My mother had told me stories about Fontainebleau for years. She told me everything – her studies with world-class musicians, the incredible friendships and experiences she made, and every detail about life as a blossoming musician in an environment that befits a dream.
Her crowning musical experience at Fontainebleau was playing Schubert’s enormous E-flat Piano Trio with Shirley Givens and Harry Wimmer. The trio was coached by Robert Levin, known especially for his unrivaled expertise as a scholar and musician in Baroque to late Classical works.
When I was assigned the same trio, 37 years after my mom, I was taken aback. Then I learned that Robert Levin would be our coach.
Every morning, waking up and chatting with my host, only to step outside and immediately be greeted by the Fontainebleau Chateau.
It’s still difficult to process the stories my mom had told me and how well my own experiences fit within them. My time in Fontainebleau was already over a year ago, but I still can’t quite believe it was real. Every morning, waking up and chatting with my host, only to step outside and immediately be greeted by the Fontainebleau Chateau – how can this be described as anything but a dream? Every day, I’d pick up a pain au chocolat from my favorite bakery, and sit at the far side of the Chateau gardens, looking back to see the magnificent structure of the Chateau. But, as in a dream, I could always hear my friends playing: in their lessons, practicing on their own, or in concerts.
My first lessons with Frédéric Aguessy were transformative. Immediately, he changed my focus from sound to color in Ravel.
I had come to Fontainebleau with the goal of creating meaningful new friendships among an incredible group of architects and musicians. That goal was accomplished within the first day. But then, as the program began, I never expected the extent that I would grow as a pianist and musician. I came to the program intent to learn and polish Ravel’s Miroirs. My first lessons with Frédéric Aguessy were transformative. Immediately, he changed my focus from sound to color in Ravel. Robert Levin then fostered a deeper integration between scholarship and performance with the most densely informative coaching on Schubert’s E-flat Trio I could’ve imagined. Afterwards, Christian Ivaldi polished my understanding of pedalling in Ravel, and at the same time improved my pedalling in Schubert at the same time.
Critical to all of this, though, are Isabelle Duha’s ingenious harmony and counterpoint lessons. It was extremely challenging: she would make us memorise a difficult unknown piece by only looking at the score (without playing or singing a note), and then having us play by memory in front of the class. She would work with us individually in front of the class, at a pace that was just slightly too fast for us to be able to seem competent. It pushed our abilities farther than any of us could have expected.
She had heard me play these two pieces in a concert earlier in the festival, and gave me the single most meaningful compliment I’ve ever received: “Ravel’s spirit flows through your fingers.”
Among my most cherished memories is an interaction after my final concert, where I played two movements from Ravel’s Miroirs: Une barque sur l’océan and Alborada del gracioso. An old woman who I had seen at a number of concerts came up to me. She had heard me play these two pieces in a concert earlier in the festival, and gave me the single most meaningful compliment I’ve ever received: “Ravel’s spirit flows through your fingers.” But had she known the extent to which Frederic Aguessy, Christian Ivaldi, and Robert Levin had influenced my playing, perhaps she would have directed this compliment to them instead.