The Festival d’Avignon is today considered to be one of the most important contemporary performing arts events in the world. With thousands of performing arts companies descending on the small southern French city for three weeks each summer, the atmosphere on the streets is always incredible transforming the city into a thriving hub of creativity.
Although I spend time each year in Avignon during the festival, I haven’t recorded the wonderful sounds here since 2012. But this year I made sure I got out among the crowds and captured some of the street performances as well as the general atmosphere as I wandered around the small historic streets.
One of the most emblematic sounds of the festival is Maurice Jarre’s la fanfare d’accueil de Lorenzaccio – a trumpet fanfare that is played before every performance (performances that are part of the official “In” selection), used to inform spectators that the play is starting soon. The trumpet call has become so representative of the festival and often when I hear it I have shivers of anticipation.
It’s been many years that I’ve wanted to capture this sound, but often when I’ve heard it I’ve been standing in a queue about to go into a theatre, so have never been able to record it. This year I specifically headed out to record and was determined to capture this very sound. I made my way towards rue des Teinturiers, a beautiful cobbled street with water mills alongside, and waited outside Théâtre Benoît-XII. I had been to this very location the day before to wacth Lars Norén’s play 20 November, so I had a good idea of where to position myself. Just before the fanfare rings out, we hear a group of Swifts that were captured in the original recording.
I had made sure to arrive with enough time to capture the trumpet fanfare and, with about 15 minutes to spare, I decided to walk the entire length of rue des Teinturiers capturing the atmosphere in a sound walk. Here’s a couple fo minutes of that sound walk.
One of the things I love the most about the festival is just wondering around the beautiful city enjoying the amazing atmosphere that can be experienced. Competition to sell tickets is high (with up to 3000 companies all aiming for a full house) so in order to promote their show, the actors, singers and dancers wander around playing out small extracts. This can be heard in the previous sound walk recording as various troupes walked past promoting their shows.
A little later I headed to the Place d’Horloge just in front of the Avignon town hall and at the foot of the infamous Palais des Papes. This area is always a thriving hub of activity during the festival as can be heard in the following recording. It features a group of musicians promoting the children’s play “Il était une fois…Le Petit Poucet”. I had heard them performing as I approached the Place d’Horloge and the music was infectious, with quite a number of young children dancing as they performed.
Il était une fois…Le Petit Poucet is playing from 7th – 30th July at the Théâtre Alizé at 15h20.
A little further on, this time as I walked along rue de la Republique, I came across another musical performance so I stopped to record. It features Sébastien Troendlé presenting his show Rag n Boogie, which takes us through a journey of Ragtime and Boogie-Woogie. I was with my daughter at the time and she loved the street performance.
Rag n Boogie is playing from 7th – 31st July at the Théâtre Arto at 20h35.
The last recording I captured this year was also on rue de la Republique and features six young artists from Mozambique. They were each playing a drum and singing, but instead of playing the drums with their hands they were all using three juggling balls to hit the drum (juggling and playing at the same time). There was quite a crowd gathered around and the atmosphere was infectious.
Maputo Mozambique is playing from 9th – 21st July at the Villeneuve en Scène at 19h30.
It’s difficult to capture the true essence of the Festival d’Avignon as it really is a multi sensory experience. For anyone who has never visited Avignon itself, the festival really shows off the city in it’s best light. And the atmosphere that can be felt during the three week period is definitely something everyone should experience! But once the three weeks are over the city returns to it’s usual self – still plenty of tourists but the atmosphere is completely different. In fact, I’ve always found it amazing how the Monday morning after the festival has ended the city seems like a ghost town. All the flyers that covered the city walls have disappeared, the streets are empty and the sounds and sights of musicians, singers, dancers, clowns and all types of performing artists have vanished. For those who have the possibility to visit Avignon this year, the festival runs until 24th August. Otherwise there’s always next year…