She regained all her colors. On the square of the same name, the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church has just completed eight years of work. The vault has regained its blue, the columns their red and the frescoes their complexion. It is in this colorful setting that pianist Shani Diluka played for 1h20 this Thursday evening. The concert marks the fourth day of the 23rd edition of the jazz festival in Saint-Germain-des-Prés (May 13-20).

Around two hundred people met under the pointed arches of the building. Most are in their sixties, but not all. Rudy Gatti, 23, has just finished his master’s degree at the Conservatoire national de Paris. The person who walks onto the stage is none other than one of his teachers. The young musician followed his lessons at the Rainier Academy in Monaco. “I don’t really know what to expect, but I can’t wait to experience the quality of the acoustics, to see how it’s going to sound,” he admits, waving his hand at the entire nave. He says he is “captivated by the decor” and stamps impatiently in his chair.

The star of the evening has just sat down at the Steinway grand piano

The Monegasque artist of Sri Lankan origins, spotted at six years old by a program initiated by Princess Grace of Monaco, would first like to thank the donors of the place. Microphone in hand, she indicates that “in the ceiling, there are stars. Each star represents a soul, that of a patron who contributed to the renovation of the church.” The restoration of the decorations of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church, right in the middle of the jazz district, took place from 2016 to March 2024. Géraldine Santin, communications manager for the festival, struggles to contain her excitement. “It’s the big return of the festival to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church, the emblem of the neighborhood. This evening, we are entitled to a unique repertoire in a unique place,” she exclaims, proud of having been able to “invest in heritage places that are not directly dedicated to jazz,” such as the Saint -Sulpice, the Odéon theater or the Alliance française.

In fact, the event marks a double renovation, that of the building which hosts it and that of the festival itself. This evening, the audience will not attend a traditional jazz performance, but a classical piano concert. Liv Chatellier, a 19-year-old student, did not expect it and was nevertheless “pleasantly surprised”. Just before the first piece, the pianist presents her program to her audience. She asks them to be “open-minded,” since she wants to “bring the world of classical music into jazz.” Thus, the works of Jean-Sébastien Bach rub shoulders with those of Moondog, “the celestial tramp from New York fascinated by Native American culture”, those of the jazzman Keith Jarrett or the minimalist Philip Glass.

The audience holds their breath. We must admit, the acoustics of the place are incredible. The notes of the piano invade the nave, rise to the ceiling, reverberate along the bays and up to the transept. Although we have asked to turn off the phones, some shyly raise theirs above their heads, to get a good shot of the virtuoso. Some shoulders shiver, several have tears in their eyes. Frescoes recounting the life of Jesus overlook the pianist. Even the saints stood still. A statue of one of them even seems to lean forward to better hear the concert. Surprisingly, each piece is juxtaposed with the one after it. It is therefore difficult to distinguish them from one another. If one moment you feel like you’re in an opera, the next moment you’re transported to a posh Manhattan restaurant. The themes overlap without eating into each other. Some songs have such a fast pace that the notes overlap each other. The student, struck by the quality of the harmonies, calls one of his friends by telephone and puts the speaker on, so that he too can enjoy it from a distance.

Regularly, the soloist interrupts and gets up again. In a few words, she explains and justifies each part of this repertoire. Shani Diluka tells us about these artists, these jazzmen, these classics. Philosophy fits into these chants: “What is truth? Veridis quo ? I think that’s the theme of this concert,” she deciphers. She quotes Camus, Kerouac… And it is precisely with a piano cover of Daft Punk’s hit Veridis quo that she decides to conclude the performance.

Its strength is to create links between everything. Between classical music and jazz, but not only. She invokes American and French literature, Gothic architecture, electronic music, the popular and the scholarly, Schubert and Jarrett. These dyads arise from a desire: to perceive these “fraternal bonds which recall those that men have between themselves”, according to her. The one who has just released a new recording with Warner Classics, Pulse, said she was contacted by Max Richter. He would have offered to dedicate his next piano concerto to him. A concert would be expected in 2026, at the Philharmonie de Paris.