Date: Fri, 07 Nov 2003
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.