Festival focus: Musique et Vin8:26, 24th October 2018
Charlotte Gardner reports from Musique et Vin, where programming meets palate.
‘Wine is not simply an alcoholic beverage’, says Bernard Hervet, director of the Burgundy music and wine festival Musique et Vin, which he runs with New York Met concertmaster David Chan. ‘It’s a part of a civilisation, culture and art; and in Burgundy, which has so many different climats, the links with music are especially strong, because in the same way that different musicians can respect the score but still have their own musical interpretation, you can make a wine a little bit different from the next even whilst respecting the terroir. Also, with both wine and music, you don’t need to speak the same language to share the same emotion.’
These words, glowing with love of their twin subject, were spoken to me over a cafe table in Beaune this past June, as I paid my first trip to what must be not only one of the most joyful and relaxed festivals I’ve ever visited, but also one whose support for young artists is of a scope and scale that absolutely dwarfs its physical size and international profile.
Taking place over eight days at the end of June and consisting of around seven concerts accompanied by wine tasting dinners, Musique et Vin was established after wine-loving Chan approached music-loving Hervet, then of the Domaine Faiveley vineyard, looking for a musical excuse to continue the wine-tasting trips he’d begun making each year on his way to the Verbier Festival. ‘My wife Catherine Ro, who also plays violin for the Met, suggested that I should perhaps look into a way to make them happen on somebody else’s wallet,’ he laughs.
Chan’s original idea was small: a single concert for twenty or thirty people in a space nobody had to rent, such as a living room or a wine cellar. However the appetite amongst the vignerons and their buyers was immediately so huge that this first concert in 2007 – a simple 40-minute recital from Chan and Ro – ended up being played to two hundred people at the vineyard Chateau du Clos Vougeot, which had lent itself out for free.
The following year saw the first official festival: three chamber music concerts at Clos Vougeot, accompanied by wine tastings and dinners, and now with a festival team comprised of Hervet as director, Chan as artistic director, Domaine Romanée-Conti’s Aubert de Villaine as president, and as general secretary Daniel Weissman, who at the time was artistic and general director of L’Orchestre Dijon Bougogne, and who now heads up the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liege.
Then things grew. First came a free concert in Beaune’s Grande Halle, designed to be non-intimidating to classical newcomers. Next came two annual young talent scholarships of 10,000 euros, one for a singer and one for an instrumentalist, which are funded by a final night charity auction at which wealthy collectors gladly pay over the odds for rare magnums and double magnums donated by the vignerons. These two annual scholarship holders also perform at the festival alongside established artists.
These days the festival also attracts major soloists, such as violinists Janine Jansen and Renaud Capuçon. Yet even with such names, it’s wine that informs how they’re programmed. ‘Take this year,’ says Chan. ‘Svetlin Roussev and Jean-Yves Thibaudet are playing violin and piano sonatas in the first half of their concert, but in the second half they’re joined by the festival’s resident Quartet 212 of Met musicians to perform Chausson’s concerto for piano, violin and string quartet; because when we’re promoting the idea that wine and music are the two universal languages, universal languages have to speak to each other and not just play independently on alternate nights.’
We’re promoting the idea that wine and music are the two universal languages
Back to the charity auction, and soon this was raising too much money. So, aware that fine stringed instruments are increasingly out of financial reach of young artists, and also of the quality of the instruments being made by today’s luthiers (who themselves need support), the idea was hatched to commission 33 new stringed instruments. Each one’s label would carry the name of the maker, the name of one of the 33 grand crus of Burgundy, and the name of the sponsor. Young musicians could then audition to have them on loan for three years.
To date, the fund boasts eighteen instruments, and the generosity from all concerned has been phenomenal. Take festival visiting artist Yo Yo Ma, who allowed French luthier Frank Ravatin to make an exact copy of his 1712 Davidov Stradivarius cello. Or Stefan-Peter Greiner, maker of Christian Tetzlaff’s much-admired violin, who produced a copy of a Guarneri de Gesu violin for the festival in eight months when his waiting period is usually up to five years, and who is now working on a quartet for them.
The loan period is far more fluid than most schemes, too. ‘The rule is the right person at the right moment, and also to be honest with us,’ says Weissman, who leads the commissioning and auditioning. ‘I’m not going to take it away from you until you’ve really finished your studies, because that’s awful. So instead I keep in regular personal contact with each instrumentalist, and each year they re-audition so that we can know that they’re making progress. This also helps us to know whether we can be giving them further career help, such as making a contact for them.’ Then when it is time for an instrument to be returned, the young artist has the option of its luthier making them an identical one, and selling it to them at the price it was when the original was made.
One further heartening educational triumph of the festival is that it hasn’t even just been growing the younger generation. ‘It’s been a journey of personal growth for me as well’, muses Chan. ‘As a young musician, the thing I found hardest professionally was trying to promote myself, so it was the best thing for me to get a major position in an orchestra, because I didn’t have to hawk my wares. However in order to do this festival I’ve had to step outside my comfort zone, and in a foreign language too.’
The question of what next is an interesting one, because despite the Clos Vougeot concerts being always fully booked, the team feel that the festival’s spirit would be destroyed by moving to the big music halls in Dijon. However they’re also not the types to stand still. For instance 2012 saw the creation of its own L’Orchestre des Climats de Bourgogne (which this year boasted six concertmasters amongst its violinists), named after the Burgundy climats’ recognition on the UNESCO World Heritage list. March 2019, meanwhile, will see the festival’s first New York concert.
There is another idea bubbling away, though. ‘When you are extremely talented violinist you are extremely busy,’ states Hervet. ‘When you are a very talented cellist you are a little bit busy. However for very talented pianists the competition is so hard. So now we’re considering how to create something special for them’.
2018’s Young Talents Scholarship recipients
Chinese-Australian tenor Kang Wang
I won’t be using this money for one specific project, but to reinvest into my musicality. For instance, we singers travel a lot, and sometimes I have to buy my own plane tickets. We also spend a lot of money on buying music and on voice coaches. So this money will give me the freedom to do all that without financial worries.
Austrian trumpeter Florian Pitschler
I’ve never experienced such a relaxed atmosphere at a festival, with such nice people, and with such high-level music-making. As for what I’ll do with the money, I haven’t yet decided because I don’t just want to do anything with it; I’d like to put it towards something specific and useful.