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<<  -- 4 --  Jennifer Paull    REMINISCENT RETROSPECTIVES


Although I continued to play in many beautiful halls and cathedrals, I didn't again have any special feeling for a building until I went to Teheran a few years later. I was invited by Fahrad Meshkat to help him redefine and improve the Teheran Symphony Orchestra. We auditioned many musicians, most of whom had come from the Eastern block countries, as they then were.

In those pre security-search days, I was sitting in a box when the orchestra struck up the National Anthem. I rose, as did everyone else present, and to my amazement, the Empress Farah Diba entered the adjacent box. She was wearing a tiara and matching suite of jewels in the country's native turquoise and pearls. There was a feeling of non-reality, as she stood, beautiful and tall in this lovely hall, the Talar Roudaki. I don't think the architecture was the magic ingredient, although it was pleasing. It was the setting that seemed truly magical; floodlit grounds, jasmine flowers and strutting peacocks. The orchestra was not playing Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade on that night, but one felt its ghost meandering through swaying palm branches in the moonlight, beyond the long glass windows.

Maybe it was the fact that the garden was so much inside the hall that captured my imagination. Glass seemed to be everywhere. I had the same feeling again very recently. Evian with its spring of wonderful water lies just across the border in France. This is the setting for Rostropovich's annual string quartet competition. The concert hall is an all-wooden affair with corners cut out of external flights of timber stairs to allow majestic, old tress to grow through, unhindered. The back of the stage has been constructed from a row of upright silver birch trees fixed in the winter skeletons in which they were cut down, for every season of the year. Each branch still juts out from the trunk, each twig from the branch, each twiglet from the twig. The floorboards and isles, stairwells and seats are treated or polished wood.

Here were the trees, as nature had made them, lining up behind the orchestra in rough silver bark and fine feathery twig. Hung from the wooden roof of the concert hall, is a parallel row of steel cloud shapes, modern and striking. From these silver clouds, crystal chandeliers are suspended, as formal and beautiful as one might expect to see at Versailles.

The contrast in texture and colour matched Ravel's perfectly, as I listened to his Tombeau de Couperin in this perfect setting of frozen time.

'I call architecture frozen music.'

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
German playwright, poet, philosopher

Copyright © 8 February 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland





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