When she had lunch last June with her cousin, French cellist Dominique de Williencourt, Béatrice Bouchacourt, our hostess, was horrified to hear that this great musician and composer had to cancel all his concerts of the summer, in Korea, China and most of Europe, because of the pandemic. She and her husband Hervé Couffin, invited him to play in their Belle Époque villa in St Raphaël (near St Tropez) for sixty guests, most of them members of the very elitist “Belle Epoque Villa owners”, and a few neighbors from Boulouris. It was a beautiful evening for music lovers and it felt a little bit like being in Newport in Scott Fitgerald’s times, with large palm trees and the sea quietly glowing behind us. The only competition was the song of the cicadas and the flight of the birds.
And Dominique de Williencourt had the great idea of asking Jean Ferrandis, a superb flutist and conductor, to join him in a well thought out program of baroque and contemporary music. They started with a Vivaldi sonata “Il Pastor Fido”, then played a movement of Japanese composer Yuko Uebayashi‘s suite for flute and cello, a pure beauty. Telemann’s sonata for flute alone, Bach’s suite n°3 for cello and Debussy’s “Syrinx” for flute were completed by Williencourt’s own “Etchmiadzine and Mount Ararat” and Villa Lobos’ amazing “Assobio a jato”. The 75 mn long concert was perfect in its variety and spirit and each piece was introduced by the players in a very intimate and charming way. For us the public, it was like sitting at the turn of the century in an outdoor Proustian salon.
The two soloists often play together and their connivence was obvious all along the evening. In November 2009, Ferrandis had conducted a hundred cellists at St Louis des Invalides in Paris for the creation of “Slava Valentin opus 13” by Williencourt, a 9 minute piece for a cello octet. To their huge talent, they added a relaxed and whimsical style which made everyone feel utterly happy. A champagne reception followed in the garden, cooled down at perfect temperature and under a full moon added to the magic of the evening.
And one felt so privileged to be the guests of this generous couple who is fighting for the preservation of turn of the century villas. If you are curious to find out more about the architecture of Belle Epoque, you can buy the book (15€) published by Hervé Couffin with the city of St Raphaël.
The next day was spent relaxing by the sea shore… in front of l’Ile d’Or well away from St Tropez’s crazy crowds.
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