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Music at the Seat of God

La Chaise-Dieu, Choir StallsIn an article (L'abbaye gothique à l'heure baroque, August 28) for Le Figaro, Jacques Doucelin reports on the 38th installment of the Festival de Musique de la Chaise-Dieu, which began on August 18 and continues until September 5. This festival was created to feature performances of French religious music (pianist Georges Cziffra organized the first concerts to draw attention to his campaign to save the organ in the abbey's church), but in recent years it has become dominated more and more by Baroque music. Under its new director, Jean-Michel Mathé, there are about 40 concerts per season, and the venue has been opened up beyond the Chaise-Dieu to other locations.

Besides special youth prices for tickets, the Festival has opted for geographic decentralization. Thus, it's organizing a week of concerts at Puy-en-Velay. Another concert took place, Wednesday night [August 25], in the sumptuous Romanesque basilica of Brioude, on the 17th cententary of the martyrdom of Saint Julien, evangelizer of the Auvergne, in the presence of the Minister of Culture. The latter was supposed to be present, the following day, at one of the three concerts directed by Martin Gester in homage to Marc-Antoine Charpentier in the abbey church of the Chaise-Dieu. Before going to Puy, the Minister also visited, from top to bottom, the jewel of the French patrimony that is the abbey, with its choir stalls, its 16th-century tapestries, and its Danse Macabre.
(There are also some concerts at Chamalières-sur-Loire.) The Benedictine Abbey of the Chaise-Dieu was founded in the 11th century by Robert de Turlande, but it was put on the map when a monk who had been a novice in the abbey became Pope Clement VI in 1342. He built up the abbey into something extraordinary, and he is buried in the choir. Some of the big musical events:
  • August 19: Krzysztof Penderecki conducting his own Credo (1997)
  • August 20: Paul McCreesh, The Gabrieli Consort and Players, played J. S. Bach's sublime Mass in B minor, BWV 232
  • August 25: Reinhard Goebel, Musica Antiqua Köln, with music of Telemann, Biber, and Handel
  • August 25: Franck-Emmanuel Comte, Concert de l'Hostel-Dieu, with the Corsican vocal group Tavagna
  • August 26: Martin Gester, Parlement de musique, with the singers of the Maîtrise de Bretagne, playing a Charpentier program including the Leçons de ténèbres and the Te Deum
  • August 27: Mass for the Consecration of Napoleon, reconstructed by Jean Mongrédien (who discovered the scores used in 1804, forgotten in the Conservatoire), for the 200th anniversary of that event; there were a Mass and Te Deum by Giovanni Paisiello and other music by Jean-François Le Sueur and Nicolas Roze, all part of a carefully planned scenic event (the soundtrack, as it were, to the memorable painting by Jacques-Louis David)
  • September 2: Andrew Manze, The English Concert, performing Biber's Missa Christi Resurgensis, a work not performed since it was composed for the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg in the 1670s
If you want to sit in the famous choir stalls for these concerts, you will have to pay as much as 80€ ($96.62), but there are also usually seats in the transepts for only 10€ ($12.08). That's the right way to do things.

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