The 67th edition of Festival de Musique de Menton continues to live up to its praise as the “Seventh Wonder of the World”.
Much has been said about the Festival of Music in Menton in its 67 year history. Comparisons to events at Carnegie Hall in New York or the Berlin Philharmonics have never been far off, and for good reason. For many years now, it has belonged to the cultural highlights on the annual international concert calendar. And this year’s edition, again under the capable artistic direction of Paul-Emmanuel Thomas, is no exception: musicians ranging from the greatest international performers to highly promising talent come together in Menton from July 30 through August 14 to create unforgettable memories of exceptional concerts in a three part series.
High above the glistening Mediterranean Sea, at the feet of the Saint-Michel Archange basilica, the magical, torch-lit Parvis St. Michel provides the breathtaking open-air scenography for the central event of the Menton Music Festival, aptly named the “Greatest Performers” series. And it is here that Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi, a star among stars, opens the festival on July 30. Elisabeth Leonskaja, “The Last Great Dame of the Soviet School”, and American “poet pianist” Nicholas Angelich are just two names of the star-studded programme performing traditional classical music faithful to the composer’s vision but other artists, like German musical star Ute Lemper or British a cappella vocal ensemble The King’s Singers, blur the boundaries with more contemporary interpretations.
July 30 – Patrizia Ciofi, soprano
July 31 – Edgar Moreau, cello
August 2 – Jan Lisiecki, piano
August 5 – Elisabeth Leonskaja, piano
August 6 – The King’s Singers, a cappella
August 7 – Ute Lempert, musical/cabaret singer
August 9 – Boris Berezovsky, piano
August 11 – Nicholas Angelich, piano
August 13 – Renaud Capuçon, violin and Khatia Buniatishvili, piano
August 14 – Lars Vogt, piano
Concerts au Musée
When Jean Cocteau, beloved son of the “Pearl of the Riviera”, visited the festival 61 years ago, he said, “Nowhere else can you find a place further away from your daily routine, a more unusual place, one suspended high above the void, than this Festival of Menton.” And he certainly was right. The exquisite museum that now bears his name hosts the “Concerts au Musée” series, features one hour recitals principally dedicated to the piano. Gifted soloists, who despite their young age are already embarking on impressive international careers, showcase their talent here. Primus inter pares, Kit Armstrong, the 23 year old musical prodigy (and math genius) who since 2005 has been studying under Alfred Brendel, one of the undisputed maestri of the 20th and 21st century, and Geoffrey Couteau, already a regular in the most prominent concert halls from Paris to Rio.
August 3 – Nelson Goerner, piano
August 4 – Juliette Hurel, flute, and Hélène Couvert, piano
August 5 — Lise Berthaud, viola, and Adam Laloum, piano
August 6 – Geoffrey Couteau, piano
August 8 – Alexandra Soumm, violin, Yan Levionnois, cello, and Ismaël Margain, piano
August 10 – Kit Armstrong, piano (pictured above)
August 12 – Arod Quartet, strings
August 13 – Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, cello, and Martin Helmchen, piano
This series, sprinkled around town between Esplanade Francis Palmero, Square des Etats-Unis, and the Saint Michel Archange Basilica is the place for the novice to classical music. Free concerts, all professionally performed but with an accent on fun and playfulness, allow the casual concertgoer to easily immerse in the genre without a perceived pressure of “high culture”. Along with the concerts, the audience is also invited to join the celebratory “Messe du Festival” in the Basilica on Sunday, August 7, as well as guided visits of the venues and conferences around music.
July 29 (pre-opening concert) – Spark, The Classical band
July 31 –The de Kanazawa Orchestra Ensemble’s String Quartet
August 2 – Loic Lafontaine, piano, and Domitille Gilon, violin
August 3 – Sirba Octet
August 5 – Stéphanie Perrone, violin, Jacques Perrone, cello, and Giselle Armana, piano
August 8 – The Z. Bron Violin Academy
August 9 – The Z. Bron Violin Academy
August 10 – Trio SR9 – percussions
August 11 – Respiro Quintet, tango ensemble
August 12 – Thibaud Trouche, piano
For venue, time, and price for all concerts listed above, please consult the full programme.
67 years after André Böröcz, a Hungarian first-time visitor to Menton, first discovered the small medieval town suspended halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains flanking it … 67 years after he followed a crackling radio on a window sill playing the Bach partita that would inspire him to create the first Festival, the magic is still at work. And thanks to the energy and dedication of generations of artistic directors, melophiles the world over have long since put Menton on a par with New York, Berlin or Salzburg, just minus the snob factor. Azureans are fortunate indeed to have this jewel of a festival within easy reach.
All images courtesy Festival de Musique de Menton / Office du Tourisme de Menton; photo Kit Armstrong © Neda Navaee