Wine and Music Rejoice the Heart

“Wine and music rejoice the heart, but the love of wisdom is above them both.”  (Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira, also known as Ecclesiasticus, Chapter 40, verse 20)

Written some two hundred years before the birth of Christ by the Hebrew scholar and scribe Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira, and included in the Christian canon, is the Book of Ecclesiasticus, a profound prescription for how to live one’s life, work with honor and dignity, and recognize the importance of friendship, wisdom, and humility as we move through life’s trials.   Ecclesiasticus discourses on poverty, justice, evil, good works, everyday existence, and inspires a personal devotion to integrity and honor without hubris.

It was originally written in Hebrew poetic verse,  translated into Greek and Latin, and in the early centuries of the formation of the Christian church was adopted as a significant text of ethical teachings by James, Origen, Jerome, and Augustine.  Today it remains a cogent reminder of how Jewish life and philosophy informed Christian practices, beliefs, and ethics.

Interesting chapters are devoted to the pursuit of goodness and wisdom, family life, and everyday practices from marriage to child rearing to agriculture, animal husbandry, and yes, entertainment and wine.  We find some excellent observations:

“Justify alike the small and the great”  5:18

“Be in peace with many, but let one of a thousand be thy counsellor” 6:6

“Happy is he that hath had no sadness of his mind, and who is not fallen from his hope” 14:2

“Before judgment prepare thee justice, and learn before thou speak” 18:19

“Keep fidelity with a friend in his poverty, that in his prosperity also thou mayst rejoice” 22:28

“Be not hasty in a feast” 31:17

“Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make them drunk.  Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart” 31:35-36

“Wine drunken with excess is bitterness of the soul” 31:39

“A concert of music in a banquet, wine is as a carbuncle set in gold.  As a signet of an emerald in a work of gold: so is the melody of music with pleasant and moderate wine” 32:7-8

This last week in Burgundy I attended a series of concerts and tastings that truly gave gladness to my soul, and allowed me to rejoice my heart with several evenings of splendid aural and oral pleasure.  Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeot is a festival of wine tastings and musical performances bringing together some of Burgundy’s most talented wine artists with a group of the world’s great musical virtuosos.  Every year it creates a symmetry of harmony and flavor, virtuosity and ensemble excellence.  The festival benefits two worthy causes: it sponsors two young artists per year with scholarships for study, and it finances the artisan reproduction of period instruments for use by upcoming young talents, each instrument produced bearing the name of one of Burgundy’s Grands Crus.  The festival’s hosts are Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de Romanee Conti and Bernard Hervet of Domaine and Maison Joseph Faiveley.

The concerts feature the principal artists and soloists of the Metropolitan Opera of New York, led by Burgundy amateur David Chan, who doubles as music director and principal solo violinist.  The opening night is a free concert in the covered marketplace in Beaune, with an orchestra of young talents from the Burgundy region.  Subsequent concerts are presented at the 13th century Chapter House of the Clos Vougeot and the Chateau de Meursault.  The music features world class solo performers, chamber ensembles, young debut artists, and an Orchestre ephemere des Climats de Bougogne, drawing from top principal players from orchestras around the world.

The concerts themselves are proceeded by tastings of wines presented by some of the most illustrious producers in the Burgundy region; a list too long to reproduce here, but making for gustatory opportunities normally reserved only for experienced professionals and the well-connected collector.  Each concert offers a chance to taste about 40 wines, mostly 1ers and Grands Crus.  Friday the 27th of June the tasting featured wines from Meursault as the evening was presented at the Chateau de Meursault.

Sunday’s Gala  on the 29th showcased Grands Crus of Gevrey-Chambertin from a dozen different producers.  The concert venue was moved from the courtyard of the Clos Vougeot to the Church of Saint Denis in Nuits St. Georges because of expected inclement weather.  The mood was somber, as the evening before, on Saturday, June 28th, devastating hailstorms swept northward through the Cote d’Or, eliminating as much as 90% of the 2014 crop in some vineyards in mere minutes.  For some, it was the third straight year of such natural deprivations.  For Burgundy as a whole, the last four years have barely produced the equivalent of two years of normal production.  The tasting of so many fabulous Chambertin Grands Crus, followed by an orchestral tour de force featuring Mozart and Mendelssohn, brought tears of joy and smiles of appreciation in spite of the previous evening’s destruction in the vines.

Musical highlights of the first Clos Vougeot concert Monday the 23rd of June included an intense piano rendering of the Bach Partita #2 offered by one of this year’s scholarship recipients, Sunwook Kim,  a delightful and sweepingly romantic reading of Schumann’s Trio #1 performed by the other sponsored scholarship recipients, the Trio Karenine, and a romp through the Bohemian woods with Dvorak’s Quartet for Piano and Strings, led by maestro David Chan.

Wednesday the 25th presented wonderful string ensemble works by Grieg, Borodin, and Tchaikovsky from a mixture of American and French artists, highlighted by rising star baritone Alexey Lavrov’s operatic offerings from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Don Juan.

But it was Friday’s concert that truly redefined the reference for excellence, virtuosity, balance, harmony and ensemble vision.  The presentation by the Met Opera Orchestra’s principal string soloists of Brahm’s G Major Quintet for Strings Op. 111 was breathtaking and spiritually moving.  Sweepingly romantic, yet disciplined and contained, it offered a vision of purity, a taste of the sweet and melancholy, fabulously textured structures, and an ensemble sound that this writer has seldom heard before.  The combination of each quintet member’s virtuoso playing, with such an ear for the whole ensemble’s complete integration, was an inspiration which I am sure the perfectionist in Brahms would have greatly admired.  I look forward to next year’s program with great anticipation.

So what is it about music and wine that gladden the heart and make our spirits rejoice?  David Chan, the festival’s musical director, offered a comparison between the concept of terroir and music that I find compelling, and worthy of elaboration.

Think of sound in music, finally “tempered” and clarified by the 17th century into the eight notes of the scale, as the basic raw materials, representing the varietals being used in wine.  Add texture and definition with chords and keys, ultimately melodic sequences, which brings a real life and identity to musical notes, just as the soils, subsoils, exposure, and climate give singularity and individuality, a climat to a wine of distinction.  Finally, it is the artistic unity of the composer’s vision in sound, the sonority of the instrument itself in the hands of a particular artist’s interpretation of the composer’s vision, that brings us the actual revelation of cru and vintage, the singularity of terroir.  How often do we have a musical tune “stuck in our heads”?  That is the musical definition of the individual wines we still can inwardly savor, whose tastes, balance, harmony, and complex integration bring joy to our hearts and wisdom to our minds, a deeper meaning to our lives.

Matt Kramer famously defined terroir as “a place where man, and plant, and planet meet.”  Here in France, where one speaks of the terroir in the tastes and appellations of cheese, chickens, lamb, cattle, fruits, and vegetables, the Festival of Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeot has achieved Grands Crus status.  Bravo !

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