With no lodgings, no teacher, no friends and no plan, I flew from Sydney to Paris on a one-way ticket. I had little idea what I was doing other than that the indescribably beautiful tone of Jean-Pierre Rampal was something I needed to get close to. I longed to walk the streets of the city where the famed French school of flute playing held its throne. One cannot learn such magic from books sitting on a beach in the South Pacific… It is in the drinking water.
The airport train passed through Jardin de Luxembourg. Perfect. I’d seen it in a movie. With my belongings on my back and my flute around my neck, I emerged out of the Métro (a feat in itself… I’d never been on an underground before), booked a room in the nearest hotel for two weeks, and felt extremely pleased with myself. Paris, here we go!
Not so fast girl… I had incorrectly calculated the exchange rate – the Australian dollar was not, as I had thought, three times the euro, it was in fact three times less! I blew all my money in 4 days and was kicked out of the hotel. But this misfortune turned into one of the greatest gifts. I was introduced to a wonderful 90-year old French woman, I moved into her apartment, and there began one the most important relationships of my life.
Madame Mouscadet, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 104, became my best friend, confident, language teacher, and shoulder to cry on. She had been in Paris during the German occupation, had seen Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, heard Rampal in concert, and bought paintings from Matisse himself. My stars aligned the day we met. She became my guardian angel, my rock and a first-hand window into the French Belle Époque; she was an entrada into a bygone period and if you hear old-school magic in this album it is largely due to the looking glass she led me through. She sat listening to me day and night as I prepared my audition for the great Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris, and squeezed my hand as I headed off across Paris on audition day.
For the next 6 years I lived, breathed, learnt, loved and suffered in Paris. All things flute, but more so, all things life. Ah Paris… Writers, poets and painters have been trying to define her in words and brush strokes for centuries. But she is ever illusive. She defies being pinned down by the limitations of language and the visual.
But with music we have a chance at capturing that which does not wish to be captured. The fleeting, the ethereal, ‘the too beautiful for words’. Because in its very nature, music, the most abstract of the arts; and hearing, the most abstract and fleeting of the senses, leaves room for the worlds that live within us but resist taking concrete form… those images and sensations we will never fully share with another because the spoken and written language is too limited.
With music the listener can complete the story, create one’s own pictures, choose one’s own colours, feel one’s own heart, ride one’s own emotions, dream one’s own dreams, and write one’s own poignant love letter. Triggered, inspired, provoked by something we don’t fully understand… music. So if Proust and Baudelaire struggle to capture the city’s alluring essence in words, I certainly cannot. I can only describe and conjure up ‘My Paris’ with the music on this album.
The big boys of the French musical ‘institution’ (Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Poulenc, Bizet) are, of course, here. But so are the ladies. There are three female composers on this album – Cécile Chaminade, Lili Boulanger and Maria von Paradis – and My Paris would not be ‘my’ Paris without them. Powerful yet feminine, strong yet delicate, cheeky yet coy, French women are as alluring and mysterious as their capital and I pay tribute to the countless French women who have inspired and influenced me. France’s history boasts Jeanne D’Arc, Colette, Camille Claudel, Coco Chanel, Simone de Beauvoir, Brigitte Bardot and Marie Curie, among many others, and while the composers on this album have not been recognised with the same fame, I proudly share their artistry, courage and beauty.
Smokey, sexy, nostalgic, luminous, intense, unapologetic, mysterious, arrogant and magical, Paris is incomparable. As T.S. Elliot rightly said, “the chief danger about Paris is that it is such a strong stimulant.” I hope that with the pieces on this album, which I believe to be the most enchanting of French music possible for my instrument, you will not only be lured through her fragrant streets, into her bars and her cafés, but led also into the depths of your own imagination.
No other city has been so important to the development and history of a single instrument as Paris has been to the flute. Paris is flute. Flute is Paris. And as Audrey Hepburn said… ‘Paris is always a good idea’.– Ana de la Vega
May 11, 2022