We had been warned that the audience might not be attracted by a program that did not have any familiar composers, and ours certainly did not, since we performed the music of Paul Paray (much better known as a conductor) Ermend Bonnal ( finally getting recognition thanks to some recordings such as the Debussy Quartet's CD of Bonnal's two beautiful string quartets) and a trio by an even less known composer Henri Dallier who was once a famous organist and whose music for organ is still occasionally played or at least known to organists.
Our four concerts (one in Uzès, in the south of France, two in Normandy in Bayeux and Saint-Lô and one in Paris) were the results of friendships with the families of two of the composers: Bonnal's and Paray's. The excitement and expectations were equally high on both sides of the Atlantic.
Our concert organizers begged us to at least have one composer, people could recognize: we opened our programs with the famous Elégie for cello and piano by Gabriel Fauré. This was also a way to situate the era, the style in France at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th.
In Uzès, where Bonnal's daughter, Mayette, hosted the concert, we played different pieces by her father and his violin sonata which was, that night, a European premiere (parts of it had been performed when it was composed around 1900, but never after as a whole work, the family had given us its manuscript). We ended every concert with Henri Dallier's Trio for piano, violin and cello which parts we obtained from the New York Public Library. The Trio was a hit in Uzès and at the other concerts as well. This success pleased us immensely. When one enjoys a piece and immerses in it, it becomes difficult to be objective about it. The confirmation that this forgotten treasure was indeed a master-piece made us extremely happy. We concluded the concert with an "encore" that the French call "bis" and get by clapping in rhythm, a short piece by Guy Marylis alias Ermend Bonnal which we had discovered the night before in Mayette's attic. Guy Marylis was Bonnal's pseudonym when he wrote "lighter" music like this Tango written for a silent movie.
In Normandy, the two concerts were organized by Paul Paray's grand-son Jean Cabon. There, we played more of Paray's music, notably his cello sonata, three of his short pieces for violin and for our "bis" his "Romance", a transcription that our pianist had done of a piano piece.
In Bayeux, a man came to me and told me that he had performed Paray cello sonata 50 years earlier for his chamber music jury at the Paris Conservatory and had never heard it since then!
I have to say that playing for people who care so much about the music they hear and this, for personal reasons, is quite an experience. I spoke very freely to the audience. I was told that musicians in France speak rarely to the audience. I received many positive comments about it. I mentioned every time that when we play unfamiliar music we care only about the music itself and the composer who wrote it, nothing else. We don't have anything to prove, technically or even musically. It frees us somehow.
The last concert was in Paris. It turned out to be a long program since we played an equal amount of music by Paray and Bonnal this time and still ended with our dear trio by Dallier. The audience was composed of friends of mine, former teachers and colleagues, members of my family, friends from Michigan(yes!) again the families of the composers and others.
It was very special to witness the Bonnal family and the Paray family meet for the first time and exchange memories about their famous ancestors who had admired each other in their time. The presence of Jacques Dejean, former violinist of the Radio String Quartet (Quatuor de l'ORTF) and who played often under Paul Paray as concert-master, made the event even more special since he had also been the interpreter of both composers. I could not help think that these precious moments often happen at funerals and felt very good about the present circumstances.
You might wonder why I never talked about any "Dallier family"… unfortunately, until now, we have not found any descendants. We would have loved for someone to enjoy their ancestor's beautiful trio…