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By Patricia Boccadoro

AUVERS-SUR-OISE, FRANCE, 18 JUNE 2007—Auvers-sur-Oise is an attractive village just half an hour's drive from Paris whose claim to fame, beside its rural prettiness, is that it was the place Vincent van Gogh chose to spend his final months before putting a bullet through his chest just seventy days after his arrival. The little cemetery on the outskirts of the town where the artist is buried alongside his brother, Theo, is as it was then, and bunches of freshly picked wild flowers on two simple graves only add to an overriding sentiment of melancholy and loss.

Climbing up to the hills above, the visitor can reach the fields of waving corn and the vast horizons of the Vexin plateau, inhabited as always by huge black ravens, and go back in time, contemplating the landscapes the painter immortalized on canvas. Looking down, one can almost visualize the boatloads of Parisians who came to picnic on the banks of the river Oise during the belle Epoque. Auvers, impervious to the passing of time, remains as it was in the days of Corot, Cézanne, Douanier Rousseau , Pissaro, and of course, the artist considered by many to be the greatest of them all, Vincent Van Gogh.

An ultimate homage to the Flemish painter is to visit the little church of Auvers perched on the hillside , with its bell-tower dating back to the 12th century, a church made famous first by the artist and then by the French poet, Verlaine, who wrote of its "purple-tinged walls and stained-glass windows the colour of the sky". It is one of those magic places which have left their mark not only on the history of painting, but on the imagination of men.

It is a perfect place to host a festival of music, which is what has quietly been going on for these past twenty-six years, although it is only since the year 2000 that events have gained in importance. At first musicians played for the pleasure of being there, but gradually funding and the interest of people like Barbara Hendricks, who came in 1985, Georges Cziffra in 1987 , and then Mstilav Rostropovitch helped arouse interest.

"Our initial aim in 1981 was to finance the construction of an organ in the church of Notre Dame, made legendary in the painting by Vincent Van Gogh ", Pascal Escande told me in his small office in the Manoir des Colombières, situated in one of those narrow, winding lanes so frequently depicted in the Impressionists' paintings. Escande, who is the founder and artistic director of the Festival said that what developed into a festival running from mid-April to the end of June began by being what he called, "a season" of musical events.

L'Eglise d'Auvers
Photo: Dominique Martinelli

"And then over the years, we expanded to offer evenings of vocal and piano works, violin, chamber music and opera, from Monteverdi to the composers of today. Unfortunately, we haven't the space for an orchestra. Indeed", he continued, "priority is given to young talent. The well-known names such as Evgeny Kissin and Natalie Dessay ensure packed audiences who, once they discover Auvers, return to listen to younger, lesser known musicians. We now make our own recordings to help start their careers; the first recording of Patricia Petitbon was made here, for example."

"Vivacity, originality and creativity can almost be said to be the motto of the festival", he continued, "and we now invite a young composer each year, this time, Bruno Mantovani, whose works will be played on several evenings, by the pianist Jean Frédéric Neuburger in April, by Nicolas Anglich, Renaud Capucon and Gautier Capucon in May, as well as on three or four different occasions in June. The festival ends", he added," on June 29th with an original interpretation of Beethoven's 9th for two pianos, soloists and choir."*

Unfortunately the concert held on May 31st, with the exuberant Turkish pianist, Fazil Say interpreting Ravel, Mozart, and Beethoven as well as a selection of his own compositions was somewhat disappointing. It did not match up to the unique surroundings mainly because Say was accompanied by the barefooted musician, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, on the violin, whose place was anywhere else excepting in this special church in company with Say and Beethoven. The Ravel , interpreted by Say alone, was the highlight of the evening and the audience particularly susceptible to the particular atmosphere of their surroundings.

Patricia Petitbon at the Festival d'Auvers-sur-Oise 
Photo: Dominique Martinelli

However, the Festival does not concentrate solely on music. Because of its exceptional site and the all-pervading atmosphere of the Impressionists, a young painter, photographer or sculptor is invited each year. This year sees an exhibition by Michel Charpentier, held in the workshop and gardens of Daubigny from The 11th of May to the 30th of June.

And so, as the festival has progressed, mainly, it seems, by word of mouth, so have the sites where concerts are held. The Chateau of Méry-sur-Oise, the church of Saint-Denis of Méry-sur-Oise, the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Val de Meriel as well as the church of Saint-Martin de Vallangoujard all open their doors to host programmes of remarkable quality in a privileged setting.

*June 29, 2007 at 21:00

Church of Notre Dame d'Auvers-sur-Oise

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (arrangement for Two Pianos)

Brigitte Engerer, piano
Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, piano
Mireille Delunsch, soprano
Renata Pokupic, mezzo soprano
Tuomas Katajala, tenor
Konrad jarnot, baritone
Accentus, choeur de Chambre
Laurence Equilbey, conductor 

Festival d'Auvers-sur-Oise
Auvers-sur-Oise, France 
until 30 June 2007
Tel: (33) 1 30 36 77 77

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at Culturekiosque.com

Related CK Archives

Missing Masterpieces: "Van Gogh's Van Goghs"

CD Review: Bach's Cello Suites

Van Gogh: The Last Landscapes. Auvers-sur-Oise, May 20th to July 29th 1890

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