I had the unexpected and wonderful privilege of seeing Jessye Norman at Salle Pleyel last night.At the last minute a friend of mine offered me a ticket he couldn’t use and with glee I accepted it. This would be the perfect mind vacation from a stressful week I had.
The Salle Pleyel, located on rue faubourg St. Honoré in the 8th, was built in 1927 by the Pleyel piano company, and was fully dedicated to showcase classical concerts and music. Designed by Gustave Lion in the modern Deco style of its day, it became the most celebrated concert hall in Paris. Closed in 2004 for an extensive renovation of the acoustics and architecture, Salle Pleyel reopened in 2006.
I have never been to Salle Pleyel and the simple, clean and meticulous interior reminded me of Avery Fisher Hall in New York. The white walls, the sumptuous red velvet seats and the handsome blonde wood stage with a curved floating wall, were all made for restrained luxury and pure listening pleasure. The stage was set with sparkling black lacquered grand piano.
At 8:05, with no fanfare, Jessye Norman walked on stage followed by the pianist Mark Markham. She looked regal in a royal blue gown with an electric blue train, and gold ballet flats and Mark Markham wore a long black elegant tuxedo. The program, Le Voix Francaises, was all French composers, including Ravel, Debussy, Henri Duparc, Erik Satie, and Francis Poulenc. The first few songs were somber and pensive but later in the program, there were some livelier and more up-tempo pieces. I closed my eyes for a few moments as the music wafted over me, and I floated into musical heaven. About every ten minutes, they would exit the stage for a 3-minute interval. I noticed before every piece, she would pause for a few moments and look down, and it looked like she was waiting for the music to infuse her. She would then look up and subtly turn her head to the pianist to start the next piece. Mark Markham’s sensitivity and flawless command of the piano was perfection. At the end of each piece he would oh so delicately raise his hand in mid-air, waiting for the last note to linger to its end.
I know very little about classical music and almost the last person qualified to review it. I could come up with the usual cliché’s, like the legendary diva gave the performance of her life, but I will spare you. Simply put, Jessye Norman is the purest expression of beauty, grace, and remarkable talent. Her voice reaches into your heart and fills your soul.
After the program was finished, the audience gave a standing ovation, and many fans brought her flowers, each trying to upstage each other by seeing who could bring her the biggest bouquet. With enough flowers covering the piano to keep a small flower shop in business for a week, the usual encore tactics took over. After many bows and a few false last exits, Jessye came back for 3 successive encores, and saved the best for last.
The second encore, a tribute to Josephine Baker, was a sultry, sexy French song I never heard of and Jessye’s delicious playful side finally came out. The last song, “I Love Paris”, was a pure and resounding statement of her love of Paris. I was moved to tears.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour
includes many of the places I have written about including small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com