Easter Festival in Aix-en-Provence: masterful classics against a Mediterranean backdrop – CULTURE

Provence! The Blessed Land stretches between the mouth of the Rhone River and the Alps, where pines, cypresses and olives grow, where lilacs sparkle in the midday sun and the roofs on the rocky, limestone coast seem to glow especially red. The region in southeast France is famous for its good herbs and wonderful paintings – and its A-cities, such as Arles and Avignon and of course, Aix-en-Provence, the region’s historical capital, Paul Cézanne’s birthplace.

The Opera Festival, which takes place every July in the courtyard of the Archbishop’s Palace, was founded more than 70 years ago as the “Salzburg of the South”. And since a setting like Aix is ​​too good to be used only in summer, there have also been Easter festivals here for a number of years – as in Salzburg. The Pâques Festival was revived in 2013 by busy violinist Renaud Capuçon as art director and Dominique Plouzet, director of the Grand Théâtre de Provence in Aix.

It is a modern building that opened in 2007 together with Wagner’s Die Walküre. Where the enthusiastic applause began: the Easter festival ended with Brackner’s Seventh Symphony. Nine musicians hug each other on stage, laughing and relaxed, including a streamer (lead clarinetist Daniel Ottensamer) and a former member (double bassist Alois Bosch) of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Wait a minute nine? In the Bruckner Symphony? That’s right, it’s the chamber music version, with piano and harmonium, arranged by Hans Eisler. Suddenly, this massive cathedral-like music sounds great, light and incredibly accessible, and the vocals and sophistication are more understandable than the heavy orchestral bass. Capuçon later said, “I’ve wanted to perform this for a long time.” His goal is to surprise his audience: with a young talent or rarely performs business. When designing the program, he compares himself, very French, to a chef.

Finally with the audience again

The festival lasted two weeks, with more than thirty concerts. The total number of visitors of 25 thousand did not pay much money. Compared to other Easter festivals, Aix is ​​cheap with ticket prices ranging from ten to sixty euros. Exclusivity is not the priority, everyone should be able to come.

Capuçon considers the fact that there is an audience at all is the greatest event of the year. As is the case everywhere, the 2020 Pâques Festival has been completely canceled, and in 2021 it was staged a gushing tour. Two years after the epidemic, he now wanted to give the French orchestra a stage, such as the Orchester Philharmonique de Radio France. At the opening, Das played Mozart’s Requiem, with Barbara Hannigan on the podium, in her own specialty: leading and singing the soprano part at the same time.

Beethoven, The Complete Drone: The Triple Concerto with the Orchester National des Pays de la Loire.Photo: Caroline Doughty

Mass ideas, requiem mass, couldn’t be further from a stroll through Aix. The city is incredibly small, thanks to the university’s various faculties in nearby Marseille and its conservatory, where the professionals who came to the Festival de Pâques gave master classes – a nice way to build bridges in the academic scene. Cours Mirabeau’s tree-lined plane sparkled in the afternoon light when Emmanuel Macron once again managed to save France from a right-wing populist president.

But there is no trace of politics here. The Cours Mirabeau is the most important park in Aix, and like many of the streets (the term goes back to the word “fort”), it is laid out along the city walls. Bubbling fountain at its end, Fontaine du Roi René. A smiling statue looks at the viewer: Rene I of Anjou, also known as “Rene the Good,” was the last Provencal ruler in the late Middle Ages before the region was incorporated into the Domaine Royale, in other words: in the kingdom of France – regarding France.

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Fountains and springs in general, are characteristic of the city, even the Romans loved to bathe here: the name “Aix” comes from the Latin word “aqua”. Water often flows directly from the facades of bright yellow houses, also in the Mazarin district, which was built on behalf of Michel Mazarin, brother of the famous cardinal. One wanders through areas that have naturally existed since the Baroque era – a revelation for visitors from Berlin, where the architectural memory goes back at best to the founding of the Reich in 1871, but mostly only to the fall of the Wall.

Living history in a historical setting

The break between tradition and modernity is thinner here, and the continuity is much greater than in Germany, where many things that had not been bombarded meaninglessly for decades have been torn down or neglected, and then excessively renovated. And now she stands there like a Kaisersaal on Potsdamer Platz: sterile, cut from its history, bereft of any soul.

(www.festivalpaques.com. Three concerts are available at Arte Concert, including the opening concert with Barbara Hannigan. The summer opera festival opens July 4 with Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, followed by Strauss’ productions “Salome” and “Idomeneo” by Mozart” and two performances International for the first time (Information: www.festival-aix.com)

Fortunately, this also comes from Germany: great music, plays an important role alongside French repertoire (Ravel, Franck, Messiaen) at Festival de Pâques: Bach’s Violin Concerts, Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes or Brahms’ Liebeslieder, sung by Rachel Harnisch and Marina Viotti at the small Théâtre de Jeu de Paume. Then in the evening: Beethoven, the full boom. First the Trio Concerto with Trio Zeliha on the three solo instruments, then the Eroica. Gabór Takács-Nagy runs the Orchester National des Pays de la Loire – he’s rarely seen someone on the podium throw themselves completely into the music. With almost 70 years, a bar literally does not go unplugged – the score may seem terribly frenetic and artificial, but no, it works, the musicians dedicate themselves to Beethoven with a passion that is aware of details.

The following evening, Reno Capuson escorted Martha Argerich to Steinway. The two have known each other for 20 years, and you can hear it: in Schumann’s sonata for violin and piano. 105, in Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” – and in César Frank’s Master Sonata. Two very familiar people make music on their own on the big stage: it’s almost Buddhist and meditative, it’s energetic. Touching experience. Capuçon says he’d like his festivals to be “attractive.” Tonight it becomes clear what he means by that.

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