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A Belgian-born doctor who once practiced in Africa, Jean-Paul Bierny has been a radiologist at Tucson Medical Center for 27 years. But he has a whole other volunteer career, as a passionate promoter of chamber music. The acclaimed Arizona Friends of Chamber Music have been bringing top-quality chamber music to the Old Pueblo for more than 50 years, and Bierny has been leading the group for almost half its life. In recent years the Friends have staged a world-class festival, and published CDs of the concerts to sterling reviews.
TW: WHY IS TUCSON A GOOD PLACE FOR CHAMBER MUSIC?
There's a long tradition of good music in Tucson; there's always been very good music here. Great musicians used to stop over on the their way from Texas to Los Angeles by train. Our chamber music society is entering its 51st year, with a very faithful following.
TW: WHAT'S THE BEST THING ABOUT YOUR TUCSON AUDIENCE?
They're extremely attentive and they're very open-minded about any kind of music, provided it's good music and well played...It's not a conservative chamber music society at all. We've even gotten into official commissioning of new works. Now, we have four composers lined up with whom we've signed contracts to compose new works for us. It's always been a tradition for us to try to have a 20th-century piece on every one of our concerts' programs, whenever possible.
TW: WHAT'S THE BEST THING ABOUT LIVING IN MID-TOWN?
I really wanted to be able to bicycle to work by using little side streets. It's one of the reasons I bought my house. I take Third or Fourth going east, and I come down on Beverly. I can vary my route. There's a lot of these side streets. The major bike route follows Third Street. It's very safe. In addition, I wanted to be within easy driving distance of downtown. That should be the heart of the city, where the action should be.
TW: WHAT'S THE BEST THING THE CITY COULD DO FOR BICYCLISTS?
The most effective thing is the bicycle path, separated physically from the car traffic. There's very little of that except on Old Spanish Trail. There should be a lot more of that. Every time a street is built, it should be given consideration at least.
TW: WHY DO YOU EAT LUNCH AT VIVACE ALMOST EVERY WORK DAY?
Vivace (4811 E. Grant Road) is within easy biking distance of TMC, and it's delicious. They accommodate me. They let me sit at a table close to the door so I can keep an eye on my bicycle. They have something different for me every time, lightly grilled vegetables with a sauce. They make a special pesto for me, a high-octane version, much thicker than the usual one. They prepare fish wonderfully. Their salads are great, too.
TW: WHERE ELSE DO YOU EAT?
When I'm in my car or have a little more time on my bike, I can go to Char's (Thai Restaurant, 5039 E. Fifth St.). I love that place. I bring the musicians in the festival there. We take a table and everybody shares all kinds of dishes. They love it. And it's not too expensive. For Mexican food, there's nothing equal to Café Poca Cosa. And I love (owner) Susana Davila--one of the most lively, lovely, interesting women in town.
TW: WHAT'S THE BEST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN TO DOWNTOWN?
There should be a lot more patios downtown. There should be a wonderful little square lined up with arcades just across the street from the cathedral (San Agustín). It's the ideal spot for it, instead of those desolate-looking parking lots. There should be little cafés all over the place. The cathedral is a beautiful building. It should be the center of interest and activity in town. There should be a fountain, that kids could run in and out of. There should be a kiosk. Musicians could play there.
TW: WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO TUCSON?
Basically it was the desert--beautiful, rich desert. And cowboys and Indians: I'm a little Belgian boy. So silly, but it's the reality. Then those mountains. I just fell in love with this combination of the desert, and then those islands in the sky.
TW: WHAT'S THE BEST THING ABOUT TUCSON'S CULTURE?
There's been a symphony for a long time, there's been theatre for a long time, chamber music, of course, and access to movies is very easy. There are excellent bookstores. The Book Mark is a fantastic bookstore, and Bookman's is a very good for used books. All kinds of interesting people live here. So many great painters: Jim Waid, Jim Davis, Brenda Semanick.... There are a lot of very good writers in town, including Barbara Kingsolver. But of course chamber music for me is number one. That's engulfing and devouring my whole life.