November 4, 2019
When we go on tour, one question we’re often asked is whether we come to that city every year. Well, that’s not yet always possible, because the world is a big place and we have to cover a lot of it…but the Camac Festival has now returned to Toulouse! We had a very successful visit in 2008, and this year we also enjoyed packed halls and warm, enthusiastic audiences.
Veronika Lemishenko got Toulouse 2019 off to a magnificent start, with a virtuoso classical recital of music by Auguste Durand, Paul Patterson, the Ukrainian composer Vasyl Barvinsky, Bernard Andrès, and Félix Godefroid. One member of the public commented that they hadn’t known such virtuosity was possible on the harp, and Veronika could certainly have performed many an encore had time permitted!
After an hour, we had to let Veronika go, because it was time to change the set for our second concert of the evening. Breton harpist Nolwenn Arzel, accompanied by Loïc Bléjean on low whistle and Uilleann pipes, brought the music of the Celtic lands to the South of France.
Nolwenn’s own compositions and arrangements made up their programme, and inspired a rush on the CDs and scores laid out for sale after the concert! If you missed them, worry not: the Camac e-store sells the entire collection.
Undeterred by the late nights, our friendly audience was back in force for Nolwenn’s lever harp workshop the following morning. By the end of two hours, everybody was playing a highly convincing An Dro, and getting to grips with traditional improvisation! The afternoon’s workshop, with Jessica Browning of Duo Blew Harp, was equally packed, with a queue of avid listeners snaking out of the door. Jessica introduced both her impressive array of electric harps, amplification and effects – and also her creative philosophy.
Jessica’s path is interesting and unusual: first studies in psychology, followed by six months of silence in a Buddhist monastery. After this, she knew she wanted to be a harpist. She has performed in India, Iceland, New Zealand and Australia…and her music is brightly-coloured by her travels. Freely combining rock, folk and other groove elements, she is now getting ready for her next big adventure – a voyage around the world with her husband and her harps!
On Saturday evening, Jessica was joined by her colleague Dilo (Susanne Elodie), for another concert consisting entirely of original works. Like Jessica’s workshop, this was also as much a new experience of thinking about music, as of listening to it. Like all the events at the festival, the hall was full, and the repeatedly encored.
Saturday, like Friday, features two evening concerts. We were delighted that David Lootvoet, Principal Harp with the Opéra de Paris, was able to accommodate us in his busy schedule. His solo recital was stunning, with a particularly beautiful programme. Bach’s 6th Suite Française, an incredible rendition of Mozart’s Fantasie K397, Posse’s Valse, the Tailleferre Sonata, Satie’s Gnossiène no. 5, and De Falla’s Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve gave us so much musical inspiration, in the choice of repertoire and in its rendition alike.
While the festival weekend peacefully unfurled, behind the scenes nearly thirty young harpists and their heroic teachers were intensively rehearsing for Sunday’s grand finale. Where possible, we love our Camac Festivals to culminate in a performance involving the harp classes of the region we are visiting. The work of teachers at school level throughout any country is where all music-making begins: without them, the senior conservatoires would have nobody to teach, and then there would be no professional musicians. Nor would there be the amazing community of amateurs, who are enriched by their musical studies in all sorts of other ways.
Ever since the summer, Fabienne Hilar-Drhouin, Mathilde Sandoz and Dominique Piussan had been working intensively with their classes at the CRR de Toulouse, the CRC de Blagnac, the Ecole de musique Axe-Sud, and the l’Ecole d’Enseignement Artistique in Tournefeuille. Rossitza Milevska had created a series of jazz, tango and other arrangements for solo jazz harp, percussion, and a harp ensemble “Big Band” – which was, of course, the students. It was a leap into new ways of music-making, for students of classical harp do not usually have much jazz experience. The concert, after so much work, was wonderful, and involved students aged from 18, down to the very youngest who only began the harp last year. These intense concert experiences are what everyone best remembers from their music studies. Often, students continue to benefit from what they learnt doing them – and it’s all impossible without the commitment and hard work from the teachers. Huge congratulations to each and every performer: it was a superb grand finale, which will live long in our memories.
Alongside the artistic programme, Eric Piron and our commercial team were busily manning the exhibition. The one at the Camac Festival is the biggest touring exhibition of our season, and our “rentrée” (after the summer holidays) is always full, preparing and regulating our new instruments for the festival, and overhauling our second-hand stock. We bring these harps too, because we seek to accompany you in the development of your instrument, close to your home. Whether you are visiting our exhibition to rent your first lever harp, find a second-hand pedal harp, or a new concert instrument…convenience and continuity is very important to us, in what is always a substantial investment for you. We also always bring our technicians to our festivals, so that you have the chance to have your instrument regulated without an expensive trip to the capital.
The Camac exhibition, set up in Toulouse
As ever, we left for home tired, and happy! We were happy to have seen old friends and to have made new ones, and rejuvenated by the sparkling array of concerts and classes. Where will the Camac Festival be landing next? You’ll have to wait and see…