Almost four years ago, I was introduced to a charming young lady at a cafe in Uzès. She was visiting from Paris, celebrating the Christmas holidays with her family.
Château de Ville d’Avray
Matilda and I jabbered and became fast friends since she was the only person around the cafe table who spoke English. Since that first meeting, we have connected on Facebook and through occasional visits to Uzès or Paris. The neatest thing about her friendship is that Matilda’s in her twenties, and she invites me to do the most incredible things. Like last night’s violin concert at the Château de Ville d’Avray, between Paris and Versailles, which featured Leo Ullman, a young violinist who is a close friend of Matilda’s.
Château de Ville d’Avray
Château de Ville d’Avray was built in 1776 on the site of an old manor house for Louis XVI. It was given by the King to Marc-Antoine Thierry, his premier valet, in 1783. Thierry was killed in 1792, a victim of a massacre during the Revolution. The Château then belonged to his widow and family until 1854, when it was acquired by Paul Cocteau, grandfather of Jean Cocteau, a well-known French writer and film director.
Throughout its history, the Château has belonged to a prominent engineer (Suez Canal), and it was used as a hospital while occupied by German troops during WWII. In 1969, it was acquired by the city for official and civic purposes.
Roby Lakatos Ensemble and the Festival “Hommage Menuhin”
Last night, the Château de Ville d’Avray was filled with “fiddler” music — an homage to Yehudi Menuhin— performed by a quintet of stringed instrumentalists led by the renowned Romanian violinist Roby Lakatos. It is said that when Lakatos was a young violinist, he met Menuhin, considered by many to be the most outstanding violinist of the 20th century. The two were introduced at a Brussels restaurant where Lakatos played with a house band. Menuhin was dining at the restaurant and, impressed with the young player, asked Lakatos to play a piece by Liszt. Lakatos obliged and, in his vivacious, animated way, entertained the maestro with a rendition of the score that made a lasting impression. Lakatos became a legend, performing at symphony halls from London to Sydney.
To say the Lakotos concert last night was exciting would be an understatement. The very sight of Lakotos was an experience in itself. Sporting a brilliant, embossed gold and black jacket and a bicycle mustache, he seemed far from a concert violinist. When he touched the strings, he was a magician. At times, it seemed like smoke was coming from inside the violin as Lakotos ripped from one melody to another with energy and vibrato.
Gypsy, Hollywood, country, tango, polka, Brazilian, boss nova, oomph, Spanish and classical–he did it all. Sometimes, in one song!
An exciting find for the evening was that I learned about an instrument I’d never seen– the cymbalum. The Persian instrument from the twelfth century is contained in a trapezoidal box with 100 metal strings and played with small hammers. Discovered by gypsy musicians centuries later, the cymbalum makes sounds ranging from keyboard piano to a rin-tin drum. Fascinating!
What a night! Never mind, I didn’t get back to my hotel until after midnight — following a trans-continental flight. It was worth it all, plus a meetup with precious Matilda.