Right, well before I launch straight in and describe our workload here in Aix and what we have been doing and what we are about to do, I'd like to describe as floridly as I can my own personal experience of living in Aix thus far!
We have now been here a fortnight and Provence is 'heady'. It's a wonderful corner of France and as I write this, sitting under the boxwood tree in my garden, the keyboard of my iPad clicking in counterpoint with the cicadas, the warm wind blows and the atmosphere is abundant with rosemary, lavender and thyme gently wafting in the breeze. I'm not sure that I need a year in Provence, but I reckon we all need a month!
It seems a good time to be away from the UK at the moment as everything has gone a bit wrong. The weather is bad, people are fighting in the streets, parliament has imploded and England have lost to Iceland.
I am largely immune to feelings of doom and gloom down here in the South of France! We have had a light working schedule this week as Pélleas and Mélisande is now up and running like a well oiled machine and Provence lends itself beautifully to a particular type of inertia that suits me just fine. I seem to have lapsed into the habit of putting off until 'demain' what could be done 'aujourd'hui'.
France is a beautiful country and I can't understand how the UK has managed to remain so backward in it's appreciation of food with such a shining example just across the channel. These thoughts are prompted by looking through the photos of the markets of Aix on my iPhone (pictured), which give a surprisingly comprehensive glimpse of 'la bonne vie'.
So this is an extraordinary but extremely welcome patch of work. We are lucky and I cannot imagine doing anything this special again!
As the days go by, the more usual working schedule of the Philharmonia (punctuated by midnight lane closures on the M1, terrible traffic, troublesome parking and don't get me started on the Northern Line) become a dim and distant memory I'm not sure I would like to return to.
So now I should actually mention the purpose of our visit!
As I've said, we are lucky enough to be here performing at the Festival D'Aix-en-Provence and thus far we have completed rehearsals and started the run of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. This is an opera which we have performed with Esa-Pekka Salonen before in our home, the Royal Festival Hall, so I already knew that both we and our French audiences would be in for a treat!
Pelléas is an opera in five acts and the only opera Claude Debussy ever completed. It is an important work in 20th-century music and the French libretto was adapted from Maurice Maeterlink's Symbolist play by the same name.
For me, it is a wonderful opera based on a really quite simple love triangle but the controlled passion within the story line and the descriptions within the text make it intoxicatingly romantic. Pelléas and Mélisande say 'I love you' only once which makes the phrase extremely precious and never cheapened.
We, the orchestra are creating the music for an unusual and new concept of the opera here with incredibly imaginative and visually engaging stage scenes. It also helps that I am in the First Violins, therefore getting an arguably better view of the stage than many of my colleagues!
Here is an interview with Barbara Hannigan who is singing the part of Mélisande absolutely exquisitely:
Earlier this week the production went out live, and was also recorded for broadcast on ARTE CONCERT website and The Opera Platform: http://concert.arte.tv/fr/pelleas-et-melisande-de-debussy-au-festival-daix-en-provence
We have had good houses every night, even on Thursday night in spite of France playing Germany and playing them rather better than we played Iceland. The hall was still packed and the sounds of their appreciation and applause encouraging. In my experience the audiences in France are discerning and rightly fussy!
I am completely loving it here and tonight we start work in earnest on a cornucopia of Stravinsky!
Fingers crossed that there won't be a riot at this Rite!