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The Art of Improvisation: Lutoslawski and Raisins de la Colère
©2013 John Axelrod



Considered by many to be a masterpiece of the 20th century,
Lutoslawski's Symphony 3 is a work of genius, however, it remains rarely performed; and, with the 100th anniversary of the composer in 2013, his works, and particularly this symphony, will hopefully become better known. I was therefore very happy to conduct this symphony recently for the Biennale in Venice and inspired to find the wine that would evoke similar qualities.

The Raisins de la Colère, a varietal from the Domaine la Tour Penedesses, from the Languedoc region, south of France, is, like the Lutoslawski in that it is very underrated and a masterpiece from the first sip.

This wine, made from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grape varieties, is grown at an altitude of over 400 meters, allowing the grapes to keep their freshness, acidity and finesse to making this the "vintage of the summits," with a great potential for both aging and collecting.

Unknown partly due to the fact that only 5,000 bottles are produced of this special wine. Yet, connoisseurs and wine lovers should be informed. And the more people order it, the greater quantities will be produced. It is available directly from the winery or at any retailer, including those in Germany and Austria. However, I am surprised to discover so many wine shops have never even heard of it, much less remembered its exciting label of matadors and bullfights. Yet, each time someone tastes this special wine, they ask if they can purchase more. Lutoslawski is the same. Give people one listen and they are hooked.

It is not only the full taste, intense fruit and sugar, and deep tannins that are remarkable. It is the improvised way in which it is made that creates the impression of something unique and always new. Unlike most wines that are easy to define, this wine captures the imagination, and, because the wine is produced only when the conditions at such high altitude are right, some bottles taste dramatically different than others, yet always at a very high, refined and delicious level.

Lutoslawski was deeply influenced by the aleatoric, chance methods of John Cage. Yet, despite the technical mastery of avant-garde compositional style, Lutoslawski maintained his roots in romantic music. Even though the symphony is written around different episodes, rhythmic motives and themes that demand improvisation from all sections of the orchestra (and the conductor to some extent), the music still requires a constant attention to sound, to beauty, to refinement and elegance, elements necessary to perform symphonic works from Schumann to Brahms to Mahler. The 1st movement is the palette of material, with different aspects being defined by their rhythms and dynamics and musical shape, most of which are improvisations held in fermata. The 2nd movement and Epilogue are the culmination of all this material into grand melodic statements.

This is the art of improvisation, where freedom of form and expression become a sum greater than the individual parts. The
Raisins de la Colère is also a wine greater than its individual grapes. What is at the heart of both the music and the wine is the artistry of the composer and winemaker. Happy 100 Witold and Na zdrowie!