

Lidy has a dream of music. To travel in a lorry and play in cafes, from town to town . . .’ Her blue eyes go misty. The music calls her. The bird-woman flies to other planets. We let her escape. And let’s go there, to the stage.

Tonight at La Donaira, below the oak, Lidy plays Ravel Sonata for Violin and Cello with the violinist Rosanne Philippens. 

Welcome to Paradise! Make yourself at home.

Sophie Gravier

A Persian proverb says: "Paradise lies beneath the feet of the mother." And who is the most universal mother, if not the Earth? The Earth that nourrishes us, that comforts us when we grieve, and that we treat so badly.

Today is an occasion to say thank you to the Earth, and to recognise ourselves as her children. To talk to her, we chose music. First, because it is a universal language, and probably the most intimate, through which we might recover the mystery of our origins.

But music is also a natural way to give back to the Earth what she gave to us: Our instruments are made of your forests, and the manes of your horses. You nourished our voices with your fruits and your honey. This is how we made fruitful your gifts, this is what we created with the love you gave.

Listen to the percussion beating like a heart, the violin singing like a stream, the flute sighing like the wind in the mountain. Here is the sound of men who crossed that region, who loved and suffered. And here are some of the most famous voices: Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, Philip Glass. They thought themselves to be Gods, free, and created other beauties to complete those that you have given to us.

They are your sons, they are our brothers, they are birds of Paradise. 

Music as a way to "be" in the world.

Sophie Gravier

Laure Stelhin became a flute player as a result of a revelation she got from listening a flute partita from Bach when she was still a child. "If it was a violin partita, I would have learned violin." She studied in Strasbourg before deciding to dedicate herself to the baroque style and to meet Bartold Kuijken in Bruxels.

In 2010, she fell seriously ill. "I realised I could not stand treble sounds anymore." She started playing drums to root herself in deep bass sounds. Then she became interested in finding personal balance through sounds. Her illness made her realise she had to step back from competitiveness, she learnt from an American lady specialised in traditional shamanic songs. Then she met Robin. 

Robin Scott Fleming is a self-taught musician. "As a child, I was trying to imitate any sound I could hear." His grand-mother saw in him this sensibility for music like many of his family members, but he wanted to stay free from the ivory tower. "I learnt how to play guitar by myself. Then percussion. I needed rythm, at all time." His first crush was Ravel’s Boléro.

He started playing in a rock band, switching from one instrument to another, then he traveled to India where I finally met is vocation: "I came back home with a sitar and the confidence that music was a spiritual experience more than anything else." He became an improviser, creating sounds, when he met Laure.

They decided to tell stories with sounds. Convinced that the vibrations, and the search for textures and colours create miracles in the body and mind.

"We are performing holistic concerts. The audience lies around us in a circle like sun rays and we play in the middle. We are intuitively improvising to keep with the natural elements: water, fire, earth, air, and the mind, the fifth element that binds everything together."

They are using their voices and their instruments: baroque wooden flute for Laure, any kind of percussion for Robin. "Tibetan cristal bowls create a unique atmosphere. The combination of the flute with the shruti-box is extraordinary. The Aboriginal didjeridoo has stunning effects on autistic people." They also use their creative talents with shells, rocks and seeds… After the performance, the public gives feedback on their emotions and describes what they felt.

They recorded an album called Elements which illustrates their work as sound architects, vibration-painters. "There is nothing religious or intellectual in our approach. We are working a lot on it, but success lies when we feel transported without being able to explain why."

Laure expresses her eargerness and passion while Robin seems calmer. She is Aeries (Fire), he is Pisces (Water), the first and last zodiac signs, which might explain their complementarity. As a matter of fact, these two signs are also the most important in Jean-Sebastien Bach’s birth chart.

What is the ultimate goal of their sound experience for the public? Laure is thinking. "Joy… in the sense of joy of living", she says. "To get closer to the source by connecting with the world", adds Robin.

Father Bach would not have disapproved of this music philosophy, since his God was far from being moralistic or sectarian.