Melodies in the Vines

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.


A Chateau and a Concert

A Chateau and a Concert

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Bordeaux region, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

Our final day at Orpheus and Bacchus begins with an after-breakfast walk to the nearest village, Gensac.

cam14588k That jaunty red car  in front of the town café

cam14589would be a fun way to tool around these winding vineyard wrapped lanes,

cam14591watching as the harvest begins.
After the last Hummel presentation by Nova Luce, we join other festival participants for a visit to Chateau Guadet in St. Emilion. Guy Petrus invites us into his garden

cam14604and begins our tour with the history of the family and vineyards, then takes us into the cellars

cam14612before we taste his excellent vintages.

Tonight we have a special treat as musicians of Nova Luce join the Wihan quartet in a Mendelssohn Octet – breathtakingly beautiful music!

cam14638And after dinner the music continues on into the night as the younger musicians of Nova Luce persuade Leos, Wihan’s first violin, to join them in some playful music making. What a privilege it’s been to spend four days with these marvelous artists!

Tomorrow we’re off to the lush green Dordogne valley…

Bergerac, Beethoven and Brahms

Bergerac, Beethoven and Brahms

Monday, September 26, 2016
Bordeaux region, France

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Yes, that’s unmistakably Cyrano, as in Cyrano de …..



looking proudly up at the church of St. James, with its unusual single-walled bell tower.




Bergerac was a stop for pilgrims heading to northeast Spain on the Camino of St. James, and with its riverside setting was also a center for trade centuries ago. Today a gabare (flat-bottomed boat) or two takes tourists up and down the quiet river,



and trade has moved elsewhere, leaving a quietly inviting town




with several pretty lanes.



Bergerac wines are becoming better known, and a beautiful old cloister, now the Maison du Vin, shares the history of the area and offers tastings.



A majestic chateau overlooking the valley is our next stop – Chateau Monbazillac, the center for production of the sweet dessert wine of the same name.



After taking in the sweeping views from the castle,


we sample the wines


and don’t leave empty handed!
Another evening of glorious music, this time Beethoven and Brahms, awaits us, with the Wihan quartet and friends, followed by dinner, then a casual session of music


(before which I had the pleasure of playing more Dvorak duets with Hélène, the marvelous pianist of the Nova Luce ensemble).
As we drifted to sleep in our room below, the music continued above us….what a way to fall asleep!



Markets and Music in the Bordeaux Countryside

Markets and Music in the Bordeaux Countryside

Saturday, September 24, 2016
Bordeaux region, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

From the elegant city of Bordeaux Music and Markets Bordeaux/Dordogne continues as we drive into the lush countryside, where we’ll be surrounded by vineyards and music at the Orpheus and Bacchus festival for the next few days.
It’s market day in the nearest town to the festival, Sainte Foy la Grande, cam14420and we wade into the throngs filling their baskets and backpacks from the stalls set up beside the half-timbered buildings ….kangaroo sausage, anyone?cam14408 Of course there are farm-fresh vegetablescam14410 and wines from the local producers too, cam14418spreading out from the main square through all the adjacent lanes.
After lunch under the arches of the market square, we take in the views, cam14424amore accessible now that the stalls are being packed up for tomorrow’s market (in another village). cam14424Shops and restaurants have been tucked under these ancient arches for centuries!
A bastide town (we’ll see several of these this week), Sainte Foy has the requisite characteristics: a central market hall in the middle of a checkerboard street layout, robust walls, and a stronghold of a church, but is unusual in that it’s built by a river, cam14433the Dordogne, rather than on a hilltop.
La Musique, near the village of Gensac, will be our home for the next four nights, and as we settle into our rooms we’re serenaded by a marvelous quartet rehearsing on the floor above. Ian Christians, the founder of Orpheus and Bacchus, pours an apertif by the pool, cam14440then we ascend the candlelit stairs to the fabulous music room under the beams. cam14449The Wihan Quartet, whom Kirk and I have enjoyed here in previous years, begins with a Beethoven Quartet, then we pause for yet another aperitif of local wines (they flow in abundance here!) before a gorgeous Schumann piano quintet cam14446quartetas pianist Benjamin Frith joins the quartet.
And then dinner – where we’re seated with the musicians – cam14447followed by a more casual concert….which goes on longer than we are able to stay awake! But we can appreciate it from our comfortable room on the floor below – lulled to sleep by beautiful melodies. What joy to be immersed in such marvelous music!