For several years France has been engaged in a series of reciprocal cultural activities with its key international partners. This year, South Africa was the first sub-Saharan country invited to join in the cultural festivities. From June to November 2012 an exciting French Season of cultural activities is on offer in cities and towns all across South Africa, with France due to host South African artists from May to December 2013.
A showcase for performances in a range of fields, including innovation, science and technology, higher education and sport, the French Season also offers art and music. One of the talented French groups gracing South African stages under the auspices of this festival is L’Instant Donné, a Paris-based instrumental ensemble devoted to the interpretation of contemporary chamber music.
Capetonians were fortunate enough to enjoy remarkable musicianship and French flair with six of the ensemble’s members at the Alliance Française building in Loop Street. Under the auspices of the French Season festival, Pierre Cordier (cello), Caroline Cren (piano), Maxime Echardour (percussion), Saori Furukawa (violin), Cédric Jullion (flute) and Mathieu Steffanus (clarinet) performed a short programme of contemporary ensemble works by French composers.
The programme opened with two movements from Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Times). This work challenges the technical abilities of its performers as well as their ability to interpret this highly personal composition which Messiaen envisaged as a musical extension of the end of time and the beginning of eternity. Curiously, Messiaen composed this remarkable work in a makeshift prison camp during World War II in a burst of inspiration when he discovered that other musicians were being held in the same camp.
The audience especially enjoyed Frédéric Pattar’s Tresses, an unusual work for bass flute and tombak. L’Instant Donné has developed a particularly strong collaborative relationship with this contemporary French composer and it was truly exciting to hear Pattar’s work being performed here in South Africa. Tresses challenges preconceived ideas about sound and music, juxtaposing the rhythmic elements of the tombak against the sound of wind created on the bass flute and different intonations of spoken word.
Mind-blowing as Pattar’s work is, the ever popular (and more accessible) Trio avec piano by Maurice Ravel came as a welcome relief after Pattar’s experimental and unusual sounds. The ensemble gave a stellar performance of Ravel’s technically demanding work, and clearly illustrated how they have harnessed their diverse talents into a highly expressive unit. The evening concluded with German composer Johannes Schöllhorn’s transcription of Gabriel Fauré’s Nocturne no. 9 in B minor Op. 97. Faure’s Nocturnes are undoubtedly among the most beautiful compositions for solo piano and it was interesting to hear this new take on a well-known favourite.
The performance by L’Instant Donné certainly made a valuable contribution to the objectives of the French Seasons cultural festival. The audience was entertained by their skill and talent and was also challenged with new interpretations and unknown works by French composers. If you are unable to visit France, it is well worth the effort to enjoy a Féte de la Musique right here in Cape Town!
By Andra le Roux-Kemp
L’Instant Donné performed at the Alliance Francaise in Cape Town, Loop Street on 12 September 2012. For more information on the French Season in South Africa visit www.france-southafrica.com.