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Melodies in the Vines

Melodies in the Vines

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

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 Sunshine Day in Taunton

A Sunshine Day in Taunton

Weekend of  January 13-15, 2017
Taunton, England

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

After a bountiful breakfast by the fireplace in The Castle’s dining room, we have an hour to have a look around Taunton before the morning lecture and concert – and the sun’s out today!Within the castle complex is the Somerset (the county that Taunton is in) Museum, and this cute “tiny house” is an Almshouse – subsidized housing of old – of which we’ll see more in the town. Following a path along a stream, over a bridge, and into the center, we ramble along, enjoying the views of Victorian bridges beside Tudor buildings – eons of history in this town!
Then back to The Castle for another interesting lecture followed by Dvorak, Beethoven and Schubert….Richard Wigmore describes the gorgeous cello duo in the Schubert quintet as “peaches and cream”, exclaiming “I want to hug it, wrap it up and take it home with me!” After that refreshment for the soul, the tea table is waiting…scones, cream and more for days in a row – heaven! Finding ourselves a cozy corner, we sit and enjoy…
As I’m dressing for the evening events, I glance out the window  – what a sunset!More Dvorak, and a Brahms Sextet delight us… with yet more “wow” moments for the cellos – strains of a Bach cello suite in the slow movement – exquisite! Another fabulous dinner, and we climb the stairs for a deep sleep in our cushy bedroom.
Today will end with buses, trains, flights….but we won’t think about that this morning, just enjoy the decadent breakfast, walk around town some more, and relish a final lecture and concert – Dvorak, Mozart, and Brahms. Before our taxi comes to take us to the bus pickup (from where we’ll shuttle to Bristol Airport, fly to Brussels, then Marseilles, then shuttle to Aix and walk to our apartment!), we walk a bit more – it’s a bit blustery with showers coming and going, but we’re going to be sitting for hours so are eager to walk! We find a few more interesting churches, an old mill that’s now a restaurant, and on the edge of town a lovely park – well worth the stroll! Taunton has been a pleasure from start to finish….a town we’d never even heard of, which boasts a castle to stay in, heavenly music, superb cuisine…when can we return??
Coming up – France awaits us!

 

Music in the Castle

Music in the Castle

Weekend of  January 13-15, 2017
Taunton, England
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

Don’t you love traveling by train? And this Great Western service from London Paddington to Taunton is exceptionally good, with electrical outlets by our comfortable seats, and free wifi. It’s a pleasure to gaze at the beautiful English countryside as we zip southwest.The sun is shining when we pull into Taunton and walk the short distance from the train station, passing through the archway to Castle Green, where The Castle Hotel, our abode for the weekend, now occupies the historic edifice, the origins of which first stood on this site in the 900s. Elegantly renovated inside, it’s now an excellent blend of ancient history and modern comfort.
Afternoon tea is our introduction to the cuisine of The Castle – and if the pastries, sandwiches, scones and cream are any indication, we should be in for a delicious weekend!
I take advantage of a couple of free hours before the evening events to see what’s in the neighborhood – delightful ancient buildings (can you see the “1578” under the eaves?)  tucked convivially in with new construction, scents of sausages wafting through the air, several gorgeous old churches, and an impressive town hall in the center of it all.Back under the arches to The Castle, and we dress for the evening…first a pre-concert lecture by BBC music critic Richard Wigmore, who brings delightful life to the pieces by Dvorak and Mozart. The Wihan Quartet, whom we so enjoyed at Orpheus and Bacchus on our Bordeaux/Dordogne Tour in the fall, once again thrill us with their music…I’m in heaven! We’ve long heard of the outstanding cultural tours offered by Martin Randall, and now finally experience one for ourselves!
We finish the day with a superb dinner, getting to know our fellow guests as we savor one delicious course after another. “Oh, you’re the Americans!” we hear time and again – we’re the only non-Brits here for this delectable weekend and I hope we’ll be back for more!