Musique en Chablais
Musique en Chablais
by John Gates
by John Gates

Les Alouettes Champanges
I‘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 is the main focus of the event.

The 10-day festival takes 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 culminates 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.

Jean-Pierre Billet and Frank Van Lamsweerde
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.

I 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 student
The 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 which I now practise every day.

Fernando applading Eduardo
We 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 which were breathe taking.

A 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'.

Eleftheria and some pupils 2002
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.

Eleftheria knows a thing or two getting body and mind prepared for performing and introduced us to some useful exercises to relax us for ensemble and solo playing that followed. Under Eletheria's direction I participated in a quartet playing a fantastic piece called 'Percussion Guitar' by Jürg Kindle. Her master classes were invaluable in helping me improve in both technique and interpretation.

Guitar end Base Recorder Ensemble (Françoise & Eduardo)
For 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.

Outside of the festival this is time to sightsee. As well as the mountains & Lake Léman the area boasts many interesting lake side towns including Yvoire an old walled town and Evian of bottled water fame.

The costs were very reasonable; full board accommodation and tuition fees came to 510E (£360). Accommodation is basic Youth Hostel standard. Being France the food was good. Of course there were the travel costs from the UK. By booking early I got a return London to Geneva flight for £85.

For details of future Musique en Chablais festivals please contact Fernando Fernandez-Lavie by email at

 John Gates