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Magical summertime music in the Lot, France

festival de figeac

My summer in the Lot area, south west France, has been filled with music and in August my friends and I attended a concert organised by the Festival de Figeac at the Chateau de Beduer which is located in the Cele Valley. We found seats and sat admiring the courtyard of this 11th century Chateau as dusk deepened and coloured flood lights illuminated the Chateau’s ancient stone walls. A gleaming Steinway grand piano stood center stage. As we waited for the 9 pm start time, however, we noticed dark clouds gathering overhead. They made the sunset beautiful, but as violinist Olivier Pons spoke his opening remarks, they began to spill a raindrop here and a raindrop there. The piano was quickly closed and covered; we waited ten minutes to see if Mother Nature was going to cooperate with this outdoor concert. She did…kind of.  The pianist, Risto Lauriala with Pons on the violin swept us through Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, and Pagnini, but as we applauded their superb performance, we began to be peppered with raindrops once more. The piano was again covered, but this time the crowd was shepherded under cover while benches and chairs along with the blanketed Steinway were moved into the galleried Salles des Etats, the grand reception room of the Chateau.

festival de figeac

While it was unfortunate that the concert had to be interrupted to relocate the audience and the musicians, it was an unexpected gift to be inside the Chateau. Privately owned, it is not normally open to the public and lacking sufficient funds to rent it by the week, this may have been my only opportunity to sneak a peek at its beautiful interior.

The musicians were hastily staged in front of the huge wall-to-wall, two-story 15th century stone chimney and hearth while the crowd filed in. The piano was quickly re-tuned.

Both the room and its gallery were packed with people on benches, chairs or even sitting on the stone floor, surrounding the musicians for a cozy and intimate finale to the evening. Pons and Lauriala were joined by violinists, Veronique Constant and Corinne Contardo, and cellist, Helen Linden. For the next 45 minutes we were lifted and lulled, inspired and intrigued by Dvorak’s QuintellaBeing so close to the performers, it became obvious just how physical a musical performance is. The cellist never sat still…she was leaning, swaying, and bouncing the entire time she was drawing her bow and plucking the strings of her instrument. Likewise, the violinists were tapping their feet and sometimes stomping them on a dramatic note, moving with the emotion of the music. It was midnight when the musicians took their final bow to the thunderous and appreciative applause of an enthralled audience. As we slowly made our way through the Chateau’s high arched medieval gate into the warm night air, you could feel the crowd sigh with satisfaction. It was an evening of magnificent music wrapped in the magic of a majestic Chateau. Summertime in the Lot! Who would want to be anywhere else?

This concert was part of a two-week series of events in conjunction with the annual music festival in Figeac. Professional musicians gather here to play and teach master classes. The concerts are the culmination of their hard work and hours of practice and are performed in churches and chateaux in our local towns and villages. You can visit their website for additional information: www.festivaldefigeac.com about participating in the master classes, purchasing tickets, and the concert schedule.

By Evelyn Jackson

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