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Gay Classical Piano Night stars Jacqueline Jonee & Jean Pierre


                                                                      by Denise Dell Harbin



The stage of The Community House was graced last weekend with two virtuoso piano players! Jacqueline Jonée and Jean-Pierre Lemarié treated us to a Gay Classical Piano Night, following the gay life of Handel, Schubert and Tchaikovsky with a brilliant script read by Jacqueline, the stage name of John (Jack) Nieman.

It was more than apropos, as our little theatre was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and America’s oldest operating Gay Theatre…with gay themes and players since 1948!

Jean Pierre started with Handel’s Chaconne in G Major G229 with 21 variations. He explained that a Chaconne is a musical composition in moderate triple time typically consisting of variations on a repeated succession. This one had 21 repetitions, yet never sounded repetitious! In Baroque times, these were accompanied by a dance. Most of us probably just think of Handel as writing the Messiah, the Christmas staple in music.

What evidence do we have that Handel was gay? Mostly the crowd he hung out with. And when asked about women, he said “I have no time for them”.

Next we learned of the gay life of Franz Schubert from Jacqueline’s slightly naughty narrative and Jean-Pierre played Drei Klavierstücke (Impromptus aus dem Machlass) D. 946, including #1 in E Flat minor – Allegro Assai; #2 in E Flat Major – Allegretto and #3 in C Major – Allegro.


Schubert died at 31…of syphilis. People assume his passion spread from his sexuality, making him one of the best composers ever..


Jean-Pierre used no music for these pieces, and one wonders how he memorizes so much music. “I just do” he answered when I later asked! Brilliant!


After a brief intermission where we shared beverages in the Pavilion with the elegant crowd who attended, Jacqueline joined Jean-Pierre for a series of 4 handed pieces at the piano.

Jacqueline did not give us a gay history on the very gay Leonard Bernstein, who composed West Side Story. But the two played several songs from the play and movie: I Feel Pretty; Maria; One Hand, One Heart and America. The audience hummed along softly to these familiar masterpieces.



Ms. Jonée went back to her book and read, as if a fairytale, the story of Peter I. Tchaikovsky. Hard to be gay in Russia then and now! Together, the four hands played Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker. Another familiar piece to the rapt audience!


And finally, Jacqueline gave us an inside look at the life of Camille Sant-Saëns. Jean-Pierre, who was born in Paris and lived in France until he came to New York just in 2010, gave Jacqueline a little ribbing on her pronunciation, which she accepted with a little ecoutez et repitéz and great aplomb.


Sant-Saëns gave us Le Carnaval des Animaux with Fossiles, Le Cygne and the Finale.

A virtuoso pianist, Saint-Saëns excelled in Mozart and was praised for the purity and grace of his playing. Similarly French characteristics of his conservative musical style - neat proportions, clarity, polished expression, elegant line – reside in his best compositions. He also wrote 'exotic', descriptive or dramatic works, including four symphonic poems, in a style influenced by Liszt. Le carnaval des animaux (1886) is a witty frolic and after writing it, he became very serious; he forbade performances in his lifetime, except for 'Le cygne'. Not to worry, he left this earth in 1921. From the mid-1890's he adopted a more austere style, emphasizing the classical aspect of his aesthetic which, perhaps more than the music itself, influenced Fauré and Ravel.


The composer himself denied he was gay, but was rather “a pedarest”. He married at 40 and quickly had 2 sons, both of whom died tragically at a young age. Oh, social pressure! He then disappeared and left his wife. He died in his 80’s in Algiers, still a French colony, and a well-known vacation spot for French homosexuals. He became just another to die in denial.


Jean-Pierre became playful in this section, jumping up and physically moving the Diva Jacqueline to the other side of the bench. And at one point, he got behind her and moved his hand around as if cranking her up. Not allegro enough for the master? It looked like they were both having great fun! And the audience laughed along.


I later asked Jean-Pierre why pieces were written for four hands on the piano. He explained that people lived far and wide, and could not always travel to where an orchestra was playing. So the pieces were adapted for four hands, to add the lushness of the orchestra through a second pair of hands! Necessity…again the mother of invention! And invaluable in our small theatre, that could not host a real orchestra


Most of the audience was graciously invited back to the home of Jean-Pierre and Fidel, right on the Bay. As most know, the Bay gardens suffered much damage in Hurricane Sandy, but Fidel has restored his yard and it was laden with beautiful flowers. What a wonderful night!


Denise Dell Harbin, Publisher