French Guitar Holidays

Les Alouettes ChampangesI‘ve had the pleasure of attending the Music en Chablais two years running. Strictly speaking this is a general music summer school catering for a broad range of instruments; violin, cello, woodwind, piano as well as guitar. However guitar was the main focus of the event.

The 10-day festival took place in August amidst a backdrop of the beautiful French Alps to the west and Lake Léman to the East. In 2002 the venue was a school in Thonon et Bains while this year (2003) 'Les Alouettes' Youth Hostel and adjacent hotel in the alpine village of Champagnes hosted the event.

The festival culminated in a series of concerts; the venues mostly being local churches. All participants are encouraged to perform both as soloists and in ensemble.

This annual festival was founded in 1978 by Fernando Fernandez-Lavie, and every year since he has organised the event. Fernando Fernandez-Lavie an outstanding guitarist in his time was the premiere chair of guitar in 1953 in Alger, then in Strasburg from 1962.

The event appeals to all age groups there being many children and teenagers attending however no age group predominates so whatever one’s age you’ll feel at home.

Jean-Pierre Billet and Frank Van LamsweerdeI attended guitar lessons with a French guitar professor Jean-Pierre Billet and benefited greatly from his patient practical teaching approach. His English was excellent and this was true of most of the tutors there. Billet did a good job teaching the guitar ensemble groups (in English and French). Jean-Pierre Billet demonstrated his love of Praetorius in an interesting recital with cellist Frank Van Lamsweerde. The theme of the concert was dance. Here the guitar peices (Praetorius) alternated with those of the cello (mainly Bach) to play Gavottes Courantes and other dance styles. A final section saw the two play together in special arrangements of Granados, Schubert and Marchelie.

Eduardo Braranzano  and studentThe guest guitarist was Eduardo Baranzano born in Uruguay but now living in the South of France. Winner of the national French competition for guitar organized by Radio France and the national guitar competition in La Havana (Cuba) in 1990. This charismatic man made a great impression participating in many events and performing stunning solo concerts. Every day during the breaks between work shops and for meals Baranzano would be there, laughing, socialising and enjoying every moment.

Luckily I was able to attend a flamenco workshop with Baranzano which was a good introduction to rasgueados technique.

Fernando applading EduardoWe were all struck by Baranzano’s amazing tenacity when he played in a packed Chapel on the night of August 16th. Despite a gathering storm during which windows were flung open by wind and rain he played the first half of his concert of Leo Brouwer unabashed. Fortunately by the second half the storm abated so we able to enjoy the Barrios, Falu, Carlievato and Gismonti without distractions. The variety of music he played was quite astonishing. He demonstrated some of his own arrangements he’d made of Debussy.

Eleftheria and some pupils 2002A year before we had been similarly dazzled by Eleftheria Kotzia, who as well as playing solo, partnered the French flutist Sandra Mavel with some wonderful arrangements of Villa Lobos, Ibert and Piazzola. Among the solos she played was the lovely newly discovered Villa Lobos piece, 'Valse Concerto no. 2'.
I had then been among a troop of Brits attending the festival for Eleftheria’s classes in August 2002. I was so taken by the event I had to come the following year.

Guitar end Base Recorder EnsembleFor those guitarists who wanted to play in ensemble with other instruments there was plenty of opportunity. The teachers were very flexible helping those so inspired. I got together with a remarkable recorder player; Françoise Compain, to try some guitar and recorder arrangements of Dowland and contributed with guitar and voice to a choral arrangement of the Beatles Michelle organised by Jean-Pierre Billet wife Julia.

Chateau de LigoureIn more recent years Eleftheria Kotzia has been directing a Summer Guitar school in France called STAGE/FESTIVAL DE 'GUITARE EN FRANCE' - Chateau de Ligoure. Situated in the stunning French countryside near Limoges the Chateau de Ligoure 10 day Summer course of ensemble and solo teaching from  Eleftheria Kotzia and guest guitarists. It features a series of evening recitals known as 'les nuits de la guitare' which includes performances by the studens attending.