Benjamin Beck, altiste, violist, soliste, benjamin beck, alto, chambriste, viola

A few days ago, on 16th and 17th of July 2014, (which is now a few weeks since I took 10 days between writing this article and posting it…) I gave in the company of my fantastic partners Anne Yumino Weber and Naruko Tsuji two concerts in the Basque Country. If you don’t know yet about it, the Basque Country is a historical territory half in Spain and half in France, by the Atlantic ocean, and at the western end of Pyrenees. It is a wonderful place to visit, to discover and explore, for quite many reasons. It has a great culture, including traditions, songs, and an enigmatic language, that is spoken today by about 30.000 people, excluding me, and which is sharing its roots with no other known one.

I want to start this article by sharing one the the many great recipe of Basque’s gastronomic repertoire.

Axoa (to be pronounced in French style “achoa”)
For 6 people, because I assume you may invite people to share it with, in the improbable eventuality that you trust me enough to try it.

  • 2 kg of veal goulach
  • 1 red pepper bell and 2 green
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 “bouquet garni” (mixture of thyme, rosemary, laurel…)
  • parsley
  • Espelette chilli (this is a quite exclusive ingredient, but it has a unique flavour and it can hopefully be found in any fine French grocery store)
  • salt, pepper

Take out the nerves of the meat, and chop it very fine.
Chop as well finely pepper bells, onions and garlic.
In a pan, start cooking the meat, with strong fire, in olive oil, or if you have even better, duck grease.
In a big pot or a wok, start cooking the onions and garlic for 2 minutes, and then add the pepper bells.
After few minutes, before the juice start evaporating, transfer the meat in the pot. Add salt and pepper, and the herbs.
Cover, and cook for about an hour on a reduced fire.
Add the chilli, about 2 knifepoints, uncover, and let cook for another 20 minutes, or more, if you like less juice.
Serve hot, with boiled small pink potatoes.

Food is a great pleasure (don’t forget to combine the meal with a good wine !), but Basque country is also a wonderful place to hike.

Hike Irraty

This picture was taken on 18th of July, in Irraty.

Basque country has also been very famous for centuries, as a very fancy place for aristocracy to come : king Louis XIV got married with the Infant of Spain in the town of Saint-Jean de Luz, Ravel was born in Ciboure, just across the river, and emperor Napoleon the 3rd made build a beautiful palace for his wife, Eugénie, directly by the sea in Biarritz. This extraordinary place is very close from where we gave –Yumino and Naruko and me– our first Basque concert.

We played in a very beautiful and romantic church, Sainte Eugénie (it is quite a mystery where this name comes from) at a top of a cliff and only few meters from the ocean. The acoustic conditions were perhaps not the best, the best, the best, as well as the humidity ones (my viola was literally sticking to my fingers, and my bow to the strings) but it was a real pleasure to play, also to thank the Rotary Club who supported me last year, and in addition, to make a benefice concert for the research for the rare illness of which died Chostakovitch (I have to apologise for using the French orthography of this name, but I am never sure about which country put which funny letter in the middle. To get everybody’s consent, I should probably have written in Russian : Шостакович).

The program was not too violistic, since we played –besides the Hindemith sonata opus 11 #4, and Takemitsu’s very delicate and beautiful “A Bird Came down the walk”– two short and humorous duos by Hindemith and Beethoven, the Brahms A minor clarinet trio (transcribed for viola, cello and piano) and the Beethoven “Gassenhauer” clarinet trio, transcribed by the composer for piano trio, and that I adapted for viola, cello and piano. I believe that transcription in not a crime, and even more, it is a very necessary approach in the music. I explain my point of view about this in my article about Schumann’s Diechterliebe (which is, I apologise, in French).

The concert was extremely nice, with a warm and attentive public, and a reception after the concert to meet my hosts as well as the very courageous public which came to listen to me speak after I played so long.

The next day, we played home. Really home. In the church of the small village where I grew up, for the people who were here around the all time since I was 5 years old, and I didn’t even know what a viola was (I believe I know a little better know, but some of those people there probably still do not.). I have to admit that I am rarely nervous before I step on the stage, probably because this became more normal since I am doing it more and more often. I am just so happy to do what I do, and to share the music with the people who anyway came because they wanted to. Like I said in my last post, every concert is important, especially the small ones, when we play for people who do not otherwise meet the music. Nothing is more important than this contact, the fact to share, and to offer the music. But that night, I was really nervous. Of course, my family doesn’t usually come to listen to me, and those other people, they saw me grow up, they saw me leaving home when I was 14 for my viola, and of course they would not judge me, they would just listen to me with opened ear, I probably opened heart… That was not the reason why I was nervous. I think I just wanted to give my best, on a repertoire that was still very new to me, and I wanted to speak to them with my bow, to speak to each person there individually, to thank everyone and tell all the things I cannot say when I am so far.

This ideal is almost unreachable. I can remember Larry Lesser, who I studied with in America saying : “I heard in my life only two musicians who had the wonderful gift to speak to every person present in the audience : Heifetz and Piatigorsky.” I am definitely not one of them. But this concert, home, helped me get a little closer to that ideal. Playing for each person there should be a need I find every time I am on stage.

We finished the concert with a instrumental transcription of the traditional Basque song “Boga Boga”. I don’t know if we reached each person who came with Beethoven, Brahms and Watanabe. But I am sure we got closer to this when we played their music.

This concert was an incredible moment. I want to thank all the people who helped it become happen. Thank you, M. Dufourcq, Mme. Arnou, and Mum, and Dad.

Ikusiko duzu laster Millafranga !

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