Sunday, May 27, 2007



“I bet you wished my studio looked like that!” said Julian as we passed the photograph of the French artist in his immaculately ordered space. We were in the Beaubourg in Paris – now re-hung so you see every painting again as if for the first time – in a small but illuminating exhibition of artist’s studios.

“Oh yes I do” I cried with rather too much conviction.

Next we passed the photograph of Francis Bacon in his workplace with its accompanying video. You could hardly call that bomb-site a studio I thought to myself.

“Art is about making order out of chaos” he said from behind the railings of fossilised brushes in rusty tin cans. “I find beautiful forms in chaos…” Paint-caked plates were piled shoulder-high, making the artist look like a bus boy at the end of his shift in a greasy spoon. Bacon’s toes were covered in rubble. I thought of the towering meringues of paper towels drenched in white spirit, the curls of shrivelled peel, the squashed strawberry, the lemon sagging from the inside with its blue furry coat; of the piles of books open at favourite still lives and portraits, our best pottery perched dangerously on makeshift shelving and containing some unnameable ex- vegetable. (I was of course thinking of Julian’s hemp hayloft.) Then I thought of how many of the objects could cause him to trip and my stomach turned at the hole in the floor and the sheer drop down in to the gallery.

(We must get some railings, I also thought, and a staircase to replace that ladder. Our cat Manon has mastered the ascent in order to be with her master and, though her descent is less elegant, she is still the only one not risking death every day getting down from there.)

Later, passing my favourite Matisse, The Violinist, I noticed that the musician’s head was empty; a mere oval outline filled with the clouds in the sky in the window. It is a long time since I felt like that, I thought.

I have been in Paris for a month playing Carmen at Chatelet. The last performance is tomorrow and then I am finally home where my own room – now revamped and rewired by Julian’s brother Steve and ready to paint - at last awaits me. I haven’t blogged for a while, I know. I have not been drawn to words, camera or to the computer. Somewhere in my unconscious and on my desktop I have a memoir which has been reincarnated as a novel, and which is wondering whether to be born again as a memoir. I pictured my days in Paris giving all my attention to this dilemma before swanning down from Belleville to Chatelet on the Eleven for the gig. As it turns out I have done everything but and am filled instead with butter, art, adoption, sushi and gossip. Three days ago, with the help of a Bach cantata, I finally opened the folder called ‘first draft?’. Despite its identity crisis it deserves to be finished, I thought. Luckily when I get home I will have a nice clear space in which to fill the oval of my head with clouds in which I can hopefully find some beautiful forms.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

chamber music


The first rehearsal day did not start well for the Morandi Ensemble. Impatient to impress the girls, I cruised, ‘décapotée’ and décolletée in the mini, past pools of poppies and blue wheat fields, and along the glassy Rhône into Avignon station bursting to share it all with my friends and start our adventure. ‘Three girls, three fiddles, a few pairs of pumps and a toothbrush or two’ I had thought to myself as, setting off only hours it seemed after I had finished my last job, I looked at the compact but well designed motor.

I beamed at my quartet as they waddled down the slope exhausted from a week’s work and a dawn start on the TGV. Lagging behind them on strained forearms and strapped to their backs were giant suitcases, computer bags, double instrument cases, extra bow tubes…..I had brought the wrong car. The roof did not shut, the girls sat crossly on top of each other, instruments poking up at the sky, and I blushed et the steering wheel as I prolonged their discomfort for the next hour. In the village there wasn’t even room to add a baguette for their breakfast tartine.

Julian could not cope with the onslaught and, exhausted from making a sudden mass order of prints till three in the morning, he was in a black mood. As the girls fell out of the car he practically ran down the hill with his coffee cup in hand. I found myself not only trying to show them the house and make them coffee but also realising that the shops shut in three seconds and we had nothing to eat. Furious at the apparent lack of support I gave my colleagues a quick Pavoni masterclass and drove the mini, now with some space in it, down to Bedoin.

Eventually the music stands stretched out their limbs, instruments were released from their boxes and we started work. And we didn’t stop until, eight hours later, Julian, recovered now and at his most charming, had assembled a feast of all the delicious fresh local produce – sweet waxy Normoitier potatoes, broad beans, peas, asparagus, a dinasour old variety tomato, fresh tuna and gariguette strawberry-flavoured strawberries – I had been dying to share on the table and we fell to eating drinking and laughing together. Haydn’s opus 20 quartets had worked their magic on us all. Julian had even had live entertainment to which he could hum while he worked his poppy field.

The quartet consisted of four women and, even though we are all outwardly strong in our professional lives, it was good to find our true creative voices. So used to following and caring for ‘The Other’ - from section leaders through conductors to partners – we seemed to be reclaiming something old and passionate together and with it creating something new. Even though we had only played together for two days we took risks in the concerts, dared to take unrehearsed paths through the score. The part of me that defers to Julian (much to his annoyance) with ‘Darling shall we take this road? or Shall I call so and so?’ instead of taking responsibility for herself had been banished at last. I hoped she would stay banished.

During the rehearsals we worked largely on creating an accompaniment that can allow a melody to soar. It is a common mistake, if a passage is not working, to concentrate on the tune rather than trying to provide a bass line and inner parts from which the melody can soar. We didn’t always manage it but sometimes we did and it was magic. It’s like basing a soup on a really good stock instead of trying to add seasoning.

With my beloved driving us in style here and there through the fresh green and meadow flowers, with him making stews and salads for us, above all with him witnessing our rehearsals, and hearing me for the very first time in chamber music practically at bow’s length, with him at last being part of what I usually go away to do, I had found my bass line and my inner parts and I started to soar.

‘We really must finish your room’ he said the next morning. ‘There’s not much to do’.
My heart leaped with the excitement at my space suddenly being a priority.

‘Shall I close the roof on the car before we go for our walk?' I asked 'It looks like it might rain?’

As we pumped the juice, Julian hummed something wild and unrecognisable in triplets. We figured out after thirty minutes that it was the cello tune in the slow movement. He too had started to soar with the music, composing an entirely new variation.

'No, it'll be fine'

It rained, of course.

The day after more poppy fields appeared like cloaks of water-silk dropped from the sky and still quivering from the descent. We cut a swathe through them on our bicycles. I was happier than I had been in years.