Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Our Summer Festival


We met Stephen Porter when he was fifteen years old, but little did we know, upon that first meeting, that he would become the celebrated pianist he is today. That meeting took place here in Lucca more than thirty years ago when he was traveling with his parents, friends of friends, and we've never lost touch. As our house guest this week, he offered to perform for a few of our music-loving local friends.

It was a short program of Debussy, Scarlatti, Chopin and Bach...

... played on our 1845 Bosendorfer fortepiano.

You need to be a consummate musician to make this stubborn old piano do what you want it to. A few of the keys stick and the notes don't always complete but when making music is your goal the end result is perfection, moving and even thrilling, like a musical voyage back in time.

This is Stephen rehearsing for the evening recital.

I've never seen him with a piece of sheet music in front of him.

This is Stephen Porter, later that evening, in the midst of a short discussion about friendship and what it means to him, just prior to playing Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze," dedicated to Gil and me. I confess to getting a bit teary.

Stephen is now a "Resident Ancien" at the Cité International des Arts in Paris, where he was invited to play mostly Debussy for this, the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth.


YONKS said...

How absolutely sublime. As you say, stepping back in time to a period when this was the normal type of entertainment. A gathering of friends enjoying a recital. My idea of heaven. Thank you for sharing this intimate moment.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Paul:
What a wonderful occasion. And how absolutely splendid to have a private recital in your own drawing room with such a very celebrated pianist.

Of course, as you may well be aware, despite your somewhat modest comment about yours, a Bosendorfer is the only piano which Liszt failed to destroy, and the only make which he regarded as 'perfection'. With that in mind, we can only imagine that the combination of Stephen's playing and your very fine instrument ensured a magical and unforgettable evening.

And, additionally, the most striking black and white images of Stephen further add to this remarkable record of a summer night at the Villa Massei.

columnist said...

How very spoiling, and clothes apart, C18th or C19th in its depiction!

Desert Dweller said...

Thank you for sharing such a fine evening. And of course, I also think about the garden scenes walked through before the recital (or him wandering through in the cool of the morning before rehearsing), the vistas, and the food later!

Parnassus said...

I'm glad to see you reviving the musicale, especially with such a performer and such an instrument. Your piano in its restraint is an extremely handsome example of the period, in addition to the importance of its maker. I have noticed that the name boards on early Viennese pianos had grown to ever-more elaborate proportions, and your Bosendorfer is a prime example of that school.
--Road to Parnassus

helen tilston said...

Hello Paul

Knowing Stephen since he was a young man makes the occasion all the more special. I have no doubt your guests will look upon this evening as the highlight of their summer. The instrument must have sounded hauntingly beautiful. I am listening to
Sheep May Safely Graze as I type and the lyrics loosely translated are appropriate as a tribute to such gracious hosts:-
Sheep May safely graze
where a good shepherd watches
Where rulers govern well
we may feel peace and rest
and what makes countries happy.


Paisley Curtain said...

What a treat it must be to have such an exclusive piano recital from such a talented musician.

Best wishes

Laurent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurent said...

The feeling of the occasion is captured very affectingly in the final group portrait; the comfortable informality portrays two qualities at once, not always associated - that the occasion would have been very memorable, and that it replenished the characteristic vitality of the house. A very sweet posting.

Carter Nicholas said...

I think the unerring instinct - the wrong word, but the one we always use - of the 15 year old boy to recognise friends he could trust is the basic thermonuclear detonation of this elegantly reserved entry. It's a story of a lifetime; and it is not uncommon. It is just rare in publication, and I honestly have to say this is its finest presentation I have ever seen.

Joseph the Butler said...

Bravo! What a treat.

Tom Porter said...

What a superb post. Paul and Gil, knowing you and your lovely villa from our 2001 visit, and knowing a bit of the pianist's talent and charm, I can easily imagine the magic of this evening. As for the friendship commentary, I know for certain that those words must have been deeply genuine, & precious.

Tanti auguri,

david terry said...

Dear Mr. Gervais,

Not to go veering entirely off-topic in my first comment on your blog (of which I learned via via "Hattat"), but?...

I'm currently halfway through "Extraordinary People". Having recently read of you in "Hattat", I went on to googling, and then to Amazon.com, and one thing led to another....including my reading that 1991 review of the book from Kirkus Reviews....and, then, the quite-convincing and obviously irritated reactions to that review from readers of the book (as in....they, in contrast to that reviewer, seemed to have actually READ the book?).

I immediately ordered "Extraordinary People". Suffice it to say that, with tree-men chainsawing all over the place and about twenty other things to be done, I spent yesterday afternoon RE-reading the first half of the book, since I thought I'd too-enthusiastically plowed-through it the previous night after it had arrived. I haven't done that with a book in years and years.

Tonight, I intend to s-l-o-w-l-y read and appreciate the last half.....and thank you. It's a really beautiful book (I've already made a list of the friends to whom I'll be giving it as a Christmas or birthday present).

I have to say that (and as suggested by several amazon readers' comments) the Kirkus reviewer is/was either enterprisingly obtuse or (and this is my good guess) merely waspishly-territorial. My impression (one that, unfortunately, I have regularly in regard to reviewers) is that his many dissatisfactions derived from your not being the sort of person he thought you should be....and your failing to write the sort of book he thought should have been written.

As you'll know, that's never a remarkably productive attitude from which to launch a critical analysis of anything...whether the subject is a book, restaurant, or potential boyfriend.

Well, enough from me. Thank you for the book. It's just wonderful...in ways that surprise me.

All I would ask is whether you wanted to have "A Novel" printed on the cover. I'm well-aware that publishers are professionally inclined (to put it politely) to asking "We love your book....but what are we going to market it AS???? Nobody buys short story collections, by anyone, anymore!".

Two friends of mine (both quite succesful writers) have been dismayed when what they regarded as a series of interconnected "stories" were marketed as "novels".

Thanks again...and your house-concert does, indeed, sound (so to speak) lovely.


David Terry