La Folle Journée de Nantes: France’s Largest Classical Music Festival

La Folle Journée de Nantes: France’s Largest Classical Music Festival

If you find attending classical concerts or opera performances too intimidating, you can forget everything you know. There’s another, far less formal way to enjoy the experience, without losing any of the rigorous values of these stellar art forms, and it’s the reason why people are crazy about classical music in Nantes, the capital of the Pays de la Loire.

The unorthodox format of the festival La Folle Journée de Nantes, the largest classical music festival in France, allows visitors to create their own itinerary. Guests can choose performances at a myriad of venues within an allowed time frame. The organisers restrict the maximum duration of each concert to 45 minutes and keep admission prices affordable, to make the event accessible to a wider public.

La Folle Journée originally started as a one-day affair in 1993 – as a means to offer short classical concerts to an audience which would not traditionally be drawn to formal soirées. The festival’s name comes from the original French title of The Marriage of Figaro, Pierre Beaumarchais’ play: La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro. The festival has now expanded to five days, and features over 300 concerts by a total of 1,800 musicians, a large percentage of whom have direct contact with the audience. In fact the concept is so successful that it’s spurred versions in Spain, Poland and Japan.

This year’s festival boasts the theme “Passions of the Soul, Passions of the Heart”, which will be touched upon across a vast repertoire, from the sacred to the profane. In a religious context, the word ‘passion’ refers to the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. In lay terms, it relates to the whole spectrum of human emotion, from fear and anguish to joy and exultation.

The programme will embrace all of the passions, with the Passions of Christ by Schütz, JS Bach and Johann Theile; the Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross by Joseph Haydn; and the Mirror of Jesus by André Caplet.

There are simply too many performances to list herein, but La Folle Journée’s most enticing selection includes the Death of Didon by Montéclair; When I am Laid in Earth, from Didon and Enea, by Purcell; “portraits of character” for harpsichord by François Couperin and Rameau; and Telemann’s Tafelmusik.

La Folle Journée de Nantes extends beyond the confines of the five days of its annual duration, and it’s become a veritable musical laboratory, cooking up new ways to spark curiosity and demystify the appreciation of music.

La Folle Journée de Nantes, January 28 – February 1, 2015. La Cité Nantes Events Center, 5 rue de Valmy, 44000 Nantes. Admission varies, see website. Tel: +33 2 51 88 20 00

From France Today magazine

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Sylvia Edwards Davis is a writer and correspondent based in France with a focus on business and culture. A member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia scans the cultural landscape to bring you the most relevant highlights on current events, art exhibitions, museums and festivals.