The International Piano Festival at La Roque d’Anthéron in Provence feted its thirtieth anniversary in the summer of 2010. In the beautiful outdoor setting of the Parc du Château de Florans, the festival attracts renowned performers every year.
The festival organisers decided that the 30th anniversary on the 22nd of August would feature a particularly ambitious programme to close the festival and would be filmed live by French-German TV chain, Arte.
The son of a friend of mine is a TV director in Paris and was coming down on the 21st to film the concert on the 22nd. Tickets for the 22nd were sold out so he gave us tickets for the concert on the 21st which meant we’d see that evening’s concert but also see the preparations for the live television progamme the following night. (The full programme can be watched on Arte by clicking here.)
The concert programme promised surprises and musical improvisations in the anniversary concert so we guessed the filming would be fairly complex rather than just showing the orchestra and pianists on stage. We arrived to find preparations underway. It was a hot evening and the park looked gorgeous with its long avenues of towering plane trees and majestic sequoias.
Behind the stage, Julien was at the centre of a gaggle of cameramen and sound technicians with a team of helpers carrying equipment around and laying cables. The young presenter, Emmanuelle Gaume, was with him too, looking over her scrip.
As Julien worked out camera angles and resolved technical and creative problems, I became aware of a number of tractors to-ing and fro-ing on one of the avenues. One motored by towing a trailer with a Steinway on it. Others were manoeuvering their way round cameras and members of the orchestra.
Although the television crew were preparing to film the following evening’s concert, there was also a concert due to begin in an hour. Time was short for this rehearsal therefore as the crew would need to be silent and preferably out of the way once the concert began. Around the crew, violinists from the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne were tuning up their violins and practising or standing about chatting, bows in the air. In their black outfits, chatting casually or playing little snippets of Chopin or Mozart, they contrasted nicely with the busier activity of the film crew. Still, around both groups there was an unmistakably expectant atmosphere as they each prepared for their respective tasks – orchestra to play, TV crew to film.
More relaxed, ticket holders were meandering about too, watching the television crew, photographing the performers and taking in the atmosphere on this lovely warm evening. Bar staff were serving chilled white wine and rosé at the outdoor bar. Stallholders were setting out CDs and DVDs from previous concerts, Roque d’Anthéron Festival T-shirts and books on piano music and composers. A medical team of sapeurs-pompiers were preparing their station off to one side of the stage in case anyone fell ill during the concert. They strode by with oxygen tanks and medical bags.
Several more tractors churned by transporting trailers and Steinways.
The Festival is known for its mix of classical and contemporary music, featuring classical, jazz and electronic music and talented young musicians as well as the greatest international piano players. It’s the much-loved project of Artistic Director René Martin and the Onoratini family, owners of the park and Chateau. Paul Onoratini, who inaugurated the Festival with René Martin, died in January 2010 and is succeeded in his work by his sons Jean-Pierre and Michel. Over 80,000 people attend each year now.
The Saturday night concert which we saw featured the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, who also played at the 30th Anniversary concert the following night, and Dutch soprano Lenneke Ruiten. Conducted by Christian Zacharias, who also played piano, the programme included music by Mozart, Chopin and Karlowicz.
On the Sunday we watched the live transmission and it was as ambitious as we’d guessed. The pretty opening scenes set the lovely natural setting of the park to piano music and then showed a line of Steinway and Bechstein pianos sited on the avenue leading to the stage. The presenter interviewed Christian Zacharias among the plane trees as he sat at one of the pianos transported by those tractors we’d seen trundling about. He played for a while as the audience learned that no fewer than fifteen pianists would perform during the concert. (See the end of the article for their names.)
The unexpected is almost bound to happen during live filming and this programme was no exception. As Zacharias was interviewed with the long plane tree avenue as a backdrop, a car appeared in the distance, driving right at the pianos. The driver was discreetly waved down and re-routed. We learned the next day that it was the doctor who attends the festival in case of emergencies – the guy employed to stop people driving along the avenue during filming had decided he shouldn’t stop a doctor! – and Julien had quickly dispatched someone to flag him down.
The rest of the filming went according to plan. The programme cut back and forth from excerpts of previous Roque d’Anthéron concerts to the present concert, giving the technical team time to move pianos from park to stage and the TV crew time to get in position. The music was great. There were improvisations and pieces for four hands and even for six, with two or three pianists squashing up beside one another in lighthearted, celebratory scenes. René Martin and various of the pianists were interviewed too, giving interesting perspectives from the Artistic Director and the musicians. For the grande finale, Christian Zacharias conducted 12 of the pianists playing Wagner on six pianos – a spectacular finish to the 30th anniversary concert of this great piano Festival.
The Roque d’Anthéron festival film was directed for Arte by Sébastien Glas, assisted by Julien Faustino.
Pianists playing at the concert were: Bertrand Chamayou, Brigitte Engerer, Yaron Herman, David Kadouch, Adam Laloum, Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, Anne Queffélec, Dezsö Ránki, Edit Klukon, Emmanuel Strosser, Momo Kodama, Mari Kodama, Shani Diluka, Lidija Bizjak, Sanja Bizjak, Iddo Bar-Shaï.
If you enjoy piano music, you can see Arte’s live transmission of the Roque d’Anthéron 30th Piano Festival here: http://liveweb.arte.tv/de/video/La_Roque_d_Antheron/
For more information on the internationally renowned Roque d’Anthéron Piano Festival, visit the Festival site at: http://www.festival-piano.com/