When the envelope arrives from this music festival,
you clear everything off the dining room table. You unplug the phone,
get a half dozen pencils (with erasers), a large notepad and spread
out the 2 X 2 1/2 ft (60X75 cm) schedule of events and begin to formulate
tactics for dealing with this event. It is not easy.
Since its beginning eight years ago, "La Folle Journée
á Nantes" (The Crazy Day at Nantes) has been a combination of
a regular music festival and the idea of Woodstock. The festival's director,
René Martin, had the daffy and diabolical idea to take a month-long
music festival and cram it into a single weekend. So there are actually
three crazy days during which you have to choose between 200 different
concerts spread out in seven different halls. Be sure to pack a canteen
of water in your backpack and plenty of things to nibble on. The scheduling
might not include a food break.
The festival, from January 25 through 27, this year
featuring the twin giants Mozart and Haydn, occupied the entire huge
Congress Centre in Nantes. Like Woodstock, concerts are performed from
morning to night and, like Woodstock, it is possible to overdose - but
in this case it could be an overdose of these two classical masters.
The huge convention centre is divided into different sized venues and
given appropriate names: Auditorium Esterházy (2000 seats), Salle
Salieri (800 seats), Salle Da Ponte (300 seats), etc. At any one time,
there could be Haydn symphonies in one hall, a violinist playing sonatas
in another, a piano quintet in a third, a flute and harp concerto in
a forth. A series of lectures by noted scholars on Mozart and Haydn
are being held, of course, concurrent with all the other events.
Each time you select an artist or composition you want
to hear, you will miss six or seven other performers or groups in the
other locations. By the time you have made a final decision about each
concert you want to attend, taking care that you are not hearing the
same work twice in the weekend, your scheduling chart might look more
like a Jackson Pollock painting than anything else.
The performers were mostly young-but-already-important
performers with a few greying veterans in the mix (like master pianist
Nelson Friere and conductor Charles Dutoit.) An emphasis on historically
informed performance practice is evidenced by groups like Concerto Köln
and La Petite Band who share stages with the more traditional Orchestre
National de France and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra.
For example, if you like the intelligent young pianist
Frank Braley - one of the rare pianist who knows the difference between
passion and bombast - you would find ample opportunity to hear him here.
He has performances on all three days, including Sunday's Mozart Sonata
for Four Hands, K. 497 with Anne Queffélec (6:30pm, Salle Solomon)
and a late Saturday night concert with Haydn sonatas and the Mozart
Sonata in F, K. 332 (11:15pm, Salle Da Ponte). But if you heard the
buzz about the young cellist Gauthier Capuçon you only have one
chance to catch him in concert with the Orchestre National Bordeaux
Aquitaine, Hans Graf conducting, at 11am on Saturday playing the Haydn
Concerto in C.
If you like big works with chorus, Friday evening featured
the Mozart "Requiem" K. 626, with the Ensemble Vocal et Instrumental
de Lausanne, conductor Michel Corboz. This was followed immediately
- and appropriately, I guess - by Haydn's "The Creation" with Marcus
Creed conducting the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and the RIAS-Kammerchor.
Still want more? Saturday had the "Seven Last Words of Christ" of Haydn
(version for soloists, chorus and orchestra) with the Sinfonia Varsovia
and the Chamber Choir Accentus at 4:15pm in the Auditorium Esterházy
(Accentus just a few days before received an award on national television
as "Best Vocal Ensemble.") Later, at 8:15 in the same auditorium Charles
Dutoit conducted the Orchestre National de France in a blazing performance
of Haydn's "Mass in Time of War." Can't stop now? This was followed
by another K. 626 Requiem (the second that day!) Near midnight you could
hear Mozart's "Vesperae solennes de confessore" (K. 339) and a "Missa
Brevis" (K. 259) all performed by Peter Neumann conducting the Collegium
Cartusianum and the Kölner Kammerchor.
If you forget your alarm clock you might not wake up
in time to make Marcia Hadjimarkos playing works by Mozart and Haydn
on a restored 1789 pianoforte at 9:30am Sunday. If your inclination
is toward the quartets, the big ones are all in Nantes for the festival:
the Prazák, the Ysaÿe, the Festetics and the Lindsay, along
with the hot young Trio Wanderer.
The audiences here dress informally. Going up and down
the stairs, you find families lunching on the steps, young people listening
to music on headsets, musicians in tuxedos talking to audience members,
couples consulting their maps for the next concert location and lots
of children. This festival is affirmatively democratic and, with an
average ticket price of about 10 euros, parents can bring their (mostly
well-behaved) children and many do.
It might be good counsel to unwind a bit and add on
a day or so and see the old part of Nantes and sample some of their
famed seafood restaurants. This gathering, certainly one of the most
intense, provoking and popular (almost 100,000 tickets sold this year)
of those ever-increasing festival venues around France, could very well
influence the structure of festivals as we know them. Young audiences
grew up with sensory overload and this one certainly provides that in
abundance. The success of this critical mass of young talent and the
media attention it engenders makes this one of the most discussed of
the French musical happenings. The festival website, www.lafollejournee-nantes.com
has all the information and next year, we understand, will feature Italian
masters. You have been warned.