From local insider tip to internationally noted event in just seven short seasons – the Festival de Musique de Chambre St. Paul de Vence did it.
Time flies: the Festival de Musique de Chambre St. Paul de Vence is headed into its seventh edition this July. What started out as an idea of a bunch of idealistic, musicophile young locals back in 2011, has rapidly become not only an insider tip… not only a staple… but a serious classical music festival that attracts high calibre names and an international audience. This is not an easy feat to accomplish, given that the venerable Festival de Musique de Menton, arguably Europe’s Number One in its genre, is happening roughly at the same time and only a mere 50 kms (34 miles) away.
But the organizers of the St. Paul de Vence festival are anything but daunted: they put their cards on a simple formula: a programme that features a mix of known artists and gold nuggets to be discovered plus an idyllic location equals a festival that is rapidly gaining international recognition. This year’s six magnificent concerts, set against the idyllic medieval ramparts and framed by sweeping vistas of the Vence valley, are the perfect showcase for the artistic breadth as well as for the message that classical music is very much alive, and needed.
20 July – Bertrand Chamayou
The young French pianist plays the overture to the festival on July 20, bridging two of his personal favourite composers, Maurice Ravel and Franz Liszt. At only 36, he has already arrived at the highest echelons of the international music scene, performing in prestigious venues such as the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Lincoln Center, the Herkulessaal Munich and London’s Wigmore Hall, and appearing at major festivals. Tim Ashley, the Guardian’s renowned music critic, raved about Chamayou’s interpretation of Liszt, combining weight with smoothness, as “simply formidable… the outer movements of Venezia e Napoli bristle with fierce energy, while the central Canzone is all brooding morbidity. Chamayou’s technical wizardry was never in doubt for a second…”
22 July – Anne Gastinel and Claire Désert
Anne Gastinel’s violoncello and Claire Désert’s piano invite the audience on an introspective journey, meeting Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin along the way. The two musicians frequently perform together, and their collaboration bears a rare note of grace and femininity. Both started their careers early on in life and are sought-after guests at concert halls and festivals all over the world. Fanfare Magazine wrote, “The gifted French pianist Claire Désert is known equally as a fine chamber musician and a memorable Schumann interpreter. Her recordings of Schumannʼs Novelettes, Davidsbündlertänze, and Intermezzi are among the best accounts of these works, graceful, colorful, and mercurial.” About Anne Gastinel, the world’s leading classical music review magazine Gramophone, an enthralled critic comments, “There is no doubt that for Anne Gastinel this is love. Her performances of the Bach Cello Suites hold them in a firm and passionate embrace which must leave them in no doubt of her devotion. For the woman who for a while had the loan of Casals’s cello (she now plays a 1690 Testori), these are clearly not pieces to be taken for granted, and she duly conjures an air of celebration right from the start.”
23 July – Trio Owon
Founded in 2009, Trio Owon today is one of the musical formations most in demand internationally. It consists of three exceptional musicians, all of whom are also leading soloists in their genre. Olivier Charlier has never sought public attention and yet has imposed himself as one of his generation’s best violinist who is invited to play with the world’s most notable orchestras. Pianist Emmanuel Strosser has won numerous prestigious awards and prizes for his sensitive play which has also earned him the label “piano poet”. And Korean-born Sung-Won Yang, a cellist of international reputation, has been called “an immensely accomplished artist with a huge sound and a way of playing that is lyrical and intense without a hint of preciousness”. The trio will perform a concert entirely dedicated to Russian composers Rachmaninoff, Chostakovitch and Tchaikovsky.
25 July – Emile Parisien & Roberto Negro (Fondation Maeght)
Telerama summed it up best: “A piano, a saxophone, and the night ahead. If the saxophonist is someone as spontaneous as Emile Parisien and the pianist is a poet like Roberto Negro, that gives you a crazy desire to be there.” Add the romantic setting of the Mirò Labyrinth at the Maeght Foundation, and it’s magic in the making. Hailed as “one of, if not the best new European jazz saxman”, Emile Parisien is always good for a surprise, and has been tapped by the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, or Johnny Griffin to play with them. His friend and stage partner Roberto Negro, himself an up and coming pianist who has caught the critics’ eyes and ears, play a jubilant, visionary piano in perfect complement. The originality and creativity with which this duo adapts Ligeti’s “Métaphorphoses nocturnes” is nothing short of spectacular. A breath of fresh air in the contemporary jazz scene.
26 July – Daishin Kashimoto & Eric Le Sage (+ Quatuor Modigliani)
No edition of the Festival de Musique de Chambre de St. Paul de Vence is complete without Quatuor Modigliani. Tonight, the string quartet accompanies two superstars: London-born Japanese Daishin Kashimoto, first violinist of the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, brings a unique breadth and depth to his play that is a reflection of his globe-spanning upbringing and studies. Pianist Eric Le Sage, praised for his “subtle sound, clever and poetic phrasing, and real sense of structure” (The Times), has significantly shaped and defined today’s French School of piano. On the programme, the elegance and sophistication of Brahms, Fauré and Frank – making this concert, without a doubt one of the highlights of this year’s festival.
28 July – Quatuor Modigliani
The seventh edition’s final chords are performed by the French string quartet that is at the origin of this beautiful annual musical gift to St. Paul de Vence. Quartuor Modigliani, formed by four close friends in 2003, is a regular guest of the world’s top venues and rightfully considered “…one of today’s best quartets in the world, noted for their balance, transparency, symphonic comprehension, and confident style, their performance reache[s] a very high and inspiring level” (Süddeutsche Zeitung). Amaury Coeytaux (violin), Loic Rio (violin), Laurent Marfaing (viola) and François Kieffer (cello) take their bows to Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Debussy.
Created from Quatuor Modigliani’s desire and the enterprising spirit of artistic director Julien Kieffer, and supported by a mayor and community readily open to the idea, the Festival de Musique de Chambre St. Paul de Vence is a treasure to be discovered and to be revisited year after year. “It seems to me that in today’s uncertain – and often troubling – times, the role of music, and of the arts, is indispensable because of the emotions they stimulate and the meetings they bring about. I hope that these shared moments may be a time that is as relaxing as it inspiring. These universal works, which have withstood time and challenges, and these outstanding musicians are certainly an invaluable source of inspiration,” so says Julien Kieffer, the festival’s director. An ever-increasing number of visitors could not agree more with him…
All images courtesy Festival de Musique de Chambre St. Paul de Vence