France Diary of Patron’s Award Winner 2019


The Patron’s Award is proudly sponsored by the
Embassy of France in Malaysia.

Day 1: 17 July 2023 (Monday)

Woke up very early to catch the 7.30am train to Les Arcs. It was stressful for me in the beginning because I was afraid that I’d miss my train due to my almost zero knowledge of the French language and the French train systems. Thankfully throughout the journey, I met many friendly people who were willing to help me. The first train ride was especially wholesome. I sat beside a lady who was very kind and friendly. Despite the language barrier, we managed to communicate well with the help of Google translate, and we shared a lot about ourselves. I realised a connection like this is only possible through solo travelling because we will have to speak to strangers in some ways and I find the experience especially special. After a long and tiring journey, I finally arrived at Les Arcs. It was scorching hot, and I could feel my skin burning under the sun. As I was checking in, I met a Chinese girl who later turned out to be my suite mate and roommate. It was a huge relief for both of us to have finally found someone that can speak our language. Our third suite mate arrived not long after us, and we quickly became good friends. We went grocery shopping, and we cooked our own food. The day ended with us chatting and admiring the scenery. 

Day 2: 18 July 2023 (Tuesday)

Would not have imagined all it takes for me to live a healthy lifestyle of sleeping and waking early is to travel. Due to long hours of travelling yesterday (and really slow Internet connection), I went to bed early and woke up early enough to catch the sunrise. I made myself a hearty oatmeal and salad, and enjoyed breakfast on our balcony by myself to really immerse myself in nature. After breakfast, my roommate and I parted ways to meet our own teacher. My teacher’s workplace is located very far from where I’m staying, so I had to take the bus to go further up the mountains (Arc 1600 to Arc 1800) to meet her. My teacher, Jennifer, was kind enough to speak with us in two languages to make sure everyone understood what she said. She then allocated our individual lesson time slot for us and we were off to do our own things until it’s our turn for the lesson. During the lesson, she guided me to have a bigger sound and used some very interesting analogies for me to understand what she wants from me. Unfortunately the lesson was only 30 minutes so we didn’t work a lot. 

After that we had a meeting where we met our chamber partners. I only met Melissa, another violinist from our group. The other 2 members did not turn up because they haven’t arrived yet. After discussing with her, we decided that I’ll be playing the first violin part, which leads me to spend the rest of my afternoon practising the piece.

In the evening, I decided to do some Pilates to destress and my suitemates decided to join me. We had a great time laughing while doing the exercises and also learning each other’s languages after. I learned a few French words but I’m sure I’ll forget and ask again tomorrow haha. Liza went to bed first, but Yi Hua and I stayed up to take photos of the stars. We took many but there’s only one good photo. I went off to sleep after editing the photo. 

Day 3: 19 July 2023 (Wednesday)

I had an early morning lesson with Jennifer today. After discussing my goals for this festival, we continued where we left off of the lesson we had yesterday. Today’s lesson mainly worked on me allowing more arm weight into the strings to produce more sound, and tone colours. I then stayed for one lesson where she talked about body to violin connection to help the student to find the depth in his tone. Jennifer used a lot of body gestures while she’s explaining to make sure I also understand what she was trying to convey even though I don’t understand French. I’m so grateful for that. Unfortunately I had to leave after his lesson because I needed to prepare for chamber rehearsal.

The chamber lesson was really productive because we worked on a lot of things. The teacher talked about our sound and bow distribution, and we sounded so much better after the lesson. We were so motivated to practice so we immediately set a time to practice tomorrow and parted ways. 

After that, I head down to the town at the foot of the mountain, Bourg Saint Maurice for the first time, to meet my friend, Yi Hua . It was unbelievably hot, but that doesn’t stop us from admiring the scenery of the town. We bought peach tea and watermelon flavoured sorbet to cool ourselves down, and went on to explore the town a little more. We also went to Lidl to buy some groceries before rushing back because Yi Hua had chamber rehearsal. The day again ended with us cooking and chatting over good food. 

(Picture on the right: Masterclass with Jennifer Gilbert.)

Day 4: 20 July 2023 (Thursday)

Today I was supposed to only have a chamber rehearsal, and I’m free the whole day. However, one of us was late to the rehearsal, one had to leave early for his lesson, and one couldn’t make it last minute because she was late from her lesson… The cellist and I were unable to practice even though we arrived early because the room we have was simply too small. It’s a bedroom, with place just enough to stand as there are two single beds and a wardrobe that occupied almost the whole room. So, the rest of the three of us only met up briefly to discuss a better place for us to practice tomorrow and parted ways.

I spent the afternoon to practice the chamber piece and my concerto, and head down to the town, again, to buy more groceries. We had a lot of time, so we ended up buying a lot of food. The journey on the way back was tough because of the weather and the weight of the food, but I guess that was a good compensation for all the food that we were going to have later haha. 

Day 5: 21 July 2023 (Friday)

I woke up early today, planning to get ready earlier so that I could practice a little before heading to my lesson. After I brushed my teeth I heard some noises that I don’t hear before, only to realise that it started raining outside. (The scent and the timbre of the rain is somewhat different from Malaysia so I didn’t realise it was going to rain) I quickly brought in our clothes and cleaned up the messy kitchen after, before sitting down to enjoy my hot chocolate oats for breakfast. I felt so grateful that my lesson was scheduled later in the day as it will be tough to wait for public transport and walk to the location of the lesson in the rain. 

The lesson went great and Jennifer said she’s very happy with my progress! She even invited me to watch her performance at 9pm. I stayed back to practise a little more before heading to my chamber rehearsal. After that I was really tired but I still practised a bit more after having a short rest. 

In the evening, I attended a workshop on performance anxiety management where we were put on the spot to perform and we had to act like we are actually performing. The teacher talked about the things we should beware of from how we walk, how we breathe, how we greet the audience, how we stand and how we start the performance. It was very interesting and I definitely learned a lot from the lesson. 

After the lesson, I went to watch concerts at Arc 1800. I was totally enthralled at the abundance of colours and expressions that were produced by the musicians. The night ended with me enjoying pasta made by my suitemates. It was such a long day, I was exhausted, but my heart was full. 

(Pictures below: Concerts at Arc 1800.)

Day 6: 22 July 2023 (Saturday)

Today was a lesson free day and I only had a chamber rehearsal in the late afternoon. I went further up the mountain with Yi Hua with the cable car. The scenery was breathtaking, but it was very cold and windy. We were freezing but insisted on staying because we wanted to take some nice photos. Don’t ever underestimate girl’s will to take good photos haha.

After a quick lunch, I started practising my chamber and my own repertoire, before I headed out for my chamber rehearsal. I arrived 30 minutes too early for the rehearsal so I had time to explore Arc 1800 a little. It’s a lively place and it has more shops compared to Arc 1600. I even did some grocery shopping at the SPAR supermarket. 

We worked on a lot of things during the rehearsal including analysing the scores, finding uniform colours and identifying the important melody line that we should bring out. It was a productive rehearsal and I’m looking forward to bringing it to the professor so we could have more professional advice to help us to improve. 

Taking advantage of my free schedule, I finally had time to do some Pilates and some stretching to release the tension in my body. I felt so relax after that and went to bed shortly after I shower.

Yi Hua, my roommate from China and me.

Day 7: 23 July 2023 (Sunday)

It was an unexpectedly busy day as all the lessons were scheduled last minute. I had a morning lesson, where Jennifer talked about the intonation in relation to the harmony of the piece and how intonation can be modified to bring out musical ideas. She taught me how to apply the knowledge to my pieces and also explained how the intonation for chamber music works. It was definitely a very constructive lesson. 

After that I had a short chamber rehearsal with my group mates before heading for our lesson. We had to climb the mountain for the lesson omg! Tiring but fun experience haha

Today we had a lesson with Eric Levionnois. Despite the language barrier, we were able to pull through with the help of our group mate’s translation and by his demonstration. He told us that Mendelssohn was shocked by the news of Beethoven’s passing, and he composed this quartet during this time. He introduced new ideas to us, and the beginning of the piece is particularly interesting as he described it like a chorale to worship Beethoven. It was really interesting because he has a totally contrasting interpretation for some parts from our previous chamber teacher, Lyonel Schmit, but yet, both of their ideas make sense. 

Once again, we left the lesson feeling inspired to do better. 

Chamber class with Eric Levionnois.
Masterclass with Jennifer Gilbert.

Day 8: 24 July 2023 (Monday) 

It was a rather dull day, just like the weather. I woke up to the sound of thunder, rushed down to take my clothes in, only to see Yi Hua who did the same, told me that our clothes were already soaked in the rain. I couldn’t go back to sleep after that, so I decided to re-wash my clothes and had breakfast after that. While we were having breakfast, Yi Hua suddenly said, “oh my God look, is that hailstones?!”. It was indeed raining hailstones outside, and we proceeded to finish our breakfast, listening to the sound of hailstones hitting the ground that somewhat resembled the sound of roasting popcorn.

I spent my afternoon practising, then suddenly received a rehearsal notice from my pianist, Floriane Abihssira. The rehearsal venue is located in the middle of Arc 1800, which gave me a chance to explore the neighbourhood while heading to the rehearsal. It’s a livelier neighbourhood compared to Arc 1600, with more shops and entertainment available.

The rehearsal was fun for me as I finally hear the “orchestra” part while playing and I could apply what I learned from Jennifer yesterday to my playing.

The way back after the rehearsal was horrible though, it was raining hailstones again. I was praying that the rain would get lighter so I could catch my bus. Thankfully it did become lighter after some wait and I managed to catch the bus to go back. 

Day 9: 25 July 2023 (Tuesday)

Today’s violin lesson was particularly stressful for me because:

  1. I was playing the part where I’m struggling a lot with and couldn’t find the solution to it.
  2. There were 2 other teachers watching my lesson because they wanted to join Jennifer for lunch.

I was upset that I didn’t play well in the lesson, but the teachers were really kind about it and still said good job to me despite that… though, I’m really motivated to practise after that because I want to show improvements to them. 

After my lunch break, I headed off to practise before my chamber group mates joined me to rehearse. I was so relieved that things are starting to come along and we were excited to show to our professor what we have and to get guidance on what we felt unsure about. 

Today’s chamber lesson was led by Eckhard Rudolph, a really cool guy with a calm demeanour. He was encouraging and managed to help us to find a balance between the two interpretations we had from our last lessons, along with his own advice. He focused a lot on dynamic contrasts and colours, which I think really provide us a very clear and strong structure about things we should work on. After the lesson he asked us to play a little bit of Intermezzo. We were all sight reading and I was so stressed because it was basically the first violin’s solo, with the rest plucking their strings as accompaniment. It was a bit unorganised, but we had so much fun and it was a huge relief for me when he said he liked my playing.

I planned to watch the concert after our chamber class but it ended late so I missed the bus. I wanted to catch the next bus, but I realised that’d leave me with only 30 minutes of the program and it also started raining so I decided to stay in to rest.

Day 10: 26 July 2023 (Wednesday)

Today is a lesson free day so I just stayed in to practise the whole day. The brighter part of my day was probably when I received the news that our chamber group had been selected to perform in the grand final concert, which would take place on the coming Friday. Look forward!

In the evening, I went to attend dinner organised by my teacher, Jennifer.

Day 11: 27 July 2023 (Thursday)

It’s my last day of lessons today as tomorrow is going to be a full day of performance.

After cooking my meals for the day, I head off to attend my last violin lesson. We discussed preparation before playing and some useful fingerings and bowings. I was lucky as Jennifer’s friend (another violin teacher but doesn’t teach at the festival) was also there to help so I had a lesson with two teachers. After that he discussed a bow technique that he felt stuck from playing Mendelssohn with Jennifer. It was interesting to see teachers giving each other feedback and suggestions. 

In the afternoon we had a chamber lesson with Eric again. He gave us a lot of advice to really bring out different layers of the music which really transformed our playing. He gave us a lot of positive comments in the end and he cheered for our performance tomorrow.

Fast forward to evening, I made my way to Melissa’s home, and her husband helped me to adjust my violin and the tension of my bow. After coming here, the violin and bow had not been performing at their best, probably due to the significant change in weather and humidity. He immediately noticed it and offered to help me when he came to watch our private rehearsal. The result was amazing because the sound of the violin completely changed! All of us could really hear the difference, which makes me even more excited for tomorrow’s performance.

At night, me and my friend went to watch a concert. The choices of pieces were very unusual and I was so amazed by the distinct colours brought out by the performers for different pieces. One that really stood out to me was Saariaho’s Sept Papillons played by Bumjun Kim. 

 It doesn’t have an obvious melody but there was many different colours that I wouldn’t have imagined that it’s all produced by a cello. The last piece by Schoenberg also changed my mind about his pieces. It was so beautiful and really different from all of his pieces that I was exposed to.

Chamber class member and
Eric Levionnois.
Melissa, her husband and me.

Day 12: 28 July 2023 (Friday)

We had to be at our teacher’s studio very early as our student recital starts at 10am! I had very limited time to warm up because we could only start practising in our studios and practice rooms from 9am onwards. I only practised some scales and I headed out for the recital. Before the recital began, I specially asked Jennifer to let me play first so I could get it over with, but she still put me as the last performer. Not sure what her reason was, I had to perform with cold hands and on a hungry stomach. It was nevertheless a fruitful experience because the situation really simulated what I would encounter during actual performance or audition. I am glad that I was better at handling the nerves compared to before and I received really positive comments from my teacher and fellow studio mates.

(Picture on the left: Jennifer’s playing during the student recital.)

With studio mates and Jennifer

After a short lunch break, I headed off to chamber rehearsal in our performance hall. It was really fun to hear our sound reflected across the big hall. Mr Rudolph gave us some final advice and we were off to have our break before the performance.

Truthfully, I was exhausted, but maybe because of the nerves I could not take a nap as I wanted to. Instead I spent the evening cooking my dinner, doing my makeup, and had video calls with my family.

As it approaches the night, all of us get more and more nervous, and the weather did not really help because it turns very chilly during the night. Interestingly, me and my group mates all had very different ways in handling our nerves. I was doing deep breathing exercises, Sohrab was analysing the scores like he had never seen it before, Melissa was taking photos and giving encouraging talk to us and Axelle was chatting with other group mates. Maybe it was the adrenaline so our senses were heightened, maybe it was our determination to give our best, maybe it was the countless amount of rehearsals, I would definitely say that it was the best we have ever played as a group. Even though there were places that I wished that I had done it better, overall I am still happy for us.

(Picture on the right: Chamber rehearsal at performance hall.)

The highlight of the performance for the audience was probably the second last concert, where reputed musicians such as Augustin Dumay as solo violinist, Michel Dalberto on the piano, and Quatuor Mirages, gathered to perform. Everyone looked happy and satisfied and the applause was thundering. After that, we surprised them with our encore (actually the students were surprised too as we were only informed right before we went on stage haha), where all the musicians including students were invited on stage to sight 2 pieces together. It was fun to play beside our professors and we had a really great time.

(Picture on the left: Ensemble performance.)

Going back home, my suitemates and I already started to pack our things and also stayed up for a bit to have our last proper chat together in the living room as we would be parting ways tomorrow morning. Music festivals are always bittersweet memories for me as we always get to meet like-minded, kind hearted people from all over the world, but we always have to say goodbyes to each other in the end, not knowing exactly when we would meet again.

Day 13: 29 July 2023 (Saturday)

Oh! This morning was absolutely insane as we had to rush to clean the whole house and do our final packing before the person in charge came to check our rooms at 8.30am. What followed was a whole day of regretting about the amount of things we brought to the festival and carrying the luggage around to our destination haha!

I decided to change my train to an earlier time because I wanted to spend more time in Paris. I am so glad I did that because even though I only had extra two hours, I was able to enjoy Paris and visit the places that I wanted to go! I did not get to go inside to explore the architecture properly but I am satisfied with the limited time I had. I am so amazed by the gigantic architecture around Paris and it was a totally different experience from all the places I went before! It was really lively and busy outdoors even when most of the shops were already closed. People were seen everywhere spending time outdoors exploring and enjoying their meals and drinks in nice restaurants. It was so crowded around the Eiffel towers even when it was closed to 11pm. 

I ended the night with a brief plan to explore more places in Paris tomorrow morning, before drifting off to sleep.

Louvre Palace
Antique Apple Store
Musee De Louvre
Arc de Triomphe

Day 14: 30 July 2023 (Sunday)

Eyes already wide open at 5.45am, no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t go back to sleep. I decided to wake up, get ready to start the day earlier than planned, to explore. With the extra time I had, I decided to go to Pont d’lena, which is a bridge that my friend suggested me to go to take nice pictures with the Eiffel tower. I was hoping that I would be able to catch the sunrise, but it was a really gloomy and windy day, and the access to the bridge was blocked due to some repair work. But I still managed to take a nice picture beside the bridge with the Eiffel tower, luckily!

I then headed off to Montmartre. I was greeted by insane amount of stairs just from the metro to the exit of the station. I totally did not expect the climb to be such an intense morning workout for me haha! What followed was, well, even more stairs and steep slopes before I reached the Basilica of Sacre Coeur de Montmartre. The climb was totally worth it because the building is gigantic and absolutely spectacular! The view from the top was also breathtaking and I stayed there for some time to take some nice pictures.

Next, I went back to the city centre to visit their Opera House, but like all the other places, it was still closed because I was too early. After that, I quickly had a simple breakfast at a vegan cafe, and quickly headed back to go to the airport.

At 11am sharp, I was already waiting at the bus stop. The bus 88 was supposed to come at 11.20am to bring me directly to Chatelet, where direct trains to the airport are available. I waited and waited but no bus came, and I started to feel uneasy. I could not afford to wait for the next bus as it is another 30 minutes wait from 11.20am and what if it doesn’t come again? I would miss my flight!

Quickly, I remembered the app specially designed for Paris transport that I downloaded a few days ago and it came in handy. It was in French, but I was able to understand that it said that the next bus will also not be coming because of “work”. I quickly informed the guy beside me who was also supposed to take the bus, and ran to catch the earliest possible metro to the station.

The process in the airport was also quite confusing as it was showed on the board that we should check in our luggage at counter 7, but only find out when I reached my turn, that I should go to counter 5 or 6. I was so stressed by that time because it would be another really long queue, and my boarding time was coming close. Luckily I made it! There were actually many difficult and confusing moments like this throughout the trip as I moved from places to places but at the same time I am really grateful for the growth I got from the process. My journey to Malaysia ended with good meals and good movies on the flight. My heart is full.

Thank you Euroasia and Embassy of France in Malaysia for the experience!

Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre
Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre
Palais Garnier

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