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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.