About Paul Boucher

Mozart Concerti in Singapore

Finale of the Mozart project with Melvyn Tan in Singapore, mentored and directed by Paul Boucher

 

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Paul is curator and research director of The Montagu Music Collection at  Boughton House, Northamptonshire. This remarkably eclectic collection of rare music and dance from as early as the 16th century is being gradually brought back to life by performances of long-neglected works supported by the latest research. Buskaid, the inspirational music project from Soweto, recently performed music by Ignatius Sancho, an 18th Century African. Some of the early dance choreographies in the collection were brought back to life in the Great Hall by the Paris group “Les Corps Eloquents”. Next year he will be exploring the rich Huguenot heritage at the house.

Using his long experience in chamber orchestras around the world he has recently been directing and mentoring (with pianist Melvyn Tan) the chamber orchestra of  Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Mozart concerti and divertimenti.

Backed up by long experience as a performing violinist he has also brought top-level music-making into the lives of those who may not have had the opportunity to experience it.

In 1998 he founded a scheme to bring music to state primary schoolchildren in London. Young Musicians at the Tabernacle has changed young lives over the years and opened the ears and hearts of many 8 – 11 year-olds to classical music through singing and instrumental workshops.

In 1993 he founded the Festival de St Agrève in a great barn high in the hills of the Ardèche, France. The festival has developed into an important cultural landmark of that remote region, attracting internationally renowned artists and a public ranging from local farmers to visitors from Lyon and Paris.

From 1979 – 2006 he toured the world as a violinist with groups including the English Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, London Classical Players, London Sinfonietta and Hausmusik.  With pianist Melvyn Tan he founded the New Mozart Ensemble – a chamber orchestra and small ensemble which performed in halls from New York, Amsterdam and Berlin to Hong Kong, Glasgow and London.

His professional musical life began as a boy soprano working with Benjamin Britten and the English Opera Group in the operas A Midsummer Nights Dream, Burning Fiery Furnace and Curlew River. He also appeared on BBC TV as Amahl in the first UK broadcast of Menotti’s opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. Later, as a fledgling violinist, his studies took him to the Royal Academy of Music, the Institut de Hautes Etudes Musicales, Montreux Switzerland, the Conservatoire de Genève and finally the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Moscow on a British Council scholarship.

Articles

Ecased in prickly burs, the humble but adaptable chestnut yields one of the sweetest of forest fruits. Paull Boucher delves into its culinary history and its uncertain future.

 

Suddenly the chestnuts are ripe. It is mid-October and we are in the Ardèche, one of the least known French Départements and the only one to have no mainline railway. On the crack of the Midi it borders the Auvergne to the North-West, the Cévennes to the South and the Rhône Valley to the South East.

All over the region the back-breaking chestnut harvest is in full swing. In hillside forests ablaze with autumn colour the prickly burs are being poured into collecting crates destined for Privas, the chestnut capital of Europe.

Similar scenes must be unfolding in China too since over 300,000 hectares of chestnut forest are commercially exploited, with most of the nuts destined for the Japanese market.

 

The sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa, has been an important and highly nourishing food for many centuries all over Europe – way before the potato was brought over from South America in the 16th century.

In ancient times chestnut forests stretched across the Mediterranean, from the shores of the Caspian Sea to the Atlantic and the chestnut tree later found its way to North America, China and Japan.

When the Romans invaded Gaul they burned the chestnut forests in an attempt to starve local populations dependent on the dried nuts for Winter food..

The 9th Century Emperor Charlemagne is recorded as enjoying roast chestnuts with his glass of wine. When used as a sweet its Moorish qualities are revealed. and one can imagine languid Persian princesses being fed these cloying confections with sweetened mint tea.

As recently as World War 2 the chestnut was the subject of much illicit marketeering in the French countryside by communities close to starvation under Nazi occupation. Stories are still alive of Jewish families forced into the hills and dependent on chestnut foraging for their very survival.

 

The nut’s star rôle, today at least, is as the ‘Marron Glacé’ – imbued with vanilla, saturated with sugar, dressed in silver paper and presented in silk-lined boxes as a Christmas treat. Louis XIV was among the first to enjoy this sweetest of sweetmeats – doubtless in large quantities.

 

This wonderfully adaptable forest fruit is sweet, fattening, full of vitamins, particularly vitamin C and for centuries has enriched many a cookpot. It can be roasted, used to thicken soups and casseroles or dried and ground into flour – hence the popular name ‘tree of bread’. When simmered with milk the chestnut can become a complete form of nourishment, its natural sugars being released when cooked and its’ vitamins retaining their value.

 

 

Amongst the different types of chestnut it is the marron which is used for confectionery. It comes in many varieties. Names like ‘Impérial’, ‘de Laguepier’, ‘Sardonne’ or ‘du Dauphiné’ evoke a world of connoisseurship akin to that surrounding the apple and imply subtle but telling differences in taste and texture.

 

It was in the Ardèche that the humble chestnut was transformed for the first time into a luxurious sweetmeat fit for royalty. Here the unquestioned chestnut king, Clément Faugier, established his factory in 1885, producing the marron glacé and later marrons au cognac for export. The latter seems to have been a clever way of subverting the notorious American prohibition laws of the 1920’s, for Monsieur Faugier managed to convince the US authorities that his chestnuts simply had to be preserved in brandy to survive the journey.

 

Being so very labour intensive, the marron glacé is an expensive indulgence reserved, along with pâté de foie gras, for special occasions only.

To transform the well-armed nut into an expensive and delicate confection involves some 16 or so stages of careful preparation. The hard, outer skin is split and removed by boiling or steaming, the fruit then grilled momentarily at high temperature and brushed to remove the second skin. Finally all remnants of skin have to be gently removed from between the soft ribs of the exposed fruit by experienced and nimble female hands, for once divested of its armour, the bare nut is delicate and can easily crumble. Candying, or glaçage.can then begin, the nuts being wrapped in fine netting and lowered into a slow, sweet bath before being glazed with liquid sugar and passed through the drying tunnel.

All casualties of the glaçage process are converted thriftily into purée de marrons or crème de marrons, and, perhaps married with a rich chocolate sauce, can enliven a dull ice cream in a most luxurious way.

 

However, things are not all sweet in the chestnut world. The great forests of the Mediterranean have been ravaged by the terrible ‘ink’ disease – Encre, or Phytoxera cambivola. The enormous allied troop movements during two world wars had already introduced the Endothia Parasitica fungus which entirely wiped out the American chestnut. The blight destroyed huge plantations here in Europe and threatened not only to change the look of the Ardèche but also to challenge its economic stability. More and more trees succumbed to the fungus, dying slowly from the top branches downwards. Given a steeply declining rural population and a labour-intensive and physically demanding harvest the outlook may not be very bright. For the time being at least, the march of Ink disease has halted and one can only hope that the chestnut harvest will remain a living tradition not simply part of distant folk memory.

 

© Paull Boucher 2003

 

Contact

boutan@msn.com

 

Montagu Music Collection

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Boughton House, the Northamptonshire home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch is also home to a unique collection of music only recently re-discovered.  Assembled during the 18th Century this large and eclectic collection is unique in private hands, a rare survivor, reflecting the musical tastes and habits of its time.

Countless precious volumes of music have emerged and a considerable part reflects the musical tastes of Elizabeth Montagu, Duchess of Buccleuch, whose Montagu grandfather Duke John had been a friend and patron of Handel and was closely involved with the creation of his Music for the Royal Fireworks. There are consequently over 55 Handel operas and oratorios, many in first edition.

In the 18th century Elizabeth Montagu, 3rd Duchess of Buccleuch, hastened nightly from Montagu House (now the British Museum) to see the premières of dozens of English and Italian operas and French ballets. She bought, hot-off-the-press, the scores which now form part of the unique music archives at Boughton, the “English Versailles”, where her descendants the present Duke and Duchess are steadily uncovering treasures which have lain unregarded since the 18th Century.

The first Duke of Montagu was ambassador for Charles II at the court of Louis XIV in the 1670’s and would have heard the two Lully operas (Amadis and Le Triomphe de l’Amour in first edition), which are among the most recent discoveries in the collection. The second Duke was a friend and patron of the French dancer Antony L’Abbé, the foremost choreographer of his day and Dancing Master to successive royal families, hence the presence in the collection of rare choreographies to Lully and others. The dance catalogue is highly significant and contains many rare volumes from both court and folk traditions and detailed eye-witness accounts of later 18th century ballet choreographies.

The earliest volume in the collection is the bass part of a set of French chansons by Lassus printed in 1570 by Vautrollier, one of the first wave of Huguenot refugees. This is the first piece of music to be printed in England. The only other extant parts are at the Folger Library (superius) and the Bodleian (altus). There is a good section of early printed music from this period onwards including important madrigal volumes and lute and cithern-playing manuals while the vast collection of operas and musicals seen on the London stage (Daniel Purcell, Handel, Bononcini as well as the later English and emigré Italian composers Linley, Dibdin, Attwood, Arne, Storace, Sacchini, Giardini, Galuppi etc) represent the genesis of today’s West End and Broadway tradition.

The manuscript section is rich in early Italian opera arias (Orlandini, Vinci, Porpora etc), rare Scottish source material for Edinburgh publishers, works by the Earl of Kellie and personal compilations and anthologies spanning the entire 18th century and beyond. The large keyboard section mirrors the transition from harpsichord to pianoforte as enjoyed by family members and includes early Scarlatti and Handel as well as Muthel, Dussek, Pleyel and later arrangements of Handel overtures etc.

Being a firm protestant, and francophile, the second duke was keen to support the waves of Huguenot refugees to London after 1685 and his London house (which later became the British Museum) was designed, built, decorated and staffed entirely by French emigrés. This trend continued right through the 18th century with the result that today his descendants, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch retain one of the great collections of French art and furniture.

www.boughtonhouse.org.uk

Portfolio

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