Melodies in the Vines

September 20-23, 2017
The Final Orpheus and Bacchus Festival
Gensac, France

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Nestled in the prime vineyards of the Bordeaux region, Orpheus and Bacchus, a unique musical experience, presented its final festival this fall. We met the visionary founder, Ian Christians, in 2003, and have had the pleasure of joining him in the beautiful setting of La Musique for these matchless events several times since then. Once again the marvelous Wihan Quartet (whose artistry we enjoyed last year at the festival and also at Taunton Castle Hotel in England) delighted us and our Music and Markets guests in the intimate setting of La Musique each evening, but Ian did not join us for his much-loved festival. He let us know in the spring that he was suffering from cancer, and hoped to be here, but that was not to be. Shortly after we arrived we talked with his lovely wife Sharon and found that he had just passed on – a week ago. Sharon welcomed us all with an aperitif before the first concert, and shared that this last festival would be in honor of Ian, and would be filled with many of his favorite pieces, then returned to the UK. I pause as I write, thinking of all that she and Ian’s son, Alex, and their friends did to make this festival a magnificent success, truly worthy of Ian. Alex, a lawyer in London, was the chef for the many superb meals we enjoyed, in addition to organizing all of the details to enable the festival to proceed. Yes, a busy lawyer from London took time away from his practice and his family and created the best meals we’ve ever had at Orpheus and Bacchus – what a gift for his father!
Each morning our breakfast was followed with a concert featuring outstanding young musicians, such as pianist Ben Comeau and cellist William-Clark Maxwell. Where else can you sit on comfortable sofas, relaxing as you’re surrounded with marvelous music?!One of Ian’s passions was encouraging and supporting many of these talented young performers, often by including them in the programs of the festival.
Hilltop chateaus such as Monbazillac, and enticing villages, such as St. Emilion,  filled our afternoons. The closest hamlet to the Orpheus and Bacchus property is Gensac – we walked through the quiet lanes after picking up a delayed suitcase for one of our clients. The airline-arranged delivery person couldn’t find our hidden-in-the-vines estate, so left it at the sole pharmacy in town for us 😉
St. Emilion is our favorite village in the area. Crowned by a majestic church that rises out of the rock, It’s steep lanes (the steepest are called tertres, only in St. Emilion) are lined with enticing boutiques – many filled with wine, of course! To complete a delicious lunch at Les Bistrot des Vignobles we introduced our guests to my favorite dessert – Café Gourmand  – and they continued to order it, when available, throughout the trip – can you blame them?!
The town was as full as we’ve ever seen it – the closest parking spot was a mile away! But the walk to get there (Kirk and I walked to pick up the car) took us by some autumn charmers. For yet one more view, we drove uphill from our usual parking spot on the edge of town to an overlook near the renowned Ausone vineyards. Don’t miss St. Emilion if you’re in the area!
After another evening of fabulous music – Hummel, Janacek and Bruckner,  the performers joined us for dinner, as they did each night. What a pleasure to hear their thoughts on the music, and appreciate their chance to relax and listen themselves as we all enjoyed some more music in a more casual ambiance. Alessandro Commellato, who played the Hummel piano concerto, was eager to try out the Pleyel duo-clave, a rare double piano with a keyboard on both ends, so a few guys pulled it out and got it ready. Remember when I played a tune with another pianist on this intriguing instrument last year? When we finally went to bed, we fell asleep with more beautiful music drifting down from upstairs.
Saturday was the final day of the final festival (and happened to be my birthday as well!), and the young performer’s concert was scheduled for the afternoon so those who wanted to could go to the market town of St. Foy la Grande. Driving through the mist hovering over the vineyards,  we parked by the river, then walked to the market stalls – feeling more mysterious than usual in the fog. Oh if we only had more room in our suitcase – so many delicious specialties of the region. My favorite booth is the one with foie-gras stuffed dried figs – somehow they taste better than when I make them at home! The town itself is well worth a wander, with its arcaded central square and many half-timbered houses. Follow the Vanilla Vendor around as he calls out his wares and you’ll see a nice lane or two.
We had time for a quick stop at Monbazillac before returning to La Musique, and after posing in front of the vineyard surrounded chateau (above) we took in the glorious views and sampled the sweet wine (excellent with dessert or foie gras). A simple inn in the town served a nice lunch in the garden, and I was pleasantly surprised with a couple of thoughtful and beautiful birthday gifts from our guests – I’m putting on golden tassel earrings here.Back to the loft of La Musique for more music – where we’re absolutely blown away by young Ben’s artistry at the piano – spanning the centuries from Bach to Beethoven, Chopin to Irving Berlin. I’ve never heard anyone improvise as he does – from medieval tunes to jazz standards. Amazing! And then someone called out for Nigel, who emceed the festival in Ian’s absence, to sing – and Ben accompanied him as he serenaded us with “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”
Yet more delights awaited us on this final day – Alex invited us to Ian’s legendary cellar for a tasting! An uninvited guest caused a few gasps, until Monsieur Bat settled down and hung from the stone vaults above. From ’95 to ’05 we sampled Chateau du Moulin from St. Emilion – which year was the best? Schubert, Dvorak and Beethoven delighted our ears one last time, and then Alex pulled out all the stops for a grand feast – including decanting a massive Saint Emilion Grand Cru. The bottle was then passed from table to table for all to sign – voila! Alex was gifted with a basket full of Southwest France treats – just the thing for this lawyer-chef! And as dessert, créme brulée, came out, I was serenaded by the room and presented with a super-size birthday brulée – what a surprise! What a day it’s been – filled with a marvelous market, a chateau, presents in the garden, music galore, and a musical serenade. Can any birthday top this one?!?
The joy and delight of these four days were a constant tribute to Ian Christians, founder of Orpheus and Bacchus – we’ll always treasure the times we’ve spent here through the years, and be thankful for the opportunity we’ve had to know him and share such wonderful music with him.

 

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Castles in the Clouds

Sunday, August 6, 2017, continued
Stirling & Langbank, Scotland

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Unlike the frequent showers that have passed quickly on previous days, the clouds have descended today and the rain’s not stopping….how appropriate to see a legendary castle-topped town, Stirling, in legendary Scottish weather – there it is, in the mist!Sitting atop craggy Castle Hill, Stirling Castle is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs – a strong defensive position for centuries of Scottish history. Several Scottish kings and queens were crowned here, and the castle looked out over the surrounding plains through many fierce battles in the War for Independence –  Robert the Bruce looks toward the plain of Bannockburn, where he defeated the English army in 1314. The town clusters beneath the castle – plenty to see there too, from an evocative old cemetery to a majestic gate, and a cozy pub where we stop for lunch.After checking into a nondescript Glasgow airport hotel we want our last evening in Scotland to be more than a hotel dinner….and rather than driving into the big city, we meander along the Clyde River to the miniscule village of Langbank, where the sole restaurant, Coast, is doing a booming Sunday evening business. They can squeeze us in, and we gaze across the river to another historic spot, where Dumbarton Castle, with the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland, is tucked into Dumbarton Rock – Mary Queen of Scots is just one of the iconic figures who spent time here. Notice the mud flats in the top photo? As we ate and took in the view, the tide came in along with flocks of white birds fluttering above as the mud was covered by water, then a mist so that we couldn’t even see across for a while – fascinating to watch!
To complete our Scottish cuisine with a flourish, we shared a Banoffee Pavlova – meringue, bananas, caramel, whipped cream and ice cream – yum!Scotland, it’s been WONDERFUL – we look forward to soon discovering more of your beauty!

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Horses and Hamlets

Sunday, August 6, 2017
Falkirk & Culross, Scotland

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We’re on the road again today, on our way to Glasgow from where we’ll fly back to Virginia tomorrow, and of course there are wonderful things to see as we drive! First stop is Falkirk, to see the amazing Kelpies, huge sculptures (note the size of humans alongside)  of Scotland’s mythical water horses. These awe-inspiring steel creations, completed in late 2013, are a don’t-miss in my book – from every angle they’re magnificent – can’t you just HEAR a whinny? In addition to recalling The Kelpies of legend, the sculptures honor the draft horses that towed heavily laden barges along the many canals of Scotland, such as this one running through Helix Park where the Kelpies rear their heads. I love Jim Carruth’s verse carved into the walkway nearby – “Bow down your strong heads to taste the water, stretch up your long necks to face the sun.” From a modern-day showstopper, we continue to a lost-in-time hamlet across the Forth from Edinburgh, Culross. Often used by filmmakers to evoke villages of old (it’s been in Captain America: The Avenger and Outlander, to name a couple of more recent flicks) Culross’s cluster of pastel houses abloom with colorful flowers line cobbled streets lazily wandering down from a partially ruined abbey to the river. Beginning at the top, we explore the abbey, dating from 1217, climbing up the sturdy ladder to shelter under the vaults as a shower passes by – and there in the distance is the Forth, Edinburgh across the water. This will make a lovely day trip for our possible Edinburgh Festival tour – perhaps with lunch at the peaceful Abbey Tea Rooms beside the current sanctuary?
Oh how we’re loving the abundant blooms throughout the country – gardens and windowboxes overflowing with beauty!
We walk down Kirk’s own street to the town below, dodging the raindrops as we go – well, those flowers are so lush because of the frequent showers, right?
Snuff Cottage? I wonder why…perhaps it was made here in ages past?
Well we can’t find anyplace open for lunch today in tiny Culross, so off we go again…to a castle topped village!

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