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Interview with René Martin artistic director of the International Piano Festival of La Roque d’Anthéron

From July 18 to August 20 next, the Florans park in Provence welcomes, as every year, the greatest artists of the French and international classical scene. But the Roque d’Antheron, it’s more than that, it’s a festival for everyone and a big family ! Rene Martinartistic director of the festival, evokes for WUKALI this great event.

Interview with Rene Martin

It’s not a snobby festival. The priority of priorities is excellence!

Already the 42nd edition of this international festival, co-founded in June 1981 by Paul Onoratini and yourself. What is your view on all the progress made?

I would say that I look at the festival with a sense of wonder. When I created it, I never imagined that it would have this history and that it would perhaps become one of the most famous piano festivals in the world. In the United States, we speak of the Roque d’Anthéron. It is undoubtedly the most famous French village of five thousand inhabitants in the world thanks to its festival.

What are the keys to this success?

I think from the start, when I created this festival, I didn’t want it to be a festival of a very prestigious artist, I wanted the place itself to be the prestige and that all the artists around the world would have the desire to perform at La Roque, a bit like an obligatory passage in their career as musicians. And I think it’s really successful.

You could have selected four or five great piano stars. You did not choose the easy way!

Indeed, but inviting the same stars every year was not our intention. On the contrary !

Of course, it was important for the greatest artists to be present at La Roque, but we also wanted to bring in young, completely unknown musicians. Young people who will also write the history of the Festival. I take the example of Nikolai Lugansky who came to La Roque at a very young age. The public did not know him. All the greats have been revealed at La Roque d’Anthéron.

For this 42nd edition, can we speak of a return to normal following the crisis?

The Covid shook everything up in 2020 and nevertheless, we are the only festival not to have canceled in Provence. We were able to maintain the schedule. Of course, we are privileged, because we have a 10-hectare park, so we are in the open air and main paths allow the public not to cross paths. However, it took daring to do it this festival!

What was his attendance?

We had 40,000 people and in 2021 we noticed a small recovery with 50,000 people. Colleague festivals also existed and we had voluntarily limited places and set a gauge.

This year, we have decided to return to normal speed. We find outdoor scenes in the surrounding towns and villages: Lambesc, Mimet, Eygalieres, Cucuron, gripes, Gordesand even Aix en Provence.

We have programmed 106 gigs This year !

René Martin International Piano Festival of La Roque d'Anthéron
René Martin and Vanessa Wagner, a festival regular

René Martin and pianist Vanessa Wagner, a faithful of the festival

Does the public regret concerts with intermission?

I do not think so. We have maintained the concerts without intermission to avoid the displacement of the public, which leaves its place, goes down, goes up, goes to have a drink. I think there will also be “musical life” after Covid, a life that we will organize in a slightly different way. We have lost an audience that has changed its cultural habits, that has turned more to television, and that is obviously a bit afraid to go out. This is seen everywhere. However, we also have an audience of people who are very frustrated by all these confinements, and who want to go out. It is this audience that we need to win back.

Behaviors also change. Before, you absolutely had to have an intermission between each concert. Today, we see that people arrive a little earlier, they take advantage of the place, of this magnificent setting. They take a drink, and return to their seats, accepting very well that there is no intermission, which often lasts 30 to 35 minutes. Some also like to go home earlier.

So we have to adapt!

Absolutely, you have to adapt, observe things carefully and listen to all these audiences. I must admit that I have the privilege of working at the Roque d’Antheron, but also at Nantes Mad Day Festivalto that of the Meslay Barn, and by organizing a lot of events, it is easier to get an idea of ​​what the public will be like tomorrow. In any case, we have all learned from the Covid!

Apart from the place of course, what makes the difference between these different festivals?

There are programs that overlap, and also a policy that is interested in all audiences. A young man under 30 benefits from 50% off ticket prices, as well as “special family” prices. All this is initiated from crazy day like all the positive experiences lived in Nantes, that have been transposed and adapted to the castling. And reciprocally.

Following the model of the Folle Criée in Nantes, you also manage the Folle Criée in Marseille. Is the public the same as that of La Roque?

Part of the public yes, but there is also a public from Marseille. We have almost 3,000 people loyal to the Mad Cried.

René Martin International Piano Festival of La Roque d'Anthéron
from left to dr. Paul Lay, Abdullah Ibrahim and Rene Martin

Tell us about Jazz at La Roque

We have always offered Jazz and have for many years. The problem is that the Jazz requires sound system rentals, lights, and it’s horribly expensive. When I isolated concerts in the program, I had to install the sound system for an evening, dismantle it to install it again. It was a bit crazy and to save money, we preferred to schedule the jazz over three days.

You also offered concerts in the morning

Yes, and we quickly realized that there is a real audience for these concerts.

This same public likes to come to the concert at the end of the morning, have a picnic or choose to have lunch in a small restaurant in La Roque, visit theAbbey of Silvacanereturns to the 6 p.m. concert, and finally, comes to spend a whole day at Roque d’Anthéron. In addition, we have a very nice little “Marcel Pagnol” room with 220 seats, which has been refurbished, air-conditioned to accommodate the morning public.

The festival will pay tribute to three great, magnificent artists who recently passed away: Nelson Freire, Nicholas Angelich and Radu Lupu, faithful members of the Festival. How were these concerts organized?

I take the example of Nelson. I was very good friends with Nelson who came to La Roque 23 times. I have visited his home several times Rio. I organized concerts at Brazil to please him. The musician had many Brazilian friends, pianists hardly known here but who are nevertheless his spiritual brothers.

So I chose this option of bringing in artists that he would have liked to see gathered for this tribute. I did not have the bias to choose stars, who all also loved Nelson Freire. His friends were Brazilian artists like Christian Budu, Eduardo Monteiro, Pablo Rossi, Fabio Martinoor Juliana Steinbach. Pianists who for some live in Brazil and in Argentina and that we do not necessarily know at home. It will be a completely original evening to discover on August 7, at the Parc du Château de Florans.

Did you choose the same bias for Nicholas Angelich?

Absolutely. Nicholas Angelichof American nationality, joined the Paris Conservatory. I invited friends to him who were in the same class.

The public will listen Francois-Frederic Guy, Etsuko Hirose, Violaine Debever. I also invited pianist teachers, such as Bruno Rigutto. We will also find students, such as Marie-Ange Nguci Where Gabriele Carcano. So I invited some very close friends of Nicholas who were often in the audience when he performed. I wanted true, authentic tributes! It will be August 10in the park of the Château de Florans.

For tribute to Radu Luputhe evening of August 13 at the Parc du Château de Florans will be exceptional. In the program : Chopin interpreted by Nelson Gorner. The two pianists liked each other enormously.

Another young talent Manon Galy, revelation “Instrumental soloist” at the Victories of Classical Music 2022. She will play with Renaud Capuçon who already accompanied her during the ceremony last March

Yes, and you should know that Manonis, if I may say so, a pure product of Roque d’Anthéron ! She came for two years in the ensembles in residence. She will find Renaud Capucon July 28 at 9 p.m. in the Parc du Château de Florans. There will also be Raphaelle Moreau on the violin, Paul Zientara on the viola, Maxime Quennesson on the cello and William Bellomat the piano for a program dedicated to Frank and slipper. Manon often plays with her Cuban friend, Jorge Gonzalez Buajasan. A magnificent pianist. It is he who will accompany Renaud Capucon August 20 at 7 p.m. for the closing evening with theLausanne orchestra and Mendelssohn in the program. Renaud Capuçon got to know Manon and Jorge thanks to the disc I recorded from Zeliha threesomewith cellist Maxime Quennesson.

Does the public follow you in more contemporary music?

Sure, it follows, even if it is a more “intimate” public. I am very happy because the music of the XXth century is music of incredible richness! When we have the necessary hindsight, we will realize how much! Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Pierre Boulez… It’s also great to be able to bring in composers who talk about their music. Today we are uninhibited. There are no longer the dictates that existed in the 1970s. Boulez was a great interpreter, but also a great theoretician. I increasingly want 20th century music to be present at the Festival. She is simply beautiful!

We learned that Lars Vogt will be absent due to illness

Yes, this is very sad news. He was forced to cancel. He has an unimaginable will. We think very much of him. The program remains unchanged and it is Lars Vogt who chose her German-Greek pianist friend, Danae Dorkenone of his students, to take part in this concert dedicated to Mendelssohna brilliant composer (and an amazing painter! To click).

Another friend of Lars, whom I also know well, the conductor Phillip von Steinaecker. He will replace Lars Vogt as conductor of the orchestra for the two concerts on July 22 and 23. It’s going to be exceptional because it’s exactly the kind of repertoire in which the conductor excels.

Interview collected for WUKALI by Pétra Wauters

To find out more about the programming and reservations of the La Roque d’Anthéron International Piano Festival 2022to click .

Header illustration: René Martin summer 2021. © France Keyser

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