Held in the Isère département of the Rhône-Alpes region in late summer, the Festival Berlioz has earned itself a reputation as an unmissable rendezvous in the classical festival calendar. The event’s location is all the more significant, as the town of La Côte-Saint-André, near Grenoble and Lyon, is the birthplace of the great composer.
There is a further resonance between the impetuous romantic music genius and the festival. Berlioz was not one to shy away from grand statements and he often composed and directed ‘larger than life’ performances, featuring hundreds of voices and instruments, which lent themselves particularly well – or rather almost required – an event of equivalent scale for their delivery. It could be said that he was one of the original promoters of the ‘festival’ format – as far back as the 1830s, he was organising musical gatherings around a theme or an idea, which would often end in a generous banquet, and used to refer to these occasions as having a ‘festival-esque’ nature.
The 21st edition of the Festival Berlioz is themed “Berlioz en Amérique: Au temps des Révolutions Industrielles”, as a nod to the voyages that he could have made during his role as member of the Fine Arts Academy of Rio de Janeiro, had he accepted any invitations from Emperor Pedro II. This year’s programme evokes the technical and artistic revolution that fascinated Berlioz and incited his exchanges between the New World and Europe.
The festival is set to open with a “monster concert”, which will unite 1,000 musicians under the baton of Nicolas Chalvin, performing works by Berlioz, Spontini, Gluck, Rossini and Beethoven. The festival’s line-up includes both North and South American participants – from the likes of Chile, Brazil, the USA and Argentina. These storied performers include soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci and mezzosoprano Kate Lindsey, the brothers Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, maestros Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Leonard Slatkin and François-Xavier Roth, and pianists Roger Muraro and François-Frédéric Guy.
The venues hosting the concerts will be the Halle Médiévale de la Côte-Saint- André, the courtyard of the Château Louis XI, a number of churches in Côte-Saint-André and the surrounding area, and also at the Domaine de Brangues, Couvent des Carmes and the Usine Saint-Siméon-de-Bressieux.
The Berlioz festival is much loved for its winning combination of high musical standards and a convivial social atmosphere.
Tip: Bring a light jacket as late-summer evenings in the Isère can get slightly chilly.
Festival Berlioz, August 21-31, 38 place de la Halle, 38260 La Côte-Saint-André. Entry price is from €10 – concert packages available. Transportation: There will be a special bus link to and from Grenoble for the evening concerts: €5. Tel: +33 4 74 20 20 79
From France Today magazine