It is sun-soaked summer evening at the end of day of 34 degree temperature; the angle of the light tilts and the shadows lengthen; the air is dry and the pavements radiate heat as those attending walk through the gates of the Embassy of France in Australia to enter a different world. An Embassy staff member escorts the guests to the Residence where the concert will take place. Distinctive wood paneling and lavishly patterned drapes frame French-doors, open to capture the evening breeze. The transition is complete. Despite the eucalypts at the bottom of the garden, we are in France.
His Excellency, Mr. Stéphane Romatet, Ambassador of France, and his wife Agnès generously opened their home as a performance venue for the Gala Concert, providing an elegant supper of champagne and canapés served on the terrace. The evening was conceived as a fund-raising event to raise money for much needed building work to maintain the Alliance Française as the organization at the heart of Canberra’s Francophile and Francophone communities. A full house attested to strong support for the cultural contribution made by the organization. More than simply providing French language classes, Alliance Française creates a vibrant cultural sanctuary in which members can immerse themselves. This gorgeous house concert epitomises the cultivation of pleasure through appreciation of art, music, intellectual debate - and of course, food.
Jane Rutter enters with a warm, generous presence that affirms her impressive reputation. A hallmark of the French tradition of Flute music is that the musician must play to serve the music. Rutter’s performance of excerpts from her original show, ‘An Australian in Paris’ embodies this philosophy, sharing music and memories of her life long love affair with Paris. Her candid personal reflections on the choices that led her along the pathway of a professional flautist establish a rapport with the listeners and introduce a vivid collection of her Parisian ‘friends’ in the words and music of Collette, Janet Baker, Debussy, Picasso and others.
At the core of Rutter’s performance is the philosophy imparted by her two famous teachers; Jean-Pierre Rampal and Alain Marion: ‘live expressively, with passion and in so doing, imbue musical performance with this celebratory credo.’ Anecdotes from the musician’s student years in Paris recreate the intensity of the experience for a young Australian studying within a foreign tradition of flute playing. The audience is transported to smell, feel and hear the textures and sensations of Parisian life.
Classics such as Debussy’s Prelude a L’Après midi d’un Faun, Syrinx and Golliwog’s Cake Walk are contrasted with Charles Aznavour’s ‘She’, Gershwin’s ‘It Aint Necessarily So’ and Offenbach’s famous Gallop: Le Can Can to invest the program with humour and a fresh interpretation of these old favourites.
The jewel in Wednesday night’s program was Marin Marais' Les Folies d’Espagne. In this unaccompanied piece, Rutter embodied the essence of her French teachers’ tradition with faultless breath control to enhance long, seamless phrases; light, crisp articulation and a natural vibrato. The spaciousness in her interpretation complemented the ornate detail and elaborate ornamentation.
The entire performance of ‘An Australian in Paris’ has been released by ABC Classics on DVD offering music lovers a feast for the senses and a chance to time-travel though several glorious ages in the history of France, guided by Rutter’s seductive flute. For those in the audience, the concert and the stylish surroundings will be long remembered and those who were not members before the event will be brushing up their French and seriously considering joining the Alliance Française.