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Two chiseled countenances go face-to-face in Paris on Saturday: CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti and my pal Denise Serafim.

Concertgoers in Orchestra Hall’s terrace seating, just above the musicians, know Maestro’s visage well: concentrated intensity on the opening downbeat; a raised ethereal glance when melodies unfold; the quick, approving chin nod between movements, and a whiplash pass that sharpens codas. The bemused chuckle with string principals during bows.

Fourth in a series: Exploring ties between the CSO’s hometown and cities on its 2014 European tour

Those looks will be new to many Parisians seated in five rows behind the stage at Salle Pleyel, the CSO’s fourth stop on this 2014 European tour. Concerts are Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

For all of us here in Chicago wishing we were there, Denise will be, front (or rear) and center Saturday at her first-ever CSO performance.

She’s got the middle seat, first row behind the brass, so when Chicago’s Neapolitan-born conductor looks straight ahead, he’ll always spy an enthusiastic granddaughter of Italy.

parisbody1xDenise — who actually lives in Brasília — is like family to me. This autumn she’s realizing every mom’s dream. Her employer, husband and daughter have encouraged her to take a three-month sabbatical to master French in Paris.

Her rare Chicago visits always miss CSO season, and Brazil’s capital isn’t exactly first stop for touring orchestras. That’s why we’ve chosen Saturday as the centerpiece of her Paris cultural calendar.

The musicians up close are new to Denise, but she’s no stranger from a distance. Whenever I visit Brazil I stuff my luggage with symphonic contraband — favorite Muti CDshistoric CSO telecasts, recent CSO Resound releases pre-downloaded on the obligatory smuggled iPhone so that customs thinks it’s used equipment. I grab 3/4 violin strings for her daughter, Raphaela Serafin Rulli Costa — the name alone ensures virtuosity — and, of course, every trip there brings tales from here about the strength and artistry of an ensemble Denise’s long hoped to hear.

We’re using that iPhone, now roaming in Paris, to ready her for Saturday. Whenever Denise’s near a Montmartre café with Wi-Fi, she’ll shoot me a text on WhatsApp, the mobile messaging service (ask your kid), and I’ll toss some Chicago musical musings back.

parisbody2xIt’s not easy — thumb-scribbling about Tchaikovsky with a spell predictor that’s always suggesting “Tchau,” which ends our WhatsApp exchanges before they begin. Muti’s people might want  to exchange words with software developers — whenever I type his surname on the iPhone, it keeps offering “nut.”

(Apple’s choppy, erratic FaceTime video calling isn’t much better. Our struggles with missed English and cut Portuguese while chatting about the CSO concert’s French, German and Russian repertoire evoke Brit screenwriter Richard Curtis’ rom-com language tangles.)

Denise texts from Paris at 10:21 p.m. “Now let’s wait for Saturday le grand jour.”

I’m back to her moments later, 3:24 p.m. my time, “It’s going to be a great concert. The orchestra means a ton to all of us here in Chicago, and I’m thrilled you’re finally able to see Maestro Muti and the whole crowd — up close!”

After a minute, “What is whole crowd?”

Two more, then me: “70 or so Chicago musicians (and, since you’re sitting behind the stage, lots of Parisians watching them).”

The reply? “Ah.”

I pick up there. “What to look for? In Chicago, Maestro finished the Tchaikovsky Symphony 4 by quickly sweeping both hands right to left — from the basses to the violins – and making a little jump that took both feet off the podium. Will it happen again in Paris Saturday?”

At 10:25 p.m., Denise’s confident it will  “oui oui.”

Will she be right? On Saturday afternoon, Chicago time, I’ll camp by my cellphone, waiting for her pre-concert queries, intermission selfies and post-show critique.

After a September of CSO Tchaikovsky with eagle-eyed spotters in Orchestra Hall’s terrace seats and 20,000 Chicagoans outdoors at Millennium Park, this October I’ll know these works from Paris, personally removed but digitally involved, as they’re thumbed out on WhatsApp by a CSO first-timer who’s long sought this opportunity 😉

Next in the series: Vienna in Lincoln Square.

Andrew Huckman is a Chicago-based lawyer and writer. 

View the post-concert photo gallery: Denise Serafim à la Salle Pleyel (click VIEW GALLERY above).