Coming Events: Festival Bounty Awaits In France


DATE BOOK — A traveler could easily have a rich festival experience without leaving Paris. In addition to regular season performances of opera and ballet at the Paris Opera through July 16, several festivals take advantage of spectacular historic settings and important performing venues. It seems every evening is filled with performances in extraordinary venues far from the regular tourist circuit. But if Paris is too crowded with soccer fans, one can follow the example of the French and get out of town. Here’s a small sampling of options for those who stay and those who prefer to roam.

In north Paris suburb, Festival de Saint-Denis celebrates French artists

May 26-June 29: Festival de Saint-Denis – Full details

For Gothic splendor, skip the routine performances of Baroque warhorses at Sainte-Chapelle and ride the No. 13 Métro line north to Saint-Denis, a working-class suburb just over the city line. Looming above the town is the 12th-century Saint-Denis Cathedral Basilica, housing the remains of every French king since Clovis; it’s well worth a visit even without music. In its 30th year, the Saint-Denis Festival fills the huge space with major orchestras, with an emphasis on French artists; smaller-scale programs take place in the adjacent Légion d’honneur, a former cloister.

Raphaël Pichon will lead Ensemble Pygmalion. (Manuel Braun)

The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, under Mikko Franck, opens the festival with Mahler’s Third Symphony (May 26-27). The gifted young conductor Raphaël Pichon will lead his Ensemble Pygmalion in Bach’s Magnificat and Mendelssohn’s 42nd Psalm (May 31). Donizetti’s Requiem (June 8) and the final act of Stockhausen’s Samstag aus licht (June 17) venture into more unusual repertoire. A recital by the Basilica’s organist, Pierre Pincemalle, offers a chance to hear the first instrument created by France’s most revered organ maker, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (June 12). The festival concludes with the traditional Beethoven Ninth Symphony, with Michele Mariotti leading the Orchestre National de France (June 23-24).

Exquisite musical gems in courtly settings crown the offerings at Versailles

May 30-July 9: Versailles Festival 2016 – Full details

To experience the French High Baroque, take a commuter train in the other direction to the placid bourgeois town of Versailles. No more than a ten-minute walk from the station, the palace lies at the end of a tree-lined avenue, a splendid, improbable mirage. Under Louis XIV, the original 15th-century chateau was expanded and enhanced with an immense tract of gardens and groves, and a huge and intricate system of waterworks. These embellishments united with architecture, the decorative arts, music, drama, and dance to bolster the Sun King’s reputation as a near deity.

In the 700-seat jewel-box Opéra Royal you can see recitals by Cecilia Bartoli (May 31), Patricia Petibon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra (June 14), and Lang Lang (July 5). But to best appreciate the exquisite theater, see a Baroque opera. Hervet Niquet’s Le Concert Spirituel performs Boismortier’s comic Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse (June 11-12), and Collegium 1704 from Bratislava stages Vivaldi’s Arsilda, regina di Ponto (June 23 and 25). Even without fluency in French you’ll get the jokes in Moliere’s play Le bourgeois gentilhomme, of the Comédie Française, with Lully’s incidental music directed by Christophe Coin (June 3-5).

While performances take place year-round in the Opera House (completed less than 20 years before the Revolution), the Royal Chapel, and the Hall of Mirrors, the Festival expands its offerings into the vast gardens, the fountains, and more intimate venues like the Grand Trianon. Installations by Olafur Eliasson, this summer’s artist-in-residence, should add an unexpected note to the historic property.

Performances of sacred music in the Royal Chapel include the Gabrieli Consort in Handel’s Dixit Dominus (June 4) and Handel’s Ode to Saint Cecilia by the Kammerorchester Basel and the Leipzig Radio Choir (June 11). In the Hall of Mirrors you can attend a Serenade Royale, a 40-minute program of Baroque dance performed every Saturday at 6:30. From 8:30-10:50 attendees can stroll the gardens and groves, enjoying the extensive fountain display, with lights and (recorded) music, ending with fireworks just before 11. And on the final evening, the Petit Trianon, the pavilion built for Louis XV’s mistress, is the headquarters for a gala event, with mini concerts throughout the property and an open buffet (July 9), inspired by the royal fêtes champêtres of Versailles’s heyday.

All over Paris, IRCAM’s ManiFeste switches on to music’s latest currents 

June 2-July 2: ManiFeste 2016 – Full details
Partch's 'Delusion of the Fury' is headed to IRCAM's ManiFeste
Harry Partch’s ‘Delusion of the Fury’ is headed to IRCAM’s ManiFeste.

For something more current, IRCAM, Paris’ institute for music research founded in 1970 by Pierre Boulez, presents ManiFeste, a series of concerts and training institutes devoted to contemporary and electronic music. The 28 events include concerts of music by Salvatore Sciarrino, Beat Furrer, Helmut Lachenmann, and Rebecca Saunders, among many others, along with dance and mixed media events. A highlight is Heiner Goebbel’s Ruhrtriennial production of Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury, taking place in the historic Grande halle de La Villette, a 19th-century wholesale market pavilion now part of the music complex that includes Jean Nouvel’s new Philharmonie. Go early to have time to check out the new building and the music museum, or just to enjoy the park. Other concerts take place throughout Paris in newer venues like Renzo Piano’s Pompidou Center and the shabby-chic Bouffes du Nord.

A Provence classic, Festival d’Aix ranges into opera’s wider new world

June 30-July 20: Festival d’Aix – Full details

Situated half an hour north of Marseille, the ancient Roman spa town of Aix is host to the most prestigious of France’s summer festivals. Opera, orchestral and choral concerts, chamber music, and recitals comprise a very busy schedule, with over 60 events in five venues.

High-profile opera offerings include Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, directed by Katie Mitchell (who directed Written on Skin in 2013). Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra and a dream cast headed by Stéphane Degout and Barbara Hannigan. (July 2-16). This year’s Mozart opera is Così fan tutte, in a new production by Christophe Honoré and the resident Freiburg Baroque Orchestra conducted by Louis Langrée or Jérémie Rhorer (Jun 30-July 19). Handel’s Il Trionfo del tempo e del disinganno unites conductor Emmanuelle Haïm and her ensemble, Le Concert d’Astrée, with the provocative Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski (July 1-14).

At the outdoor Théâtre de l'Archévêché, opera is a Festival d'Aix tradition.
At the outdoor Théâtre de l’Archévêché, opera is a Festival d’Aix tradition.

The world premiere of Moneim Adwan’s Kalila wa Dimna, based on a fourth-century collection of didactic fables considered a classic in the Arab world, will widen the musical vocabulary beyond Europe (July 1-17). And Peter Sellars continues his association with the Festival with a staging of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Psalms, with Salonen conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra (all productions provide surtitles in French and English).

Plenty of chamber music and recitals by well-known artists and Academy students fill out a very busy month. Just be sure to leave time to enjoy a cool beverage in a cafe on the tree-lined Cours Mirabeau, with Roman fountains along its way, or an excursion into the lavender-and-herb-scented countryside.

At France’s oldest festival, the Chorégies d’Orange, sit as Romans did

Jul. 9-Aug. 6: Chorégies d’Orange – Full details

Opera lovers will also want to take in a performance at the splendid ancient Roman amphitheater at Orange, in the Rhône valley north of Avignon. Dating back to 1869, France’s oldest festival historically presents few performances – only seven this year, but with 8,500 seats there’s room for everyone.

The Chorégies d’Orange dates back to 1879, the seats to Roman times.
The Chorégies d’Orange dates back to 1879, its seats to Roman time.

This summer’s repertory includes Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, with Mikko Franck conducting and a cast that includes Ermonela Jaho and Bryan Hymel (July 9 and 12); Verdi’s La traviata conducted by Daniele Rustioni, with Diana Damrau, Francesco Meli, and Plácido Domingo (Aug. 3 and 6), and a strongly cast Verdi Requiem, with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse conducted by Tugan Sokhiev, music director of the Toulouse and Bolshoi symphonies (Aug. 3).

Facilities are minimal, so bring a seat cushion, a jacket, and even rain gear against cool evening temperatures and possible showers.

Music and wine at an iconic Burgundy Clos, a convergence of pleasures

June 18-26: Musique & Vin au Clos Vougeot – Full details

Away from Provence and on a different scale, two choice, intimate festivals exemplify a more typical French approach to summer music festivals. Rather than grand international events drawing crowds of international visitors, these are small gatherings on a local level that enhance the music in combination with the other senses.

The famed wine domaine, Clos Vougeot
Burgundy’s storied Clos Vougeot is now home to a music festival.

From June 18-26, enjoy fine Burgundy wine and chamber music at Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeot, founded in 2008 by Met Opera concertmaster David Chan. For nine days the storied chateau (no longer in active production) becomes headquarters for wine tastings and concerts. Most evenings begin with an optional wine tasting at 5 p.m.; the concerts begin at 6:30 and end well before sunset, in time for dinner. The festival opener is a free performance at the Halles de Beaune, Burgundy’s main wine auction house, with the Orchestre des climats introducing the winner of a Young Artist prize, this year soprano Hyesang Park (June 18). Chamber music played by Met Opera Orchestra members and friends fills the week, and the closing orchestral concert, conducted by Charles Dutoit, with soloists Ildar Abdrazakov and Gautier Capuçon, will be followed by a gala dinner and wine auction at the chateau. As a happy local journalist put it: “It’s pleasant to apply oneself to the understanding of these two forms of creativity in the company of musicians, winemakers, and our companions.”

William Christie gives 16th-century Thiré chateau a musical landscape

Aug. 20-27: Dans les jardins de William Christie – Full details (available June 2)

If you’re very lucky – perhaps while visiting the châteaux de la Loire, or if you’re willing to drive a bit – in the out-of-the-way hamlet of Thiré, midway between the Loire valley and the Atlantic coast, you can join guests enjoying music and la vie douce “In the Gardens of William Christie.”

dans-les-jardins-de-william-christie-2015-(julien gazeau)
Restored gardens are home to the chamberfest ‘In the Gardens of William Christie.’

The American-born harpsichordist and conductor, who spearheaded the revival of French Baroque repertoire, has been creating a dream landscape on the grounds of a 16th-century chateau he acquired some 30 years ago. In 2012 he opened his property for performances by the musicians of Les Arts Florissants, along with ensemble interns and students from the Juilliard School as well as the art of of the garden.

Informal open-air concerts take place afternoons throughout the property (no chairs, the audience stands or sits on the grass), along with guided tours of the gardens. Evenings there are candlelight concerts by the reflecting pool, followed by a short walk to the Thiré village church for a 30-minute musical meditation to end the evening in peaceful contemplation. For the second year, winners of a competition for young landscape designers will construct a temporary performance space on the grounds.

Unlike the intense and glitzy festival scenes at Salzburg or Bayreuth, Christie’s week invokes more Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, an experience of nature enhanced by the gardener’s art, by exquisite music, and by their enjoyment in good company. It’s akin to the original delights of Versailles, smaller in scale but more relaxed and inclusive. And isn’t that the most restorative kind of vacation?

Susan Brodie writes about music, the arts, and life from New York City and Paris. Follow her at @Susan Brodie (Twitter) and Toi Toi Toi!