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A glass of Lillet on Rue du Buci in St. Germain.

A glass of Lillet on Rue du Buci in St. Germain.

Paris is always a good idea. Audrey Hepburn

If there was an Academy Award for the most influential city in the world, Paris would probably win hands down. It’s certainly played a leading role in the world of music, art, literature, cuisine, fashion, history, colonialism, architecture, poetry, sculpture, science, film, romance, photography, you name it and Paris has had a starring part.

My wife Jan and I went to Paris in May to create French connections for the Hanoi New Music Ensemble and the Los Angeles International New Music Festival. It’s not coincidental but my next concert in October is hosted by the Alliance Française in Hanoi. We realized that as Americans in Paris we’d be able to build bridges for the French music community back to their former colony and formidable enemy in Southeast Asia.

I like a good story and this is one of the best!

My office in St. Germain studying a Boulez score for Hanoi.

My office in St. Germain studying a Boulez score for Hanoi.

Before we arrived in Paris, we’d stopped to visit Kent Nagano in Hamburg, which will soon receive its own post. He’d invited us to attend performances of Répons by Pierre Boulez coupled with the German Requiem of Johannes Brahms, which was toggling at the Hamburg Staatsoper with Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. His inspired program sadly became a memorial concert for Boulez, who passed away in January.

Rehearsing Boulez's Repons in Hamburg.

Kent Nagano rehearsing Boulez’s Répons in Hamburg.

One important aspect about our Vietnamese work Kent, Jan and I discussed was that the Hanoi New Music Ensemble would do well to claim its genuine relationship to Paris, for example championing the repertoire of Messiaen, Jolivet, Dutilleux and Boulez. It’s an unprecedented opportunity to musically and culturally distinguish Vietnam from the rest of Asia. Tôn Thất  Tiết studied with Jolivet and Nguyễn Thiên Đạo, who passed away in November of 2015, was a proud student of Olivier Messiaen. Both Tiết and Đạo were commissioned by Boulez and IRCAM, and in the 1980s Kent himself lead the world premiere of Tiết’s IRCAM commission, so our conversation is about extended family.

And speaking of family, one happy occasion of being in Paris is that we had dinner with Kent’s wife Mari, who we presented in Los Angeles for her first cycle of the complete sonatas of Beethoven, and his sister-in-law Momo Kodama, who toured in 2013 with a world premiere piano concerto by Nguyễn Thiên Đạo to Japan with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and Tetsuji Honna. We stayed until they closed the restaurant in the early hours of the morning, tipsy and happy!

Family night in Paris with Momo and Mari Kodama.

Family night in Paris with Lebanese cuisine with Momo and Mari Kodama at Nouma.

One fortunate consequence of hearing Répons in Hamburg with Kent was his introduction for us to composer and sound designer Gilbert Nouno, who has enjoyed a strong association with IRCAM. Gilbert had worked with Kent at the Salzburg Festival for Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de Loin and was in Hamburg triggering all the computer cues for Répons. He was also Boulez’s sound designer for the last 10 years of Boulez’s career, helping take the mammoth and complicated technology of the 1980s down to a laptop. And a good friend to know as multiple projects come into focus.

We made a date to meet in Montmartre where he lived and he’d show us around before dinner.

We met Gilbert at Le Grand Comptoir D'Anvers in Monmartre.

We met Gilbert for drinks at Le Grand Comptoir d’Anvers in Montmartre.

Seeing the non tourist end Monmartre with Gilbert.

Enjoying the non touristed stairs of Montmartre with Gilbert.

We had a lot in common with Gilbert from the get go. When he heard we had known Elliott Carter well, he wanted to know as much as we could tell him about our American master. He’d worked closely with Boulez and had a long history of experience with him that he was happy to share as well. Gilbert has spent a lot of time in Senegal and India as well as a 6 month residency in our mutually loved city, Kyoto.

Gilbert, Jan and I share a love for Kyoto.

Gilbert Nouno, Jan and I share a love for Kyoto in Japan.

Having hit it off in Hamburg, when we got to Paris we didn’t have any trouble finding time to see each other, though he toggles between Paris and a faculty position at the Royal College of Music in London. Gilbert’s apartment is in Montmartre but he got us off the beaten path very quickly. Honestly it reminded us of hilly San Francisco but in French!

Rue Lepic in Monmartre.

Midnight in Paris? The Rue Lepic in Montmartre.

After drinks at the Grand Comptoir d’Anvers we wandered together quite a few blocks, winding up at a delicious and completely off the beaten track restaurant, Nansouty.

Gilbert at Nansouty in Monmartre.

Gilbert at Restaurant Nansouty in Montmartre.

And if you look at this picture of Gilbert, you’ll notice three bottles of wine. This being Paris, great care was taken to determine the right wine for each entree. Truly, don’t trust a Parisian who is indifferent to cuisine!

Which brought up a delightful anecdote from Gilbert about Pierre Boulez. Certainly, we were talking about dreams, ideas, past experiences, projects, and practical feasibility that was both short and long term between Paris, Hanoi and Los Angeles. All of that remains under construction but we absolutely see a bright future on many fronts together.

Often it’s the small detail that makes a big impact when one least expects it.

Gilbert was, d’accord, telling us of other restaurants he enjoys in Paris that the tourist really won’t find. He’s got one place in the neighborhood of the Place de Vosges that we didn’t have time to go to, but is certainly on our itinerary the next time we are in Paris. We happened to mention a few others we liked, and the Ambassade d’Auvergne came up, a legendary place known for its aligot mashed potatoes and luxurious all you can eat copper bowl of chocolate mousse.

“Ah, that place! You know it? Pierre loved going there to dinner!”

The Ambassade d'Auvergne, a favorite place of Pierre Boulez.

The Ambassade d’Auvergne, a favorite place of Pierre Boulez.

The restaurant is very close to the Pompidou Center and IRCAM, so after a taxing set of rehearsals or sound design discussions, Gilbert and Pierre would often end with a meal at the Ambassade d’Auvergne. Jan and I indeed had enjoyed a meal there during our last trip to Paris in 2011 and had been hedging about returning. Knowing it was a favorite of Boulez made up our minds to return!

The simple Auvergne style dining room.

The simple Auvergne style dining room.

Duck breast and aligot (cheese whipped) mashed potatoes.

Perfect duck breast and aligot (cheese whipped) mashed potatoes.

Begging for the legendary chocolate mousse!

Begging for the legendary chocolate mousse!

Gilbert talked a lot about Boulez’s utter fascination with the ringing music of Indonesia, which grew in importance in his late years. About how Boulez felt that people had forgotten just how much resistance his generation faced after coming of age in Nazi occupied Paris. Certainly the endless arabesques of sounds at the end of the Hamburg Répons were swirling in our ears as we talked. The Gertrude Stein like description found in the score about the result of electronics on the instruments – an arpeggio of an arpeggio of an arpeggio – animated our conversations as we talked of a world music dreamed about by Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez as they washed their ears, and ours, of Western orthodoxy.

Lauren Bacall, who requested my mother to be her only server for a private wedding reception with Humphrey Bogart at Chasen’s in Hollywood, once quipped that she didn’t trust people who don’t drink. My variation of that sound observation is that I don’t trust a Parisian who is indifferent to cuisine!

So the next time you’re in Paris, book a table at the Ambassade d’Auvergne and enjoy why Boulez would chose to go there for yourself!

Best, best, best,