September 19, 2011 at 5:32 PM
As an aspiring violinist, one's dream is to become the ultimate artist. Since I could not become the next Heifetz, the next best thing for me was to be influenced by his tutelage. For six months, I was under his spell and rather than feeling like a prince, I felt like a pebble next to a Mt. Everest. For me, it is not matter of me becoming like someone nor about being famous. It is all about connecting, connecting with the music and the people.
Well, that particular connection was certainly felt in one of my concerts in France earlier this year. I performed a concert at the capital of fine wine, Bordeaux, France. And I thought it was suitable to bring one of the great Strads 'Firebird' ca 1718 to arguably the greatest wine region on this planet. What I felt during that performance, with the audience, was something very special indeed; it was inexplicable. Only explanation was that being in that special place, my soul was in full harvest. For me, wine is interrelated with music; and being a Francophile and a wine lover, this was an ultimate experience. British wine guru, Clive Coates, once told me that music was his second passion, thus we developed a unique friendship exchanging wine and music info. Who would believe in four years, I went from studying different grape varieties to barrel tasting at such illustrious wine chateaux such as Chateau Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Branaire-Ducru, Brane-Cantenac, Beychevelle, and Kirwan.
While in Bordeaux, I met the owner of the historic Ch Branaire-Ducru, Patrick Maroteaux, who is also the Chevalier de Legion d'Honneur, the highest order of France that was started by Napoleon Bonaparte. Right away, we developed a bond and my respect for him and his sophisticated wine. From that encounter, what came upon was something I never dreamt of. I was inducted as Commandeur d'Honneur for an exclusive wine society called Commanderie du Bontemps de Medoc et des Graves this summer in Bordeaux, France.
It took place during the bi-annual international exposition for wine called Vinexpo. And the ceremony took place at the main event of the exposition called Fete de la Fleur. It was a lavish black bow tie dinner event for 1500 invited guests. Some of the VIPs were Rothschild family, former Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister of France, Count and Countess of Germany, and owners of Grand Cru Classe Chateaux. The dinner was prepared by the renowned Grand Chef of Michelin 3 star restaurant Le Bristol, who was also an inductee. I felt very humbled being the only Korean-American and musician out of 15 countries that were represented; other honorees were Ambassadors of China, Japan, Netherlands, and Malta to France, and CEOs of major companies.
During the week of festivities, close to 50,000 wine professionals came from all over the world. In one of the soirees at Ch Branaire, there were representatives from Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Switzerland, Russia, Croatia, Canada, Great Britain, and US - literally it felt like an UN party! And my job was to match the wine and feast with the music (not an easy task considering I tasted nearly 50 wines of the extraordinary '10 vintage Bordeaux all day). Another memorable event that week was the Les Cinq tasting event and meeting its distinguished proprietors. This group is formed by leading chateaux from four different appellations in Bordeaux - Branaire-Ducru (St-Julien), Smith Haut Lafitte (Grave), Canon La Gaffeliere (St Emilion), and Gazin (Pomerol). Owners of these pretigious chateaux are some of the most distinguished aristocrats from France and Germany.
What a week that was - eating French delicacies Pauillac Lamb-arguably the best lamb, squab, veal's brain, 4-6 months old veal sweet bread (throat gland), and drinking some of the greatest elixir on this earth including '28 and '29 Branaire-Ducru! Well folks, my hedonistic fairy tale doesn't stop there; before I came home, I wanted to stay at a legendary hotel in Paris called Hotel Le Bristol that was featured on the movie Midnight in Paris. I found out that this hotel was the first ever official 'Palace' hotel in France (above 5 stars, in which there are only 4 in Paris and 8 in all of France). The hotel was also the home of the world renowned Michelin 3 star restaurant Le Bristol where the luxurious dining room matched its haute cuisine. It was a truly palatial experience where I felt like a prince, until I saw the bill then I instantly turned into a pauper.
When I returned home, it was such a whirlwind of a time that it took a while for me to digest everything that had happened. This experience was certainly very memorable and would rank among there with my experience performing a concert on 2 of the rarest violins - 1681 Stradivarius 'Comte de Chesnais' which was once owned by Napoleon III and 1734 Guarneri del Gesu 'Prince Doria', and test driving one of the world's fastest cars Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano at an undisclosed speed (0-60mph at 3.2sec and engine literally sounds like a panther)! I think in the end, whether it is an epicurean, musical, or even a pure speed experience, it is all about connecting with the seat of the soul.