The Jean Langlais Festival is an annual celebration of the life and music of one of the finest musicians of the 20th Century.
History of the Festival
Brenda Dean has lived in La Fontenelle since 2003. After having bought a house there in 2002, she discovered the commemorative plaque on the house behind the church where Jean Langlais was born. She recognised the name of this famous organist and composer because she had heard some of his works when she sang with the Wingrave Singers in Bath Cathedral, and she knew that Langlais was one of the most important French musicians of the 20th century. Moreover, his music is much appreciated in England. She also noted the date of his birth and that the centenary was fast approaching.
In 2004, Brenda suggested to the Maire and his council that she would bring the Wingrave Singers over to France to give a series of concerts in 2005 in honour of Jean Langlais, and, with the help of the village, she organised the first festival in August, 2005. The Wingrave Singers gave three concerts in the church at La Fontenelle, the church at Bazouges-La-Perouse and in Dol Cathedral. The local Chorale Cantonale also took part in two of these concerts, and Brenda created a children’s choir, les Petits Choristes de La Fontenelle, who took part in the concert at La Fontenelle.
As a result of the success of this first festival, which had firmly united French and English musicians and singers, the participants and their friends decided to form an association to organise a second festival in 2006 and to prepare for the centenary.
The second festival took place in 2006. This festival was much bigger and more ambitious than that of the previous year. There were seven concerts and two church masses and two local choirs took part as well as les Petits Choristes de La Fontenelle, two English choirs (the Wingrave Singers and the girl choristers of All Saints Church Northampton), the British organist Jane Watts, Marie-Louise Langlais, widow of Jean Langlais, SylvieMallet, David Bednall, pianists and organists, and Sylvie Becdelievre, soprano. These events took place in churches in Dinard, Sainte-Croix, St Servan, La Bouexiere, La Richardais and La Fontenelle, and the mass on 13th August in Dol Cathedral was broadcast live by Radio France Culture.
The Centenary Festival of 2007 was large and impressive. The Association organised a total of 24 events, in February, May, August and December, including six church masses and eleven concerts with three English choirs and a Spanish choir, as well as soloists from Denmark, England and France. The centenary celebrations began with a very moving service of Compline in the church at la Fontenelle on the evening of 15th February, the birth date of Jean Langlais. The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the recital given in May in Dol Cathedral by France’s foremost organist, Marie-Claire Alain, who had been a close friend of Langlais.
In August, the choir of St Mary’s Church, Warwick, under the direction of Katherine Dienes, gave two concerts and sang Langlais’ Messe d’Escalquens at a Sunday mass in la Fontenelle, which was televised and broadcast by TV Rennes. The men of the choir of Royal Holloway, University of London, directed by Rupert Gough, joined local choirs to sing Langlais’ Missa Salve Regina, which was broadcast live by Radio France Culture from Dol Cathedral on 15th August. Marie-Louise Langlais and the Danish mezzo, Margit Lykke Christensen, gave a beautiful recital in Cancale, and Camerata Coral de Santander came all the way from Cantabria to sing two memorable concerts in honour of Jean Langlais.
They joined with the Wingrave Singers and local choirs la Chorale de l’Association, les Villager Voices and les Petits Choristes de la Fontenelle – directed by Colin Spinks and accompanied by David Bednall, to sing together in the final concert of the summer in the church at la Fontenelle. The Grand Finale of the festival was the visit to la Fontenelle in December of the Archbishop of Rennes, Monseigneur d’Ornellas, the first time in 64 years that a bishop has some to the village.
This centenary festival allowed us to continue our collaboration of the previous two years with international musicians and singers, both amateur and professional, bringing creative people together and encouraging local musicians, especially the young.
Many people thought that, after such amazing activity and hard work in 2007, the festival would not survive. They were wrong! 2008 saw a festival much reduced in size from the previous year, but no less successful. And there were several new initiatives. The pupils of the Ecoles de Sainte-Anne of Antrain and Bazouges-la-Perouse gave an amazing performance in May of Avril Thompson’s “Noah “. This little opera had been written for schoolchildren in England, but Avril had it translated into French and even brought Noah’s Ark across the Channel for the children to construct during the performance.
The summer festival saw the first Choral Course, directed by the internationally renowned composer and musician Malcolm Archer, who, until recently, was Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Thiry-five British and French singers came together for a week to form themselves into the Choeur de l’Academie du Festival Jean Langlais and to learn Langlais’ Messe Solennelle and the Durufle Requiem, their work culminating in two concerts in la Fontenelle and Dol Cathedral. They also performed the Messe Breve by Daniel Roth in the presence of the composer. Another highlight was the organ recital given on the amazing organ of the Church of Saint-Leonard, Fougeres by Malcolm Archer and David Bednall, who improvised on themes suggested by the audience.
The 2008 festival ended with a very successful ceilidh in the village hall, where the Scottish group Pigtown Fling, who had come all the way from Oban, managed to persuade the international gathering to dance Scottish reels and breton dances.
This year’s festival followed much the same pattern as that of 2008. Why change a successful formula ? And the quality of the musical performances continues to impress. Avril Thompson set four of La Fontaine’s fables to music, and they were sung by the pupils of the Ecole de Sainte-Anne of Bazouges-la-Perouse at a concert in June. The summer festival began in July with three concerts given by Margit Lykke Christensen and Elsebeth Lund, both singers with Royal Danish Opera, who were accompanied by Benjamin Frost of St Luke’s Church Chelsea and English National Opera. Margit had sung in the centenary festival in 2007 and at the wedding of Caroline Langlais in 2008, and she wanted to return once more to the clean air and peace of la Fontenelle to honour the memory of Jean Langlais.
There are many others who keep wanting to return too. The second Summer Choral Course took place in July, once again under the expert direction of Malcolm Archer. At least two thirds of the participants were people from the previous year’s course, but this time it was an even more international group, with 39 singers from Hong Kong, Morocco, Britain and France. The standard reached was much higher than in 2008. Perfomances of Vierne’s Messe Solennelle and Faure’s Requiem were given before very appreciative audiences at the church at Pontorson (part of the Musique a Pontorson Festival) and at la Fontenelle. Malcolm Archer and David Bednall gave a repeat organ recital at Fougeres, and Pigtown Fling came back to play celtic music from many lands and to lead another ceilidh in the village hall.
The Association « Les Amis de Jean Langlais » is now five years old, and in 2010 we organised the sixth Langlais Festival. Our committee members worked very hard and thanks to them the publicity was very good this year with posters all over the region. Result? The festival attracted over a thousand audience members at nine concerts : in la Fontenelle, la Bouëxière, Fougères, la Fresnais, Dol-de-Bretagne and at Saint Servan. The Langlais Festival and la Fontenelle are becoming well known in the area.
Moreover, people from many different countries seem to continue to want to come to take part in the festival. This year we welcomed the Czech organist Frantisek Vanicek, the Danish choir Kammerkoret Audite from Copenhagen directed by Beate Willma, and 45 choral course participants (English, French and Chinese) directed by Malcolm Archer (his third visit) and accompanied by David Bednall (his sixth visit). We also had the services of vocal coach Hilary Jones, a wonderful addition to the choral course. The Scottish group, the Robert Fish Band, came from Edinburgh to play for a ceilidh in the village hall on the final night.
New additions in 2010 were the Gospel workshop and concert and the organ course. The organ course was directed by Marie-Louise Langlais and Sylvie Mallet, both of whom are professors of organ at the Paris Conservatoire. Unfortunately we only had two recruits (Richard Powell from Norway and Peter Harrison from Winchester College), but they and their teachers enjoyed the experience and all four of them gave a wonderful recital at Sainte-Croix, Saint Servan at the end of the course. And in the month of June for the Fête de la Musique, 38 choristers, children and adults, took part in a Gospel workshop and concert with Mark Dukes et the VocaLive, musicians from Rennes. The participants very much appreciated Mark Dukes’ teaching and the way he integrated the amateur singers into his concert. It’s something that we’ll be repeating in 2011.
We continued to work in partnership with other organisations, collaborating with les Amis de l’Orgue de la Bouëxière, le Festival « Musique à Pontorson », Monsieur le Maire and la Comité des Fêtes in la Fresnais, and les Amis de l’Orgue du Pays de Dol, partnerships which have now become well established.
|We were also delighted that one of the choral course participants, the 25 year-old British composer and choir director Alexander Campkin, composed a new piece of music while he was in la Fontenelle. “I saw Eternity” received its world première in the concert at Dol Cathedral on 29th July, performed by Marie Macklin, Ruth Allington and Hilary Jones. There is definitely something in the air of la Fontenelle which inspires composers. David Bednall wrote part of his “Requiem” while staying there in 2008, and Richard Powell also composed ”Eg lifter mine augo” (Psalm 121) while taking part in the choral course that same year.We rely on the support of many people. We thank Amand Guinebault, Henri Lemonnier and the Chorale « Les Amis de Jean Langlais » for their loyalty and hard work. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who helped during the festival, accommodating choral course partcipants and fetching people from airports. We also thank our members, benefactors and sponsors for their financial support, in particular Monsieur le Maire and Conseil Municipal for their generosity and their encouragement, as well as the Communauté des Communes and the Conseil Général.
A big thank you to all the committee members, especially Françoise Lemouland, assistant treasurer, and Marie Pottier who are leaving the committee. They have been there since the beginning and have worked hard to ensure the success of the Association.
And we send our hearty congratulations to Caroline (daughter of Jean Langlais and Marie-Louise Jacquet- Langlais) and her husband Aurélien on the birth in October of their daughter, Margaux, Jean Langlais’ grand-daughter.
The Langlais Association is now six years old and in 2011, the 20th anniversary of the death of Jean Langlais, we held our seventh festival. The format of the festival is well established, as is the date of our main events, the last fortnight of July, and this has become a high point in the regional calendar. Moreover, the festival brings lots of business to La Fontenelle and the surrounding area, to the restaurants, hotels, B & Bs, gites and camp sites.
The 2011 festival attracted more than a thousand spectators to nine concerts and a church mass here in La Fontenelle and also in La Bouëxière, Bazouges-la-Pérouse, Fougères, Saint Servan, and even further away in Caen. La Fontenelle and the Langlais Festival are becoming well known in the region. And on 25th October the Chœur de l’Académie travelled to England for the first time to sing at the Sailors’ Society annual service in St Columba’s Church,London – a real international festival!
Those who take part are international too.
This year we welcomed the German organist Martina Ziegert, pupil of Marie-Louise Langlais, and her breton husband Eric Wallander, who plays the French Horn, the « a cappella » Danish group Pandora directed by Beate Willma, and 50 choral course participants (English, Italian and French) directed by Malcolm Archer (his fourth visit) and accompanied by David Bednall (his seventh visit) and Colin Spinks (his eighth visit). Malcolm and David gave their organ recital once again in Fougères, but this time they were joined by a 12 year-old resident of Fougères, Manoël Buchard. The Scottish group Pigtown Fling came back for the third time to give us a wonderful evening of celtic music and dance.
In June, to celebrate the Fête de la Musique, 33 singers, children and adults, took part in a gospel workshop and concert led by the professional group from Rennes, Mark Dukes and the VocaLive. We very much appreciated Mark Dukes’ teaching and the way he integrated the amateur singers into his concert, including some members of the Maîtrise de Saint-Léonard, Fougères.
Some people may say that “ it’s always the same thing at the Langlais Festival”, but that’s the nature of festivals and our festival has developed its own character. Naturally, we concentrate on the works of Jean Langlais, the composers who influenced him and those he has influenced, but we also offer varied international music for those who love to sing and those who enjoy listening to singing – gospel and classical, music by the best French composers and composers of the Anglican tradition; and for lovers of organ music, music written by the most important French composers. We also try to include music from other countries such as Denmark and Spain, and music written by living composers such as Hans Erik Philip, Malcolm Archer, David Bednall et Alexander Campkin. And our festival always closes with an evening of celtic music and dance (Irish, Scottish and Breton) which everyone enjoys.
We are continuing to work in partnership with other organisations including les Amis de l’Orgue de la Bouëxière, the Festival « Musique à Pontorson » et les Amis de l’Orgue de Sainte-Croix, partnerships which are now well established. Sadly, Albert Hay, former Mayor of La Bouëxière died in October. Albert was president of l’Association Les Amis de l’Orgue, and each year since 2006 he helped us to organise concerts in La Bouëxière. It was he who was responsible for overseeing the building of a magnificent new organ in the church at La Bouëxière and the inauguration of the Rue Jean Langlais. We shall miss him a great deal.
|Such is the reputation of the Langlais Festival that the Danish Arts Foundation gave us a grant to commission a new work from the Danish composer Hans-Eric Philip to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of Jean Langlais. Planctus Cygni ( The Swan’s Lament ) had its world premier in the church at La Fontenelle during Pandora’s concert on 16th July, and the group also sang it in Pontorson and at the Malouiniaire de la Ville Bague in St Coulomb.The members of the local choir, la Chorale “ les Amis de Jean Langlais”, have also worked hard despite losing their conductor. Amand Guinebault had to resign on the grounds of ill health and we thank him very much for his hard work and loyalty to the Association since 2005. However, Nicole Bézy and Marie-Paule Bourdin have been able to take over and with Henri Lemonnier have kept the choir going.|
The highlight of the 8th Langlais Festival was undoubtedly the visit of Claude Langlais, son of Jean Langlais, who came to the festival for the first time to give a concert of piano and organ music with Colin Spinks in the church at La Fontenelle. It was amazing to hear them play music by Flor Peeters, Marcel Dupré and, of course, Jean Langlais for this combination of instruments, and they stunned us with their virtuoso playing and musical rappport. This was something of a pilgrimage for Claude and his wife Monique as they haven’t been very often to la Fontenelle, and we sincerely hope to see them again in the near future.
The festival actually began with a recital in the church at Bazouges-la-Pérouse given by the Czech organist Frantisek Vanicek, who was paying us a return visit, and Malcolm Archer and David Bednall gave two organ recitals, the first in Rennes Cathedral as part of the “Estivals de l’Orgue” series of concerts (our first concert in Rennes), and the second in Saint Leonard’s Church in Fougères, where they were joined by the soprano Sylvie Becdelièvre.
The Choeur de l’Académie gave a concert in the church at La Bouexière in memory of our great friend Albert Hay, former mayor of La Bouexière and President of Les Amis de l’Orgue, who died in October 2011, and, in appalling heat, the summer festival ended with the grand final concert in the church at La Fontenelle, when the Choeur de l’Académie were joined by the local choir, la Chorale “Les Amis de Jean Langlais”, this time directed by their new conductor, Pierre Delanoe, who has transformed them and given them the confidence to sing in 4-part harmony.
The Choeur de l’Académie were invited once again to sing at the Sailors’ Society service on 30th October in St Columba’s Church, Pont Street, London, and the year ended in December when Malcolm Archer brought his boys choir, the Quiristers, from Winchester College to sing two concerts and a mass. The 15 young choristers, aged from 8 to 13, were invited by the Maitrise de Bretagne to give a concert in the church of Notre-Dame-en-Saint-Melaine, Rennes, and they sang mass the next day in the church at Bazouges-la-Pérouse, celebrated by Monseigneur Souchu and Père Pajot, followed by a final concert in the church at La Fontenelle. The Quiristers have frequently sung on BBC radio, for Queen Elizabeth II and for the Pope at the Vatican, so we were very lucky to be able to host them in Brittany.
The Langlais Festival has become well known as an international festival and an amazing collaboration between the people of La Fontenelle and participants who come from abroad and from France. It is an established event during the last fortnight of July. The 9th festival began with a concert given in Dol Cathedral by the Turin organist Luca Massaglia and the Danish mezzo-soprano Margit Lykke Christensen, who sings with the Royal Danish Opera company in Copenhagen. Two days later we had the honour of welcoming the Breton organist Véronique Le Guen, titulaire of the churches of Saint-Germain in Rennes and of Saint-Séverin in Paris and Assistant Director of the Academy of Music and Sacred Arts at Sainte-Anne d’Auray, who gave an exceptionally beautiful concert of organ music and dance with Anne Vataux, Director of the School of Dance at Saverne.
Malcolm Archer and David Bednall gave their customary organ recital, but this year at the Basilica of Pontmain in the Mayenne, and the sixth choral course culminated in a concert as part of the “Estivals de l’Orgue” in the Abbay of Notre-Dame-en-Saint-Melaine at Rennes. The festival ended with the mass in the church at La Fontenelle, sung by the Choeur de l’Académie and the Chorale “Les Amis de Jean Langlais”, which was followed by the Association’s lunch – a moment of real conviviality. And the Choeur de l’Académie paid their third visit to the Sailors’ Society’s annual service in London in October.
This summer during the last fortnight of July we organised the 10th Langlais Festival, which was bigger than ever – 10 concerts and two church masses in eight different venues with French, British, Dutch and Italian participants – a real international festival!
The 10th festival began with the visit of the Girls Choir from Guildford Cathedral, directed by Katherine Dienes-Williams, the first female director of music in an English cathedral, and accompanied by Paul Provost. The girls gave the opening concert in the church at La Fontenelle and then, before giving a concert the following afternoon in Rennes Cathedral, they sang mass on the Sunday morning at the church at Antrain. The same day, Sylvie Mallet and Marie-Louise Langlais gave a joint organ recital at the church of Saint-Méen, Cancale and we were delighted to welcome them once again to the festival.
Two days later, the choir and orchestra Concortium Musicum Divertimento from the Netherlands paid their first visit to our festival with a concert in the church at la Fontenelle. As the full choir and orchestra (120 people in total) could not fit into the church, we were treated to choral pieces and instrumental ensembles of great virtuosity.
On 23rd July the Rue Jean Langlais was inaugurated in Fougères in the presence of the Mayor of Fougères, Marie-Louise Langlais, widow of Jean Langlais, their daughter Caroline and their grand-daughter Margaux. The latter, aged 3, was given the honour of unveiling the plaque. The ceremony was followed by drinks and a finger buffet in the Salle Jean Langlais at les Urbanistes, the music school in Fougères, where the mayor and Marie-Louise Langlais thanked the Association Les Amis de Jean Langlais for the work it has done in the name of Jean Langlais, and Florence Rousseau and Loic Georgeault (organ) and Anne-Catherine Leissen-Botrel (flute) gave a beautiful concert of Jean Langlais’ music in Saint Leonard’s church afterwards.
The next day saw the entire choir and orchestra of the Consortium Musicum Divertimento (CMD) perform before a packed audience at Dol Cathedral. Everyone was delighted, so much so that CMD have been invited to return next year. And while all this was happening, two young Italian ladies arrtived to give a concert at the church in La Bouexière. Isabella Stabio (saxophone) and Stefania Mettadelli (organ) impressed with their panache and virtuosity.
The choral course began during the second week of the festival, and the choir (le Choeur de l’Académie) collaborated with the Chorale Les Amis de Jean Langlais to sing the Sunday morning mass, which was followed by the association’s annual lunch. Malcolm Archer and David Bednall gave their organ recital before an enthusiastic audience at the church of Saint-Martin in Vitré and the Choeur de l’Académie sang the Duruflé “Requiem” in the Basilica of Pontmain, with French mezzo-soprano Claire Péron. The summer festival ended with the customary concert in the church of La Fontenelle.
This year’s festival began with the choral week. 52 singers arrived on Saturday 18th July and rehearsed with Malcolm Archer and Colin Spinks. Mozart’s Missa Brevis K295, Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” and Psalm 150 by César Franck were sung the next day at mass in the church at La Fontenelle. The Chorale Les Amis de Jean Langlais took the lead in the French hymns and psalm, and afterwards we all joined together for the Association’s lunch in the Salle Polyvalente.
Malcolm Archer and David Bednall gave their customary organ recital in the Church of Saint-Méen, Cancale, where the grand orgue was used to its full capacity in works by Langlais, Guillou, Widor, Bridge and Coates as well as Malcolm and David’s own amazing improvisations. The Chœur de l’Académie were welcomed once again by the Estivals de l’Orgue in the Abbatiale Saint-Melaine in Rennes, where they sang Fauré’s “Requiem”, Holst’s “Nunc Dimittis”, Stanford’s “Magnificat” for double choir, “Salve Regina” by Poulenc, “O salutaris hostia” by Villette as well as “Aspire to God” by David Bednall and “A Hymn for Saint Cecilia” by Malcolm Archer. The following evening saw the two choirs combine to give a joint concert in the church at La Fontenelle and to sing together the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah”.
After the departure of the choral week singers, Week 2 saw even more musical variety. Samuel Carré, titulaire of the grand orgue at Dol Cathedral, and the bombarde player Kévin Colas gave a most enjoyable concert entitled “Breiz-China” in the church at Antrain. The marriage of Breton and Chinese music and the combination of these two instruments was quite magical, and the audience were very appreciative.
We were delighted to welcome back for a second year our Dutch friends, Consortium Music Divertimento. The large choir and orchestra did not disappoint in their two concerts – at Saint Leonard’s Church in Fougères and in Dol Cathedral, performing works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Jonathan Dove and John Rutter as well as specially composed works “Le Mont-Saint-Michel” by Desiree van Warmerdam and Ad de Jong’s “Hommage à la Bretagne”. These musicians have really endeared themselves to the people of Ile-et-Vilaine, and we are very pleased that they will be returning for a third year in 2016.
Our 2015 festival ended in the church at La Fontenelle with a concert of a cappella singing by a new English group, the Delos Consort, directed by Robert Brooks. Since 2010, Robert has been a regular visitor to the festival as a choral scholar, and we were thrilled by the singing of the eight young professionals from Manchester. Their programme ranged through Bach and Monteverdi via Elgar, Debussy and Saint-Saens to Simon and Garfunkel and Billy Joel, and a large, enthusiastic audience was left wanting more.
2015 is the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Association Les Amis de Jean Langlais, and, to mark the occasion, the mayor and town council of La Fontenelle made Brenda Dean an honorary citizen in recognition of the work she and her committee have done to make Jean Langlais and La Fontenelle better known, both in France and further afield. This amazing Franco-British collaboration will continue in 2016!