Washington yesterday, Paris today – and the same moon over the Baltimore harbor last night as over the Champs-Élysées tonight, a little thicker in the sliver this evening. Such is the geographical distortion of the life of a touring musician.
I was a little reluctant to leave yesterday; I’d just finished running some errands at home, and I was starting to feel comfortably settled in. It can be disconcerting to realize halfway through a vacation that, after three days of home life, in another two I’ll be back in Europe and touring again. I usually get agitated for those couple of days before departure, but in a quick about-face, once I step into the taxi or limo or whatever it is that’s taking me to the airport, a whiff of adventure wakes me up and I’m always excited to be heading out again. Last night, after a solid 6 hours of sleep in the airplane, I arrived alert and relaxed in the City of Light, which happened to be dark, since it was a Sunday morning, with nothing open and no one out and about.
There isn’t much time to spare at the beginning of this tour. Today was a rehearsal day – already – with my pianist Valentina Lisitsa. We played this program in the fall, so this is a resurrection after a pause of a couple of months. The music is familiar, but the interpretations feel new; we’ve both studied and played other things in the interim, challenging ourselves in different musical directions.
Today brought some comedy, as we arrived at the rehearsal space with directions to a studio that didn’t exist, with our contact person out of the building and unreachable by cell phone, and not a single person on site aware of who we were or what we needed. After an hour of conversations in French that ran something like this:
“Can I help you?”
“I’m here for a rehearsal.”
“With the opera?”
“No, I’m Hilary Hahn and this is Valentina Lisitsa and – ”
“My name is Hilary Hahn and we’re supposed to rehearse here today.”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”
We finally found someone who worked for the rehearsal venue and felt sorry enough for us to try to find a solution. That solution took the form of a ballet studio in the basement, with an upright piano that probably hadn’t been tuned for a couple of months. On the keyboard in plain view lay a single very short, curly dark hair. Valentina squealed and ran for the box of Kleenex at the other end of the room. On the plus side, the room had ideal violin acoustics.
We worked in that space for a couple of hours, at which point, a full hour before our rehearsal was scheduled to end, the guard arrived to lock up. He was gracious enough to allow us to stay the full time we needed – and sat and listened with crossed arms for the last ten minutes of the rehearsal. I got the distinct impression that this was not because he was enjoying the music, however, but rather because he wanted us to feel the urge to leave.
Then, at dinner tonight at a comfortable, large restaurant, a waiter, trying to be suave, gestured to me and asked Valentina in English,
“Are you sisters?”
“Are you sisters?”
“We’re friends,” I chimed in.
“Sisters?” he persisted.
“No! Friends. Amies,” I tried in his language.
“Eh?” He turned to me.
“She’s your mommy? Not possible! Not possible!”
“No, not mommy. Amies. Amies. A-MIES.”
“You’re her mommy?” he asked Valentina this time, incredulously.
“Ah, friends! But I thought you were sisters…”
Satisfied, he wandered off to fill our order, leaving us in stitches.
Tomorrow is another rehearsal day, but at the concert hall instead of today’s rehearsal space. I recall the first time I played at the Salle Pleyel and almost everything about that experience. I expect a rush of memories when I walk onstage tomorrow morning. In the afternoon, once my arms are tired from playing, I might shop for concert dresses. I don’t normally do that in Paris, but this season seems a promising one for formalwear, so I’m trying to stock up as much as possible while the pickings are good. The day after tomorrow begins our tour, and it’s a dense schedule from then on out. In the first three days alone, we hit Paris, London, and Lyon.
It’s very enjoyable to be returning to this repertoire and this collaboration. Valentina and I have now been working together for a couple of seasons straight, so it’s getting easier for both of us to dip into the swing of collaboration with very little transition time. That makes our joint musical pursuits even more rewarding. As for me, changing from the concerto tours of the past months to a more recital-friendly style of playing will keep me on my toes. Not only are there constant differences in intonation – pianos are tuned tempered while orchestras play with a more interpretive sense of pitch – I also need to articulate my bowing differently and alter my phrasing to complement the piano’s more percussive aural texture. In addition, the piano in Paris will be tuned to A442, while the rest of the tour is planned for A440. It’s always harder to adjust down than up, so I will have my work cut out for me before we walk onstage in London.
Without the Schoenberg/Sibelius album to work on, this is the first tour in a long while that will afford me sufficient time to do calming things like writing, reading, walking around the cities I’m visiting, rehearsing, practicing, and sleeping. Having already done all of the above today, I’m now off to repeat two: reading and sleeping. It sounds so simple – and really, it is.
Yours from the road,