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Tharaud and the Cabaret

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Le Boeuf sur le Toit: Swinging Paris, A. Tharaud et al.
Alexandre Tharaud is an Ionarts favorite, and his upcoming recital at La Maison Française (October 26, 7:30 pm) is high on our list of concerts to hear this season. Tharaud plays well, obviously, but we also admire him for some of the more unusual projects he takes on. For example, at the moment, he is involved in a recreation of Le Boeuf sur le toit as a cabaret act with the Théâtre de Cornouaille in Quimper, in the Finistère region of Brittany. Marie-Aude Roux wrote an article about it (Alexandre Tharaud et les fantômes du cabaret, October 4) for Le Monde (my translation):
This project, says Tharaud, takes him back into his DNA -- that of his maternal grandfather, Charles Auvergne, a violinist at the Concerts Colonne. "There is a photograph of him that I look at in the evenings. He is with the orchestra directed by Paul Paray at the Châtelet. He is the only one looking at the camera. He was a versatile musician, who played with the symphony orchestra as well as for popular dance groups, accompanying silent films, and recording with Ray Ventura. He had stopped playing by the time I was born, but that era has always fascinated me."

Tharaud has chosen the mythic Paris of the Années folles, an epoch blessed in both art and people, such as at the Cabaret de la rue Duphot, better known by the name of Boeuf sur le toit, after its owner, Louis Moysés, took it across the Place de la Madeleine to 28, rue Boissy-d'Anglas, and borrowed the title of the pantomime that Darius Milhaud wrote on a theme heard at the Carnaval in Rio. It was there, from 1922 to 1927 -- the belle époque du "premier Boeuf," as enthusiasts would call it -- that all of Paris, drawn by the magician Jean Cocteau, would celebrate life, love, and music in a country devastated by World War I. The journal of the pianist Jean Wiéner (1896-1982), Allegro Appassionato, gives a glimpse: "At one table were André Gide, Marc Allégret, and a lady. Next to them, Diaghilev, Kochno, Picasso, and Misia Sert. A little further away, Mistinguett, Volterra, and Maurice Chevalier. Against the wall, Satie, René Clair, his wife, and Bathori. Then I saw Picabia arguing with Paul Poiret and Tzara... Cocteau and Radiguet go give their greetings to each table. Arthur Rubinstein will come this evening after his concert" to play Chopin. There was also Ravel, Milhaud, Stravinsky, black musicians from the American jazz bands. Everyone did "Le Boeuf," in fact, sometimes with Cocteau beating the drum.
Tharaud will perform a version of the cabaret reconstruction in Paris and other places around France through October 19, just before coming to Washington, and a new disc of the project is due out at the end of the month. The pianist says that what he wanted to capture was the effervescence of the "salad concerts" organized by Jean Wiéner, bringing together older classical music, jazz, and contemporary composition. For example, the first cabaret included Milhaud's Sonata for Winds and Piano, an American jazz band, and excerpts of The Rite of Spring played by Stravinsky himself via player piano. "I am not nostalgic," says Tharaud, "but I believe that there is nothing more enlivening than to make lesser-known music known again, to weaken assumptions, and especially to be reminded that stylistic isolation is the worst thing for an artist."

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