In summer, driving around the by-ways of France, you’re sure to spot posters promoting concerts – often in out of the way places – and what a treat they are!
With wonderful classical French composers from which to draw inspiration, many of these concerts feature wonderful music. Joanna Leggett shares some of her favourite musical events and venues…
It seems amazing how out of the way places almost overnight translate into concert venues – churches open up their doors to provide perfect impromptu ‘pop up’ venues. When you hear glorious chamber music echoing around the stone walls of an ancient church as the setting sun sends shafts of light through stained glass windows refracting many coloured patterns over flagstones dating back many centuries, it adds another altogether memorable dimension – especially if you remember to take a cushion to soften the equally ancient wooden chair upon which you are likely to be seated.
Those closest to where I live are usually in early August. Each year a baroque concert is held in the local church, fortified in the 14th century to shelter villagers from marauding soldiers. Musicians come from across the Dordogne bringing music to the masses with little fanfare. Just imagine strolling a couple of hundred metres from home along the village street (clutching the cushion I only forgot once!) to be regaled with an almost out of body experience – truly magical.
But this is classical music on a smaller, more intimate, scale. All around France, throughout the year, there are musical festivals, of greater and lesser size, all designed to captivate and entrance.
La Folle Journée, Brittany
One of the first of these each year is held in Nantes in Brittany – La Folle Journée (the crazy day). For five days there are usually around 250 classical music concerts, each normally fairly short of just 45 minutes duration. Perhaps best of all they’re eminently affordable. The aim is to promote classical music while making it accessible to a wide audience. Each year a new theme is chosen – a tribute to a composer or a universal theme such as Harmony or Nature.
Of course Paris holds concerts year round and the Philarmonie de Paris alone performs more than one hundred concerts each season. Housed in a magnificent, state of the art building, its 2400 seat auditorium has outstanding acoustics and, since its inauguration in 2015, has hosted performances by some of the world’s greatest orchestras. Other venues in Paris include the Salle Wigram and the Louvre auditorium. There’s also the Musée d’Orsay, Palais Garnier and the Opera Bastille. Church concerts include the Église de la Madelaine and Sainte Chapelle. Outdoor concerts include those held on the edges of the Bois de Vincennes every weekend during August and September. And there’s a festival Chopin in the Bois de Boulogne, which is also the venue for an autumn festival each year.
Speaking of Chopin, an eponymous festival celebrating his works is held each year in Nohant in the Indre in central France. It takes place at the familial home of the infamous novelist, George Sand who was once his lover! They spent each of their summers here between 1839 to 1846. Surely it provided inspiration as he composed many works in Nohant, including his Polonaise in A Flat Major.
In early Spring Monte Carlo holds an Arts festival during March and April. Founded by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace this festival quickly made a name for itself. It’s considered remarkable for its scope, not least for the variety of unusual venues which range from concert halls to the Oceanographic Museum. Again the programme tends to focus upon different ‘portraits’ each year. You can expect works composed by everyone from Ravel and Bartok to Mozart and Beethoven.
Top Summer music events
Over the summer in Lyon, Nîmes and Orange it’s possible to indulge in wonderful concerts staged in former Roman arenas. Lyon plays host in the Gallo-Roman theatres of Fourvière in June and July to a festival which mixes internationally reputed with lesser known artists. Now the oldest festival in France, the Chorégies in Orange in Provence started back in 1869. It’s held in the perfectly preserved Théâtre Antique. The original stage wall standing 37 metres high guarantees exceptional acoustics and a fabulous atmosphere. Everyone who is anyone has performed here – including glorious performances from The Three Tenors.
A multitude of concerts
There are other annual festivals all over the country – including in Colmar and the Flâneries Musicales in Reims (both in Eastern France). The Saint Riquier festival takes place on the Somme Bay in Northern France. And the Berlioz Festival is held in Berlioz’s birthplace at La Côte St André each August (near Lyon).
Then there’s the 1001 notes festival held in the Limousin in a variety of venues. You can take your own picnic and feast during the interval. I went to one such concert once and a couple next to me produced a low table. They set it with white linen and a candelabra before producing champagne in a wine cooler! Taking their enjoyment to new heights – much to the envy of all!
In the South of France best not forget the Pablo Casals Festival celebrating the famous Catalan in Prades. And the Menton Music Festival held overlooking the Mediterranean under the stars on the forecourt of the Basilica. Plus magnificent festivals in Aix en Provence and Nice.
The Saint-Céré festival hosts 40 events in all sorts of historic settings around the Lot in South West France. Productions staged here go on a tour of France the following winter – a springboard for many a young singer!
From cantatas in ancient churches to philarmonia in large concert halls around the country, the choice is as large and wide as France itself!
Joanna Leggett is marketing director at Leggett Immobilier – you can view their full portfolio of properties for sale in France at www.leggettfrance.com