By Ted AYALA
In her autobiography, “My Life in France,” celebrity chef and television icon Julia Child wrote, “The sweetness and generosity and politeness and gentleness and humanity of the French had shown me how lovely life can be if one takes time to be friendly.” Those virtues permeated not only Julia Child’s Gallic sense of cuisine, but the whole of French culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than in France’s music. However disparate in tone and style its native music can be, nearly all of it is characterized by a civility of expression unique to the French.
Taking both these strands – Julia Child’s cooking and French music – Southwest Chamber Music braids them together in a celebration that will form their forthcoming summer concert series at the Huntington Library.
Beginning on July 14 – Bastille Day – and ending on Aug. 26, SCM will present a series of four programs that celebrate the life and work of Julia Child, and the best of French culture, that will include some of the most enduring works of French music. Joining the tribute will be the Huntington Library Tea Room whose executive chef Jon Dubrick will present a series of dishes using recipes both by and inspired by Julia Child.
“Part of the thing that fascinates me is this community we live in,” said Jeff von der Schmidt, SCM music director. “Julia Child was born in Pasadena and has become an important part of the narrative of our community.”
It was after speaking to Dubrick during the planning stages for this year’s summer concert season that von der Schmidt hit upon a theme for this season that would play close to his own love.
“It’s given me an opportunity to indulge in my grand passion for French music,” he said.
Much of what has energized French culture has been its curiosity to understand cultures other than its own and assimilate those ideas into artistic expressions that enliven tradition with the new.
“Much of this comes from the days of the French Empire,” noted von der Schmidt who pointed out that much of this interest stemmed from France’s desire to understand lands that were part of its colonial empire and those that bordered it.
“There was great interest in the cultures of Java, Viet Nam, and Japan. You can go back to the Paris Exhibition of 1889, for example, when Debussy first encountered Javanese gamelan music. This was a decisive moment that ultimately led to French musical culture breaking with the German musical culture of Berlin and Leipzig that dominated it.”
Traces of this former colonial power appear in the work of Vietnamese composers Pham Minh Thành and Vân Ánh Vanessa Võ, arising from a nation that was held under French control for 70 years and whose culture is deeply influenced by France. This influence can still be found in many aspects, from its cuisine and music to the very way that modern day Vietnamese is written, employing the Roman alphabet instead of the Hán tu and chü Nôm writing systems derived from the Chinese that were previously used.
“There is an agility to French music that is reflected in its emotions and rhythms,” von der Schmidt mused. “They possess a systematic mind that can think big. There is a reason that you’ve never had a large wave of immigration from France to elsewhere like you’ve had with other nations and peoples. There is a reason why Oscar Wilde once said, ‘When good Americans die they go to Paris.’”
Southwest Chamber Music’s summer season begins July 14 and continues through Aug. 26. To buy tickets and to obtain more information, call (800) 726-7147 or go online to http://www.swmusic.org/summer_festival/calendar.html.