Balzac’s Salon: Not Your Average Salon

By Mark Homsany

On Sunday, March 18th 2018, the Trio Fibonacci presented “Au salon de Balzac” at Bourgie Hall. In this concert, the Trio presented the favourite pieces of French writer Honoré de Balzac. The concert included works by Rossini, Beethoven, Marc Hyland, and Chopin.

The Barber of Seville: A Familiar Comedy

The Trio Fibonacci comes out on a dark stage dimly light by the sunlight shining through the stained glass. Julie-Anne Derome, the Trio’s violinist, shares her appreciation of Balzac while presenting the concert: “Balzac said he wanted to be Beethoven. And I would have wanted to be Balzac.” The violinist continues by presenting the author of the first piece of the concert, the overture of The Barber of Seville, Gioachino Rossini: “Rossini wrote 38 pieces. He stopped after 38 because he was making too much money,” joked Derome. She continues by telling a story about Rossini and Beethoven: “Beethoven, when he was 51, met Rossini who was then 30 years old. Beethoven encouraged Rossini and congratulated him on his excellent operas by saying, ‘You would be hurting yourself if you were to stop composing opera buffas.’”

The overture of The Barber of Seville is one of these iconic pieces everybody knows without knowing it. Those who watched the Looney Tunes as children remember the parody featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. The Trio, however, took their performance seriously. Anthony Prynn, the cellist, and Steven Massicotte, the pianist, played the piece with intensity and precision. The Trio also kept in mind that the piece is from a comedy: the intensity and the precision highlighted the piece’s humour. The camaraderie; the call and response phrases between Derome, Prynn, and Massicotte create unexpected contrasts that make you laugh even more. By watching this performance, one can easily remember how Bugs Bunny shaved Elmer Fudd using whipped cream and put fruit on his head.

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Beethoven Calls on the Spirits

Following The Barber of Seville is Trio op. 70 no°1 “Ghost” by Beethoven. Prynn reminds us that “The most popular style at the time in Paris was opera. Beethoven was less mainstream as his style was rather intellectual, deranged, and obsessive.”  “It was Czerny, Beethoven’s student, who dubbed the piece ‘Ghost’ because it reminded him of the ghosts in Hamlet.” The first movement, Allegro vivace e con brio, distinguishes itself by Massicotte’s powerful playing contrasting with Prynn and Derome’s delicate stringed instrument playing. The second movement, Largo assai ed espressivo, gives the piece’s title its meaning. It starts with a mysterious-sounding part, follows with menacing sounds and ends on a sad, desolate note. The third movement, Presto, is rather cheerful and contains a theme, a staple of Beethoven’s pieces.

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Hyland’s Singing Numbers

The Trio leaves the stage for the intermission and return to play Marc Hyland’s Chants du signe. Just as Derome says the piece’s name, Prynn, grinning, plays Camille Saint-Saëns Swan Song. “No! ‘Signe’ as in sign and not as in ‘swan’!”, Derome cries. She then gives some background information on the piece: “Chants du signe is based on Fibonacci numbers. Hyland makes numbers sing”. Besides making numbers sing, Chants du Signe incorporates a vast array of techniques for stringed instruments. The piece begins with a violin solo in which Derome plays dissonant double stops. Prynn accompanied the violinist with a hypnotic drone. Later, Prynn and Derome played harmonized pizzicato notes. It is then Prynn’s turn to solo. He produces intriguing notes using mellow notes. The audience, after this solo, have the pleasure of hearing a third solo, this time played by Derome. She makes her violin whistle as Prynn makes his cello howl like a wolf. The complex playing of Derome and Prynn give the piece its mysterious tone. At the end on the performance, Hyland stands up, gets on the stage, and shakes hands with the members of the Trio.

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Chopin’s Homework

To end the concert, Massicotte takes the microphone and presents Trio in G minor op. 8 by Frederic Chopin. “Chopin is an icon of pianomania,” says Massicotte. “Chopin wrote Trio in G minor op. 8 when he was 18 years old. You will now know what Chopin’s homework sounds like.” Listening to this piece makes it clear that Chopin took his homework seriously. It is at times sweet, at others dramatic. This piece highlights Massicotte’s virtuosity with its long, melodic phrases.

At Balzac’s salon, even if chamber music is played there, the music does not fade in the background. The setlist and the Trio Fibonacci grabs the audience’s attention. At this salon, people laugh, think, become amazed, marvel.

 

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