Date: Fri, 07 Nov 2003 18:39:39 -0000
Subject: [TPIN] Maurice Andre concert 5 November 2003 (long post)

Salut les copains!! Me voici, revenu de Bordeaux, et

But I digress. 48 hours of gallic atmosphere (and several gallons of fine wine) later the time has come to report back to you all on a strange but wonderful experience.

To summarise, I have a friend (a former BBC Radio 3 sound engineer) who now lives in Bordeaux. He e-mailed me to say that he had seen a poster for a concert to be given, in Bordeaux, on 5 November 2003 by the one and only Maurice Andre. So I got myself off to the airport, flew over there, went to the concert, and the following is an account of the evening. Sorry if it's a bit lengthy, but going to the concert was a very significant and moving experience. I was glad to have my friend along as an independent observer, because a man with his experience of professional classical music recording and broadcasting is going to give a very objective report of what we heard, and the following is put together in the light of our discussions afterwards.

I should also remind you that I have seen Maurice Andre once before, in 1997. He was astounding, and played better than I could have imagined, and indeed better than he sounds on CD. The review is somewhere on the TPIN archives, I suppose.

So :

The concert was entitled "Maurice Andre : adieux au public". We turned up at the theatre for a 7.30 start   and it was closed !!
However, it appears that most concerts in Bordeaux start promptly at fifteen minutes after the advertised time, and so it proved on this occasion. Eventually the doors opened, and the crowd, composed mainly of late middle-aged Bordelais entered   very slowly, only one person being on the door, and checking tickets. We bought our programmes, and took our seats in the balcony.

The orchestra   billed as "L'Orchestre de Chamber francais" filed on   four firsts (one left-handed   I've never seen a professional violinist playing left-handed before), three seconds, two violas, two cellos, and a double bass. They played a Mozart Divertimento, really very well. Excellent strings, though the average age was young. (By the way, the audience insisted on applauding after every movement. This is irritating, and slowed proceedings down somewhat.)

When the clapping ceased, everyone looked to the wings, and out came, to my utter shock, Maurice Andre and his son Nicolas. Nicolas was supporting his father, who shuffled unsteadily on to the stage, dressed not in a dinner jacket like everyone else, but wearing an old, loose, black jumper, black trousers, and black trainers.

Ladies and gentleman, this was an ill man. I was horrified to see how, in only a few years, the man whom I had met in 1997 had aged and slowed down. At that time, he looked fit, healthy, and slim, (having lost a lot of the weight we saw on record sleeves in the past) but now, he had put on a lot of bulk, and looked really unwell. The audience was pretty shocked too   I suspect that I was not the only 'serious' Andre fan in the hall.

Anyway, he found a seat in front of the orchestra, and instead of playing, reached for a microphone, and spoke for a few minutes to the crowd.

It is not possible to listen to the man without feeling a profound affection for him. He talked about his career, his luck, his humble beginnings, and how proud he was of his children, and how he felt that they were sharing a stage with him due to their own talent and merits, and for no other reason (I don't want to comment on the children's performances   I didn't go to the concert to hear them.)

Then he and Nicolas played a Vivaldi Sonata in Bb for two trumpets, with Nicolas on the higher part. It was better than most other people manage, but it was not the old Andre. The second movement had an even greater surprise   there was a false start, and Andre apologised to the audience, saying that the lights and his eyes were bothering him. The remainder of the piece went well enough.

At the end, to great applause, Andre got to his feet and nearly overbalanced, saving himself at the last minute by grabbing the chair. Walking off stage, he was even more unstable than he was going on. Next Beatrice Andre (his daughter) played the Cimarosa Oboe Concerto (I have a cd of her father playing it on trumpet   it's wonderful.)

Then came Nicolas playing a Sonata in D by Telemann. The recording of his father playing this (one of the Deutsche Grammofon recordings) is absolutely exquisite  the high register passages are mind-blowing. Nicolas edited them out, or played them down an octave.

Then came the interval. We had a beer. I needed a drink by then.

In the interval, posters were being sold (I bought one as a souvenir.) CD's were also being sold, at either 28 or 35 Euros each. The normal shop price is about 15 Euros.

Second half of the concert. Andre came on with the orchestra, and again spoke to the audience, repeating some of his reminiscences, and making comments about the lack of support for classical music (and jazz) in education.

He then played a Telemann "Sonate de Concert" in D Major.

Now, this was one piece he had played in 1997. It was fantastic then, and it was pretty darn good now, though in the last movement it was clear that some fast semiquaver runs didn't work at all well   the crisp double tonguing of 1997 had given way to some rather blurred slurs. It would appear that his tongue, finger and eye co-ordination had become a bit shaky.

He left the stage, again very unsteadily. It was very sad to watch. Personally, I found it very upsetting.

Next, the orchestra played an arrangement of the Prelude to Wagner's Lohengrin   an excellent arrangement, given how small the orchestra was   though I cannot praise enough the precision of the string playing all night. It was really very good indeed.

Final scheduled piece   Maurice Andre came back to play the Hummel. First he spoke to the audience again (sorry, can't remember all the speeches verbatim.) and then he played the concerto. A couple of bits didn't work, but on the whole it was the old Maurice Andre again. The sound was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. The expression was profoundly moving. There was no doubt who is the best trumpet player in the world, bar none. (And he played the last movement at a pretty fast pace, too.)

Then a moment of pure magic. He said "Vous voulez que je vous joue un petit morceau de jazz?" and the double bass player came forward to the front of the stage, and they did a duet ( I don't know the name of the tune   my chum thought it might be the theme from a film). It was incredibly beautiful : time stopped : no one breathed. It didn't last long, but while it was going it was clear that we were in the presence of a talent without equal. Something indescribable just took over the whole building. (I was at this stage that my chum, who is a serious jazz fan, as well as an expert on classical music, remarked that this was the most beautiful trumpet sound he had ever heard.)

When the piece finished, there was a moment of absolute peace, followed by an explosion of applause. Words fail me.

More encores, and more speeches. Maurice thanked his public, talked about his father, and his start in the mines, and again held the audience spellbound. Beatrice played the last movement of the Cimarosa (again?!?! Couldn't she learn a new piece as an encore???) Nicolas played the last movement of the Telemann (again.).

Then, finally, Maurice came back, and played, unaccompanied, a French folk tune (I don't know which one) and the audience sang along. Some people were in tears. I was nearly in tears myself. Then he played, again unaccompanied, "Auld Lang Syne". I don't know the words in French, and in any case no one could hear them over the only two Brits in the audience singing loudly in English. It was a moving, touching, moment. Not an artistic event, but a personal moment when all the audience were totally involved with the ill figure on the stage. So how do I sum up the concert? I admit that Maurice Andre is not, at 70, the towering figure of technical excellence that he was a few short years ago. Whether his diabetes has taken its toll (a frightening thought and a serious warning for those of us who are diabetic) or whether he has some other health problems I do not know, but his frailty was obvious to all, and the fact that music of such astounding power and beauty, and a tone quality of such transcendent wonder came from such a fragile figure took me, and everyone else there by surprise.

There may have been a few slips, and a few rough edges, but the music took over and dominated the night. I do not think that there is any other trumpeter who could produce that effect to the same extent on an audience. We were not watching a performer : we were witnesses to a phenomenon, and anyone who could fail to be moved by artistry of this magnitude has no soul.

What is it that makes Andre's playing so special? I think that it's a combination of factors. Each note is perfect, the sound a treasure in itself. But put together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It's a bit like a diamond necklace, make from perfectly cut, perfect stones. No matter how closely you look, only more beauty is revealed. On this concert, a few of the diamonds had a few tiny flaws (or inclusions, if you prefer the proper word) but a perfectly cut diamond with an inclusion is still a diamond. With most, if not all other trumpeter, the necklace is badly designed, or made of only semi-precious stones. Many produce a set of cheap plastic beads.

So, on with the events of the evening.

After the concert, the audience filed rather sadly out. To be honest, the whole mood of the hall was depressing. When Maurice was talking, the things he said, and the way he said them, reminded me not so much of a man going into retirement, but a man saying goodbye to life. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but this was a man gazing into the past, not looking forward.

A word about the audience. I suspect that they were fans rather than the usual concert-going bunch. For one thing, the average age was somewhat elderly, and most people looked rather down-market   given that the ticket price was 45 euros, relatively high for the area. There certainly was not a lively hum of conversation in the interval or afterward. This was not the audience you get in the UK for a classical concert : I was reminded more of the audiences you get in the UK for a brass band concert (though to be fair, the French audience did not smell, were more sober, their knuckles were not trailing on the ground, and relatively few of them were dribbling uncontrollably.)

I have only one regret about the 1997 concert I went to. I met some great names, (Andre, Voison, Aubier) but it didn't occur to me to take a camera, and pathetic as it might seem, to have a photo as a souvenir of the meeting would have been fabulous. Never one to make the same mistake twice, I had my camera at the ready, I had a friend available to act as photographer, and the two of us set out purposefully toward the stage door, where, much to my surprise, given how difficult it can be to meet the artist, the door was open, and a small crowd of about thirty were queuing, in an orderly, totally un-French fashion to meet the man himself.

So, for the second time, I got to meet M. Maurice Andre, and to have a chat with him for a few minutes (just to say thanks, if nothing else   I reckon I owe him a lot) and we shook hands, posed for a photo, he signed my programme, and parted most amicably (though to be honest, the fact that someone would travel the better part of a thousand kilometres just to hear one concerts seemed rather surprising to him (my friend having know me for years, and knowing my obsession with Andre's playing, says that I am mad, sad and pathetic. While I was talking to Maurice, Adrian had a chat with Nicolas, whom he described as also perfectly charming.)

I did not like to ask about, or comment on, Andre's health. It was clear that he was in poor health, not just because of his poor gait on stage, but in his dressing room he was sitting down all the time, and his son was clearly watching over him with concern.

I think anyone meeting Andre would have to be taken with him as a person. Even my friend Adrian, who has met, recorded, and is indeed friends with many of the greatest musicians of the age, said that he was unique in his experience. Andre has a phenomenal ability to put people at their ease. Compared with lots of other celebrities (or self-styled celebrities) there is nothing of the puffed-up popinjay about Maurice Andre, and in many ways it can be difficult to equate the ordinary person you meet with the source of the staggering music from the stage.

So there you have it. For the second time I have heard, and met, the greatest trumpet player of the age   perhaps of all time, who knows. I feel very privileged, as a musician, to have been listening to his recordings for the last thirty-five years. I feel very privileged to have heard him play live, and to discover that unlike many musicians, he sounds better live than he does on disc. I feel incredibly lucky to have met him, and spoken to him, and to find that for once a celebrated talent is associated with a nice person. I do , however, feel very concerned and upset that he should have apparently suffered such a decline in his health. To see him finding difficulty walking was very distressing.

I don't know whether Bordeaux was his last concert, or merely one in the last series, but certainly his playing days are numbered. It doesn't matter : his work, like so many great artists', has an eternal quality, and the recordings will be with us for ever.

Please accept my apologies for such a long posting. This has been a wonderful experience for me, and a second fulfilment of a lifetime's ambition. In due course I will put the photo of Andre on me on my website, but until then if anyone has any questions about the concert, on or off list, do ask and I will do my best to reply to all.

I am going off now to listen to some recordings of Maurice Andre.

C'est adieu au maitre.

Ian McK