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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL PREVIEW
 

Festival de Valloires, Argoules, Picardie, France.  8 – 13 August : Melanie Eskenazi previews the third Valloires festival, and talks to its founder and director, Adam Gatehouse (ME)



Roses are shining in Picardy
In the hush of the silvery dew
Roses are flowering in Picardy
But there’s never a rose like you 

The wonderful gardens of the Abbaye de Valloires, just about an hour and a half’s drive from the Tunnel, have always been known for their magnificent roses, and in a tribute to the 1st World War song, the classic rose grower David Austin introduced the ‘Rose of Picardy’ here in 2004, created to symbolize the shared history and culture of France and the UK. Valloires has other resonances for both British and French visitors: this region, so steeped in history, is a favourite with Londoners fortunate enough to have weekend and holiday boltholes within easy distance, and the serene yet flamboyant abbey is at the centre of a most idyllic pastoral region. The little Authie Valley has everything that crystallizes rural beauty – gentle rolling hills, fast-flowing streams, rustic mills, secret flower-lined pathways – and since 2006 it has also been graced with a Chamber Music Festival of an excellence to rival that other musical feast set in a scenic jewel, Schwarzenberg in Austria.

This wonderful festival, now entering its third year after two exceptionally successful seasons, was the creation of Adam Gatehouse, Editor of live music at BBC Radio 3 – no stranger to innovations, he was responsible for the ‘New Generation Artists’ scheme as well as the BBC Wigmore Hall Lunchtime Concerts – but surely, setting up a major music festival in what is, after all, the middle of nowhere, must have been a huge challenge, not least in getting artists to come there? ‘Not really – I just asked them and they said yes.’ The philosophy from the outset was to base the festival around not only the ‘greats’ but to also bring in some of the younger, emergent talents, and this year’s festival is rich in both, with the mezzo Christianne Stotijn, the pianist Cédric Tiberghien and the violist Antoine Tamestit amongst those representing the newer generation of artists.

Those of us lucky enough to know this area well are delighted yet not surprised that it should have been chosen for a festival. ‘I did look in the Limousin, but felt that though it was in many ways a perfect setting it lacked the infra structure needed, whereas the area around Valloires is so perfectly placed – only 90 minutes from the Tunnel and ports for visitors from the UK, a couple of hours from Paris, easy to reach from Brussels, Amsterdam and so on, and my instinct was right – our research shows that we have an international audience, with many visitors from Britain, the Netherlands and Germany as well as our core French audience which has been so supportive.’ As well as this international quality, Adam has consciously tried to make it a festival with a different feel – not the stuffy atmosphere you get in many international festivals, but informal, although of course if people want to dress up they’re welcome!

He says that it is the special atmosphere which makes Valloires unique - ‘With its church seating 380, superb cloisters, and this wonderful collection of eighteenth century buildings which allowed me to fulfil one of my ambitions for the artists, which is that they should be accommodated onsite, this lends the festival a unique feeling of intimacy – artists and audience have dinner together and they absolutely love this. We look after our artists very well – they get wonderful rooms, there’s a pool and of course those glorious rose gardens to wander in.’

In keeping with this, the decision was made to keep it simple and intimate –it was assumed that next year it would expand into two weeks, but that’s not what Valloires is about – people can come for the whole week if they want to, or just one or two concerts and not feel that it’s a forced process. It is quite intense, with 14 major concerts over six days, not counting other related events and exhibitions - people can base a holiday around it, and the present writer intends to do just that.

They don’t pay huge fees at Valloires, but artists come for the atmosphere and the place, and it must have helped to get acceptance for the Festival that it could come with such wonderful singers and chamber musicians from the outset. The framework is a simple one, centring each festival around one classical composer and one from the 20th century. Last year it was Beethoven and Shostakovich, and this year it’s Schubert and Britten.

Imogen Cooper opens the week with a recital of Bach and Schubert on Friday August 8th and on the 9th Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake will perform Schwanengesang. On Monday 11th, Paul Lewis will give a recital of Mozart, Ligeti and Schubert, on Tuesday 12th Mark Padmore and Imogen Cooper will perform Winterreise – and these are just the highlights of what reads like the plums from a whole Wigmore or Carnegie season, compressed into one week in the most idyllic of surroundings.

Various tempting booking options are offered – as well as choosing individual concerts you can have a weekend or a weekly pass, there are free concerts around the cloisters, and just to put the icing on the cake you can book lunches and dinners, to be eaten in the wonderful abbey dining room ‘en famille’ with the artists. The website is www.festival-valloires.com.

Melanie Eskenazi


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