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By Patricia Boccadoro

SCEAUX, FRANCE, 30 SEPTEMBER 2011 — The Festival de l’Orangerie de Sceaux, which is held on summer weekends from July to September, is one of the most attractive and accessible in the Paris area. Founded in 1969 by the violinist Alfred Loewenguth who would have celebrated his hundredth birthday this year, the festival, one of the oldest in France, takes place in the magnificent park of Sceaux.

Begun in 1597, the extensive grounds and pavilions were bought almost a century later by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister under Louis XIV, who renovated and enlarged the small palace there. He invited the king’s gardener, André Le Nôtre, to landscape the grounds, design terraces, and incorporate a lake with waterfalls, planting flowers and shrubberies and decorating the pathways, pergolas and pavilions with statues in marble, stone, and bronze. It is one of Le Nôtre’s major works and a splendid place to visit in all seasons, particularly in sunny weather when people can picnic under the trees and relax with a drink in the select small bar overlooking the fountains.

Château in the Parc de Sceaux

The spacious, high-ceilinged Orangerie, with its enormous windows overlooking the park, where the concerts are held, was added some years later and was used at the time as an art gallery which extends today to temporary exhibitions held in the park. A display of fascinating photographs of the waterways surrounding Paris was presented at the same time as the festival.

The programme for the evening opened with Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major, opus 76/5, Hob.111/79, played by the Quatuor Parisii, followed by Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 2, in G Major, opus 18/2 . Gamely interpreted by the musicians from a raised dias in the center of the hall, the two pieces were accompanied by the sounds of softly falling rain which increased to an incessant staccato pattering which gave a certain melancholy to the proceedings.

Quatuor Parisii

However, music took over in the second part of the programme with the appearance of a brilliant, little-known French pianist, Guillaume Coppola. One no longer heard the rain as he launched into a lyrical and exuberant rendering of Dvorak’s Quintet for piano and strings in A Major, opus 81. The melancholia in the piece spoke through the music rather than the forces of nature outside which had long been forgotten, and the Quatuor Parisii had no choice but to follow the lead of this gifted young man.

Coppola, a youthful 32 years old, has only recently sprung to public notice in France. After completing his studies at the National Conservatoire of Paris where he carried off a first prize, he now teaches there at the same time as starting an international career. His recording, "Franz Liszt – a portrait" won several awards leading to his nomination as one of the foremost French stars of tomorrow. His interest lies not only with the classics, but in collaborating with many young composers of today, composers whose names include Steven Stucky, Gao Ping, and Isabel Pires.

Guillaume Coppola
Photo: Patricia Boccadoro

However, the main interest of this pleasant and very peaceful festival of chamber-music, virtually a family affair with Jacqueline Loewenguth, sister-in-law of its founder, now the director, apart from the discovery of exciting young musicians, lies in its very atmosphere which takes one back to the 17th century in exceptionally beautiful surroundings. Packed for all performances, audiences are drawn from local people, from Parisians who have made the twenty-minute trip to get there, and tourists who have taken the trouble to discover what was available in the Paris area, and were very happy to have done so! 

Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and senior editor at Culturekiosque. She last interviewed the Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando d’Arcangelo on Mozart, Italian politics and food.

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