Lucid Culture


Sacred Grounds, Sacred Sounds AKA Weird Pere Lachaise

A frequently fascinating, multimedia extravaganza to close this year’s spectacularly good spring concert season at Trinity Church: a slide show set to live music from Melodic Vision, an excellent, somewhat death-obsessed string quartet augmented by flute and a narrator who opened the show with a brief lecture on the legendary Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Photographer Susan Wilson, whose shots are featured in the slide show, explained how Pere Lachaise (named after Louis XIV’s father-confessor, a resident of the monastic estate converted into the cemetery during Napoleon’s first empire) became the world’s first modern graveyard. Created both to supplant the overstuffed, odoriferous churchyards packed with victims of the Terror and to serve as a nondenominational Napoleonic theme park for the bereaved, the concept bombed when first introduced. Since Parisians of the era were given to funeral parades, the cemetery’s location, far to the east of the city center, proved an obstacle. So the city fathers dug up a few celebrities from across the centuries (Heloise and Abelard, Moliere and more) and reinterred them there. But it was a product placement in a novel by popular author Honore de Balzac that put Pere Lachaise on the map: after he’d interred the lead character in his novel Le Pere Goriot there, everyone wanted in. Since then, it’s become the status cemetery in perhaps the entire world (although Paris’ Montparnasse cemetery now contains an almost equal number of notables from literature, music, politics and the arts).


The slide show began with a predictable series of touristy shots: the Arc de Triomphe, from a million angles; Notre Dame, ditto;  the book stalls on the Quai des Grands Augustins, and enough camembert and baguettes to induce binge eating (if you see this show, bring enough snacks to last the first ten minutes). Then it got interesting, with shot after shot of the tombs and tombstones of the many composers and musicians (most of them from the 19th Century) interred there, while the quartet segued flawlessly through what was mostly an unobtrusive mix of quiet, somewhat nocturnal period pieces by the cemetery’s residents along with a few the group had arranged themselves. The latter proved the most interesting, among them instrumentals of a couple of Edith Piaf chestnuts (La Vie en Rose and l’Hymne a l’Amour), the Doors’ Light My Fire (terser and more lively than the version on Jaz Coleman’s Doors Concerto cd) and, most notably, a heartwrenchingly beautiful string version of the Chopin funeral march. Otherwise, the spectacle as a whole was akin to a live version of Classic Arts Showcase, which was a satellite feed of mostly generic pastoral scenes set to classical, chamber music and opera recordings from past decades, once a frequent post-midnight feature on the New York PBS stations. But better: Wilson’s shots blend a stark, haunting quality with several that are far more lighthearted, including a handful centered around a delightfully ironic Oscar Wilde quote. And yes, there are several images of Jim Morrison’s grave, both before and after it was roped off and manned with a 24-hour security detail in an effort to keep all the American tourists from festooning it and the surrounding tombs with graffiti.


The audience for this program should be quite broad, from regulars of the concert series at suburban “arts centers,” to adventurous classical cognoscenti looking for something a little out of the ordinary. Melodic Vision also perform a program based on the Day of the Dead in Mexico, which, if this is any indication, should be equally captivating. But where this program really ought to be is syndicated to tv, whether here on PBS or in France on, say, Canal Plus.

June 5, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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