Aaaaand…. we’re back!

IMAG1473 (1)We’ve made it back to Minneapolis!

We are SO INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL for everyone’s support and encouragement over the past months leading up to this amazing adventure of ours.

We are honored to be able to participate in such a wonderful program, and take very seriously our role as representatives of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the US.

Our goal is to establish a regular exchange of Art Song, music and ideas between Minneapolis and Tours, and look forward to future projects which engage communities and promote understanding of our equally rich and meaningful cultures!

bientôt!  -Mark & Clara

for more information on the Minneapolis Tours Sister Cities, please visit:

for more information on l’Académie Francis Poulenc, please visit:



Poulenc’s House & Final Concert

Our final day at l’Academie was possibly the most special.  After a group forum on the Festival, we piled into cars with our suits and gowns, and drove off to Noizay: location of our final concert, and of Poulenc’s estate.

This is the location of our last concert:



      Église de Noizay







This is an AWESOME picture of us rehearsing in the church (as you can imagine, the sound was pretty amazing!)


THEN the real experiences started.  We were given a tour of Poulenc’s estate by his descendants still taking care of his home.



this is his NIECE! (and his piano!)


This is a photo of him IN the studio we were standing!


same bookshelves!









THEN we got to play HIS music on HIS piano!



Then, we went back to the church, at a quick bite, did some sangin’, and were ready to celebrate!


with Colette Girard
Déléguée aux affaires culturelles


The Mayor of Noizay treated us all to some FRANCIS POULENC Vouvray!

(this was delicious!)




A quick photo shoot with François LeRoux (after a few glasses of Poulenc…)









And so ended our time at l’Académie Francis Poulenc!

Graham Johnson Masterclass

Today, we had the privilege of performing in a public masterclass with Graham Johnson.

‘…the indefatigable Graham Johnson – the one-man powerhouse behind a remarkable flowering of accompanied performance and recording over the past four decades.’ (Michael Church, The Independent).

Britten Book



The topic was songs of Benjamin Britten, of whom Mr. Johnson had known personally, and of whom he has written THIS amazing book.





We performed the first song A Cradle Song from his only cycle written specifically for mezzo-soprano “A Charm of Lullabies.”  It was actually video recorded for viewing on the web, and as soon as it is up, we will post that link, but until then, we’ll share some pictures our colleague at the Academie Manna Ito took of us (thanks, Manna!)


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(notice how Mark’s posture gets more and more collapsed as the pictures progress.  At lease the Alexander Technicians have job security, right?)
















It was such an honor to play for this giant in the field, and to be able to represent our colleagues at l’Académie, and another great memory from this adventure!

The rest of our day was full of coachings, and a lecture on song from Britain (the island, not the composer).

Thanks for all your 3am CST thoughts!  They paid off!


Dame Felicity Lott & Graham Johnson Recital

It was truly unbelievable.  It seems silly to even write about.  It was a program of Britten and Poulenc songs.  They are both astounding musicians, and have been working together for decades!  Here’s a sneak-peak (I apologize for the lighting.  My camera phone just doesn’t have a “radiant genius” setting!)Flott Bad

We then, after removing our jaws from the floor, and disposing of our tissues, were treated to yet another example of overwhelming generosity: a wonderful meal and conversation with Jane Bataille: former Twin Cities (St. Paul, but we chose to ignore it) native and friend of many at the Mpls-Tours Sister Cities.  Thank you, Jane for a wonderful evening!

Clara and I perform selections from “A Charm of Lullabies” for Graham Johnson in the morning, so I will stop there for tonight.  If you’re awake at 3am CST, send us some good energy!


First Concert: Le Temple

Last night, we participated in the first of the two public recitals at l’Académie : Auditions des Jeunes Talents de lAcadémie.




This is the Temple’s façade






These are a few of the inside (with Mark practicing).


These are the organ pipes:           each with it’s own face!IMAG1217



We were so moved by the level of musicianship our colleagues showed, and felt to honored to be able to perform alongside them.

The experience of working on, and performing Noel Lee’s music with and for his closest friends and colleagues is a memory neither of us will forget any time soon.  It was truly incredible

Temple 1

The text of the final work was a poem from Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal.  Lee’s setting ends in an extatic joyous piano solo, which truly captures this paradis.

Le Vin Des Amants
      The Wine of the Lovers
Aujourd’hui l’espace est splendide!
Sans mors, sans éperons, sans bride,
Partons à cheval sur le vin
Pour un ciel féerique et divin!Comme deux anges que torture
Une implacable calenture,
Dans le bleu cristal du matin
Suivons le mirage lointain!Mollement balancés sur l’aile
Du tourbillon intelligent,
Dans un délire parallèle,Ma soeur, côte à côte nageant,
Nous fuirons sans repos ni trêves
Vers le paradis de mes rêves!
— Charles Baudelaire Fleurs du Mal (1857)

Today space is magnificent!
Without bridle or bit or spurs
Let us ride away on wine
To a divine, fairy-like heaven!Like two angels who are tortured
By a relentless delirium,
Let us follow the far mirage
Through the crystal blue of the morning!Gently balanced upon the wings
Of the intelligent whirlwind,
In a similar ecstasy,My sister, floating side by side,
We’ll flee without ever stopping
To the paradise of my dreams!
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

temple 2

Je ne suis pas pientre (ou avocat ou médecin, ou comptable…)

The local paper in Tours: la Nouvelle République published an interview I did with one of their Arts correspondents.  It was a lot of fun, and included an impromptu photo-shoot.

Click HERE for the link to the article.

Here is a rough translation en anglais (thank you, Ed Coughlin!)

An American Tours for Francis Poulenc

Musicien Poulenc
Mark Bilyeu arrives from Minneapolis, American sister city of Tours. –
(Photo NR, Sophie Girard)

For two weeks, the American pianist Mark Bilyeu (and Clara Osowski!) participates as a young talent at the Academy Francis Poulenc. On the program: music, encounters and … recital.

Mark Bilyeu is not a painter. He is a pianist. His favorite music is not that of Gershwin. The young man prefers compositions by Poulenc, Ravel or Noel Lee.  Yet, as in the film Minelli, the young American falls in love with France, Tours in particular.Mark Bilyeu is in Touraine for two weeks. The young man of 27 years, a native of Minneapolis, is one of the young talents from all over Europe, the U.S. and Asia involved  in this month end Academy Francis Poulenc.

The program for these talented students, singers and pianists,  includes private lessons, master classes, seminars, public performance and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the great names in music, including baritone François Le Roux, pianist Graham Johnson orEnglish soprano Felicity Lott.  I had the opportunity to meet François Le Roux, last year in Vancouver. I loved working with him. Since then, we’ve  stayed in touch. I really wanted to participate in the Academy Francis Poulenc in 2012. But it was too late. “Just by chance, Mark discovered that Tours was twinned with the city Minneapolis. “I contacted the association that takes care of the sister cities relationship in Minneapolis,  and they gave us all their support, their network, their logistical support. They raised funds to pay for our travel and organized our homestay accommodation here , “says the enthusiastic young pianist who has just completed his accompanist degree at the University of Minnesota.

Mark came to Tours with his compatriot mezzo soprano Clara Osowski. The two have worked together often over the past year.

 For this occasion, they created a recital combining French music and works by American composers from Minneapolis: “We contacted, for example, the composer Stephen Paulus who had written a piece for baritone. We asked him if he would like to adapt it for a woman’s voice. To our surprise, he said yes and sent us a new score.”
The duo hopes to play this recital before the end of the Academy on August 30. Mark Bilyeu, an American in Touraine.
The Francis Poulenc Academy moved to Tours until August 30. Public appointments are scheduled, including
-Saturday, August 24, 20 am: Hearing of Young Talent Academy at Temple, 32, rue de la Préfecture in Tours.
-26, 27, 28 and 29 August to 9 pm 30-12 pm Master class public in the auditorium of the Faculty of Musicology, rue Francois Clouet.
-Monday, August 26 at 20 pm, recital Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson, Grand Théâtre de la Scellerie.
-Friday, August 30, 20 am, closing church Noizay.Information and reservations: and www.melodiefrancaise.comDelphine COUTIER

We had more coachings, and lessons today, as well as a WONDERFUL dinner hosted by the Bodis family in their backyard.  No pictures: sorry!  We were too busy enjoying the punch (read: rum with limes and ice), amazing food, and singing/playing the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes (with 2 pianos, 8 hands, and 15 voices) FUN!!
If you haven’t ever heard the Liebeslieder Waltzes, click HERE to listen to an incredibly astounding recording featuring:
Heather Harper, Soprano
Janet Baker, Mezzo-soprano
Peter Pears, Tenor
Thomas Hensley, BaritoneBenjamin Britten & Claudio Arrau, piano duet
Tomorrow we have our first concert: we’re going to be playing TWO of Noel Lee’s Quatre Chants sur Baudelaire which we are VERY excited about doing.  It’s a really fantastic privilege, and we’re so grateful to the Academie for allowing us this opportunity!
Now: sleep!