Music — One Key to Unlocking Paris

We love music and we love exploring new parts of the city.  And so one of our strategies for doing both is to buy a Pariscope every Wednesday and turn to the music listings looking for ‘entree libre’ — free performances in interesting places.  The concerts are usually presented in churches.  We like to choose one that sounds interesting and is in a church we haven’t seen and better yet in a church in an area we haven’t visited.

Last Sunday’s choice was a great success.  We chose a baroque music concert in a church about as far as possible from where we are in the 17th  and still be in Paris; it took us 40 minutes to get there.  The church of Notre Dame de la Sagesse, Paris’s most recently built church, is not particularly attractive.

Vue générale de l'édifice

The performance though was amazing.  A harpsichordist, cellist, violist (all baroque instruments versions of these instruments) and a soprano presented works by Albinoni, Scarlati, Handel and others.

The music was a pleasure, but the area turned out to be the surprise.  We hadn’t expected much. It is an area full of warehouses, office buildings and modern apartment blocks — not the hausmannian charm of most of the center of the city.  The church is this spot of brick at the end of the street.

Behind it was a community garden as well as a grassy square and playground.

After the concert we wandered down to the nearby banks of the Seine and into a lovely relaxed afternoon with hundreds of French people enjoying the festivities of summer.  The church is located along the Seine near the Josephine Baker Swimming Pool which floats on a barge in the river and across from Parc Bercy.   On this Sunday the annual ‘Festival l’oh’ was underway on the right bank and on the left bank a series of cafes had set up for the summer.

One cafe had a big wood burning pizza oven.  Another had dancing.

There were also several cafes set up in boats moored along the Quai.

We stopped for a creme and a diabolo at one of the cafes near the pedestrian bridge over to Parc Bercy.

Paris has a lot of fun with events like these.  In winter there is a public ice rink at the Hotel de Ville (Paris town hall) and in the summer there is the Paris Plage (beach) along the Seine where people can sunbathe, run under sprinklers and enjoy the sun even if they can’t get away to a real beach.  They haven’t set up this year yet – but will do it again in July.  This is a snapshot from our 2003 summer trip.

After a break at the cafe, we headed across the bridge to Parc Bercy.

Bercy is a huge park with sports areas, places to picnic, a formal flower garden that honors Itzak Rabin and of course a carousel.

There was a temporary art exhibit of some sort — which involved life size rather bizarre figures that kids were having a great time with.

We have no idea what these bizarre figures represented but they were certainly odd and people were enjoying them.

After our stroll through the park we headed back down to the ‘Festival l’Oh’  (and yes we suspect it did have something to do with water as the local water department sent its special ‘l’eau’ wagon) and then decided to catch the Navette Fluvial or

Vugueo back up to Gare Austerlitz to catch a metro home.  The Vuqueo or navette is the little blue and green boat coming in.

These little boats are part of the public transportation system and so are accessible with our metro passes.

It was a short ride but a fun way to end a trip that began with harpsichord music

Our other concerts have also opened up interesting city strolls. Our first foray was to La Madeleine which looks like a Greek Temple.  It was completed by Napoleon and dedicated to the glory of his grand army.

We thought it would be fun to listen to Chopin in this magnificent setting, but a little misreading of the fine print schedule had occurred so instead we got the West Texas A&M Choir — which was quite excellent.  The church is stunning with a massive last judgment in the final dome over the alter;  the statue visible in the back is of Mary Magdalen being borne to heaven.

As we entered we had spotted this interesting building up the street  and so after the concert we walked from the Madeleine to see what it was.

This gave us a chance to stroll through much of the 8th Arrondisement.

When we got there, we found St. Augustin whose giant dome is harder to spot up close than at a distance.

We have also been to a flute and piano concert at the Scots Kirk — which turned out to be something of a mistake.  The Scots Kirk meets in a cramped basement and while the music was lovely, the crowded hot unlovely room was not.  I didn’t even take a picture.

A recent visit to the American Cathedral which is just off the Champs Elysees on George V also involved a crowded fellowship room and not the sanctuary.  Kyden Creekpaum who is an American lawyer who works in Paris played Chopin — and so we finally got our Chopin fix. We’ll have to go visit him at Pere Lechaise before we leave. (Chopin that is, not Creekpaum.)

George V is a street filled with top designers (no no sign of Michael Kors for you Project Runway fans) and spills into the Champs Elysees and so it was a pleasant evening stroll past conspicuous consumption in an area we rarely visit.  Because we are so far north, it is still light at 10 at night.   We caught the metro back at the Arc de Triomphe.

My favorite concert visit thus far was a trip to St. Trinite in the 9th.  It was a gloomy rainy day and I didn’t get a shot of the exterior so am stealing this one from Wikipedia.

We chose it to see the church and because the program was Bach and we love Bach.  Well I guess the fact that this was a brass quintet — a horn, a trombone, two trumpets and a tuba — should have been my clue that it was not THAT Bach and it wasn’t.  It was Ian Bach and the music was written in 1939.  Modern and discordant, it was still beautifully done and I’m glad we went.

We also went to  a saxophone quintet at a lovely small memorial chapel perched on a patch of ground above the peripheque — I loves me some saxophone — always tip the saxophone buskers in the metro and so looked forward to that.   It was a very amateurish performance but it did give us a chance to see the chapel which had always been locked up tight when we had attempted to see it.

The little chapel once stood where the convention center at Porte Maillot was built. In 1964, Paris authorities disassembled and then reconstructed the chapel a few hundred meters away on a small patch of land overlooking the peripherique — the major ring road that circles Paris — in order to take the land for the convention center.

compasfrontviewIt is a charming spot but its location pretty much guarantees few visitors. We had wanted to see it but it was locked up when we visited, so we took advantage of a notice of a free saxaphone concert in Pariscope to get a chance to look inside.

The metro stop is Porte Maillot and the exit places one on the axis that links the Grande Arche at La Defense with the Arc de Triomphe. Both are highly visible when one exits the metro here.


compasdefenseThe Chapel is perched right on the edge of the ditch that contains the highway of the peripherique; the railing in this photo separates the small grounds of the chapel from the highway.compasperipheriquecompasperipherique2We had hoped to enjoy the concert in the charming sanctuary, but alas ended up in the ugly basement.compassaxaphone This is a common occurrence with church concerts. Those at the Madeleine and Trinite are held in the sanctuary but we have ended up in a side room at the American Cathedral, and in basement rooms in other churches.

Before the concert began we did have a chance to visit the chapel itself.compassionThe Chapel was built in 1842 to commemorate the death of the son of the last King of the French, Louis-Philippe d’Orléans who was installed as a constitutional monarch after the abdication of Charles X in 1830. His son Ferdinand-Philippe d’Orleans died in 1842 at Porte Maillot in a carriage accident as he was driving to meet his parents in Neuilly before heading to the field to resume command of his regiment. He was carried injured to a nearby shop where he died. He was 32 years old. The Chapel was erected at the spot where
he died.compassaxaphoneThe building was moved to its present perch above the peripherique in 1964 when the Porte Maillot convention center was built; the center is visible from the new. compasconvencenterA statue of the fallen prince is featured in the chapel.

compasstatueferdinandcompasstatuecloseThe loss of the crown prince who was exceedingly popular throughout France ended the monarchy as there was little support for its continuation after his death.


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3 Responses to Music — One Key to Unlocking Paris

  1. Pingback: Interesting Paris Churches Off the Beaten Track | JANET TRAVELS

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