Page 80 of The Protege

Valmary,

The pain isn’t too bad today and I’m not too stoned to write. I know you’re angry but it’s my decision to keep this from her, not yours.

I don’t get her smiles, or the sight of her over the breakfast table, or hear her questions or see her doing her homework or the million other things that make up a life. But thanks to you I get her music. And I get to know she’s happy. It’s better this way. I’ve got nothing for her but sadness and disappointment. You’re standing between her and all that pain, protecting her from it.

I suppose this is me saying thank you. For being someone that Isabeau deserves. And for loving her, like I know you do.

Laurent

Epilogue

MARRIED TO A MAESTRO: INSIDE THE CONTENTIOUS UNION BETWEEN LASZLO AND ISABEAU VALMARY

On the eve of their relocation to Bangkok, biographer EVANGELINE BELL talks with performance power-couple Isabeau and Laszlo Valmary about music, marriage and making waves in the classical music world.

When I arrive at the Valmarys’ London home I’m greeted by a barefoot Isabeau in a cream dress, her long auburn curls tumbling over one shoulder. “Come up and see the music room,” she says to me with a welcoming smile. “It’s the best place in the house.”

Just twenty-one, the soloist exudes the confidence of a young woman used to the spotlight. Sitting down at her cello she treats me to an unaccompanied performance of her signature piece, Saint-Saëns’ The Swan. Her playing is filled with the honesty and pathos which has earned her critical acclaim and the hearts of audiences during a recent three-night performance of the Brahms Double Concerto with violinist Hayley Chiswell in Birmingham.

While she plays her husband appears, as if drawn by the sound of her cello. Laszlo Valmary stands in the doorway watching her. It’s a sight he must have witnessed a thousand times over the years since Isabeau came to live with him when she was just eight years old, but to look at him one would think he was hearing her for the first time.

Valmary, thirty-eight, is polite though reserved, and shakes my hand with a firm grip, his hazel eyes guarded and assessing. I’ve heard rumors that husband and wife play together often, him accompanying her on the grand piano that stands on one side of the room. When I ask if he’ll perform something too he tells me there’s coffee downstairs in the living room and turns away.

“We’re not sure what to do with the house,” Isabeau explains when we’re settled on the sofas. “It’s Laszlo’s family home and he doesn’t want to sell it. I’ll be flying back and forth between London and Bangkok a lot for performances so I’ll stay here. Hopefully other touring friends will be able to use it as well. There should always be music in this house.”

Valmary was recently appointed as musical director of the new Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and will begin auditions for orchestra members as soon as he’s back in Asia. “I’m very keen to gather new talent around me and shape the orchestra’s sound,” he tells me. “There’s a huge appetite for classical music in Asia and the audiences are open to experimentation.”

Image, above: Laszlo and Isabeau embrace on the sofa in the Hampstead home they’ve shared for most of the last thirteen years. Isabeau twists her fingers through his hair. “It’s always too long,” she says, referring to what she calls his conductor’s mane. “Should I cut it all off?” he teases.

On the mantelpiece are photographs, mostly of Isabeau over the years, and she takes me through them. Isabeau as a child of eight playing a three-quarter size cello in the room upstairs. “Laszlo bought it for me not long after I came to live with him because my instrument—my mother’s instrument—was too big.” Isabeau onstage with the RLSO at age fourteen as she plays The Swan in a pink dress while Mr. Valmary conducts. A candid shot of a teenage Isabeau looking exhausted but happy sitting cross-legged amid a sea of instrument cases. “Laszlo took that while we were on tour in Edinburgh.” A photograph of their wedding day two weeks earlier, which is the only picture Valmary appears in. It shows Isabeau in a long white lace bridal gown and tiara and Valmary in a grey suit and black tie. The couple are embracing, their profiles to the viewer, Isabeau leaning close as if to whisper secrets to her new husband, pink roses clutched in one hand.

“It was all done in such a rush,” she explains with a breathless smile. “But it was the most perfect day.” When she resumes her seat her hand slips comfortably into his, and his thumb rubs absently-mindedly over the diamond ring on her left hand.

On a nearby coffee table I notice a few more pictures that include the conductor: Isabeau and Valmary backstage at an event that I recognize as Isabeau’s last performance with the Royal London Youth Orchestra on the night of her eighteenth birthday. Isabeau notices me looking and regards the pictures, chewing her lip. “We’re not sure where to put these photographs. It was a very happy night but…it’s complicated, too.”

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