When I went on stage, I stumbled and almost fall in fornt of my musician friends and colleagues who knew how much I was tired. One of them, my dear Yacek, made me notice I was very unusual red-faced since this afternoon. I told him it was probably because of the Charente sun which had been so generous in this 2008 spring. We ate outside for lunch, under a summerlike sun.
I slowly walked to my place, other already seated musicians looked at me. I got pins and needles in my legs, felt as I was walking on a soft soil, I stumbled once more. I had the impression my bow in my right hand was made of lead. In my left hand, my viola was as heavy as a bucket filled with rocks. But I had to play music, got out of the nebula of my mind which blurred my seesight and give people the best of myself. After I played some light and strongs pieces of music with my colleagues, at the very moment, for the last concert part, we performed the gorgeous of the famous Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. In front of me, the sheet music was getting blurry. I couldn’t read notes, but it was no big deal.
It was kind of a special concert for the Amadeus Choir from Angoulême and for us, the French-Polish wire-quintet. We have a special link with this region and the friends of the local host organization. We share a very particular relationship which started even before the creation of the “Nuits Romanes”. This project I imagined in Paris a few years ago was noticed by some local politic men. They were son enthustiatic that the regional council finally seized it ! I didn’t file the name and the concept… But I don’t regret it. From now on, it belongs to public domains.
What I like the most is to bring together the gifted people and to combine the whole faces of the artistic expression, as the builders of the cathedrals did. That’s my leitmotif. My bliss is full as soon as I can unite around a theme, a concert with color and painting projrction, poetical narration to highlight the history and architecture of the place, but also the living forces and the local handmade and gastronomic specialties. At the end of the concerts, the artists and the numerous, varied audience meet around a buffet, making people find out the typical production of the surroundings.
In the first row, I noticed sevral mayors and regional counselors, sponsors and patrons. I saw my friend, Brigitte Viau, the head of the association, a local elected representative and her husband, Antoine, a stonemason. These friends welcome me every year with a part of the musicians and committed actors in their home. They were the only ones in the audience who knew how I was exhausted.
I was conforted myself as I could. Tonight, I’m going home to find my wife and my boys. When I come back home after a tour, it’s always fun. I bring them local specialties. From here, it will be Cognac, Pineau des Charentes. We are so happy together!
Yesterday evening, I felt so bad I sent a text message to Florence : “Pray for me because I’m very exhausted”. This morning, I wanted to reassure her but she could hear in my voice nothing was better!
SIence fall in the crowded church but a buzzing, swarm-like noise was still haunting my mind. I was looking at my musician colleagues. The bows were motionless, right above the wires, ready to free the first notes. This is the moment when the world is fading, time stops. You are only one, one will, only there to deliver the same message. Above the nothingness, the band in Mozart. The first violin, Evelyne, then all my musician friends turn towards me. Once again, I had a moment of clarity and concluded people around me were worried. Before, in backstage, Alexandre, the second violin, whispered me :
- “You’re sure you’re OK ? “
I smiled at him and patted at my shoulder.
- “Don’t worry, music makes all inconvenience go away !”
He knew how hard I had worked, especially this past two weeks. I was currently thinking of creating a totally different, new festival. The idea ? Introducing the best of a region or a town thanks to music, art exhibition and a big live performance. It will be a local celebration – not like a fair which is not original and too much common – where the tourists will be invited in an antique church, a monument, in a downtown of a typical village.
The French Polish Quintet started the mostly known and so delicate Eine kleine Nachtmusik. At this very moment, when my bow was touching the D-wire, a violent pain in my head made me make a face. Then I felt pins and needles through my calves, my thigh and finally my arms. My fingers lost their exactitude. I focused as much as possible and told me :
“It’s because I’m tired. It’s just stage fright. I can’t play badly. I have to keep rhythm. I can(t let a light dizziness ruin my play !”
I barely opened my mouth to breathe. My mouth was dry. I had a knot in my throat. I caught sight of Brigitte who raised her hand, as if she could foresee a catastrophe. This morning, in their beautiful white-stoned house, when I arrived to have breakfast, she had seen I was exhausted. She had even asked if she could take me to the doctor’s. I had first refused. I feared to admit I couldn’t assure the last concert of our tour – the most important of all. Then, at the end of the dress rehearsal, I agreed. I hoped for a tonic or at least something which will give me the strength to get through this last ordeal. I had to do it, for Jacques Marot, the very challenging and charismatic conductor, for the so involved choristers of the Amadeus Choir who welcomed us so well, who put us up, fed us and for the massive audience.
Antoine, Brigitte’s husband, drove me to the family’s doctor at 4, after the dress rehearsal. I met a plump, fifty-something, chubby-faced, generous-looking man. He started checking my blood pressure: 20.5 ! He couldn’t believe it and checked again. He stopped smiling and his face became serious and grave. He lay me down and after watching me for 15 minutes, he checked again? I was always 18.4. He prepared an injection. My blood pressure immediately slowed down: only 15.8.
“You can’t play tonight!” He told me looking at Antoine in order to focus on the seriousness of the situation. “You have to rest!”
Resting! Resting! They only have this word to say! I’m 42, I am not old enough to rest. I have to finish my last concert and I have so many projects on their way!
Antoine and I went out of the doctor’s and I felt like I was walking on a rocky road. My feet were unsure at each step. It was probably the injection. My jaw was slightly shivering, I could not speak easily. My chest was oppressed as if it was going to blow up.
“Oh dear God, give me the strength to finish what I’ve started.” This sentence haunted my mind. Faith has always been there in my life and the ultimate aid, so particular. That might seem a little presumptuous but I could feel God was protecting me.
The magic of music was working. From the first notes, I felt a little better. My head pain was almost gone but I was still not feeling my left arm which was holding my bow. And I saw blurry. However, I could concentrate. Mozart was encouraging me. I couldn’t see the notes but it was only a detail. I knew this music by heart even if I might mistaken by accident. Just like that… It often happened when you have played some pieces a hundred of times.
At last, we began the last movement, the presto. And suddenly, I had this curious impression the music sheet was moving in front of me. It was twisting and turning like a flying butterfly. I didn’t see the audience, I was focusing as far as possible on the music sheet, teeling me : “ It’s gonna be OK”. And I was OK. I was playing mechanically. My right hand led my bow, my fingers touched the wires. I was like an automat. My mind lost in a night without star. My thoughts were gone, even those of my troubled childhood which has haunted for years. I almost missed the sound of the hobnailed boots, the screams of the faceless men xho kept bullying me in my nightmare, my insomnia nights…
At the end of the virtuoso final allegro, the audience clapped loudly. I understood I could not leave the stage without an encore. Brigitte waved at me. Now my pain in the head was intense I was not able to stand the light. It became un bearable. Like a statue, I was still, I was alone surrounded by crowd. I was not able to hear my heart beating too quickly. As if my body was driving crazy… I waved at the audience as I could and finally sat down. I played the encore. I have been so afraid of this gift you gave to your joyful public. We were going to play an extract from the second movement. It was planned. My musician fellows were ready. In the church, the silence was crushing me. I felt like under a rock.
I told myself : Keep going, focus, nobody has to see you’re not fine”. When the double-quavered ostinato with the second violin began, a glimmer of light took my mind. At that moment, I can clearly see a yard surrounded by barracks and a young, blond 3-year-old boy.
He is running after a flat ball, he is alone and his clothes are bad. It is me! I have no doubt. But where am I? How can I find out? I don’t know a single thing about my origins, I don’t even know what my real name is! “Hilger” is the surname of my dear beloved adoptive parents and “Michel” is the first name they give me when I was 3 because they love it so much, as convinced Catholics.
But I was bot the time to think about this. I had to play my part with my viola, I could not fail, I could not lose one of my notes. I especially had to be on time, be conniving with Alexandre by my right, then with Marie-Christine and Yacek playing bass by my left.
Despite the pain which spread through my whole brain, I was hanging on. I felt a skinny frost on my face, I still had troubles to breathe and my heart was racing. I suffocated. Mozart will certainly forgive me my failures. He knew what sickness was. It didn’t prevent him from creating his masterpieces. The mysteries surrounding my origins, the ephemeral remaining memories bolstered me. There, I was sure God will never give up on me. Once again, I was gonna find the strength in me to hold on, to fight against this rock crushing me. Have I already survive the worst threats ? I should be in Heaven for a long time now. If I survive this, it’s because there is a good reason, a reason which has to make sense here.
I focused on my thoughts about music, on the bow moving back and forth, on the wires I was used to guiding. I was still not feeling my right arm. I told myself: “Ducks are running without their heads! So play without your head which is only severe pain, a fire hell where I’m sinking”. My good viola, my partner over the years, seemed to make an effort to overcome my spreading weakness. He we were, the last note, the release, the long and intense applause. I could only hear a loud roll as if a storm was coming. I would like to get up to greet but my legs refused to obey, I looked to my partners, I was not able to talk.
The alarm was sounded. The firefights, here for the concert, were rushing to me. My skills came back one by one. After 15 minutes, I was able to get up, walk slowly. I didn’t hurt anymore. I convinced myself it was only a fainting, a little stronger than the previous ones I was used to? Everything was fine, I was smiling. Life was good!
I just had time to go and pack my stuff, I wanted to go home in Paris. Antoine tld me I was not careful to drive my car when I was so tired. I smiled at him and set off to take Alexandre home. Florence and the boys were waiting for me and tomorrow, on Monday afternoon, I’ll be at the Academy of Arts in Thiais to teach my pupils how to draw and paint.