Steve reports on Festi Tuba around Dijon, France.
It is now about three years since my last experience of this very friendly and imaginative low brass festival in France cutely called Festi Tuba, organized magnificently and immaculately by Veronique Lancien. For Vero this festival consumes her time and energy constantly and for me to be part of the final flowering of this event was most pleasurable. Last time the festival was based around Le Creusot, and this time the three day festival visited three different towns all in close proximity. All are in the region of Dijon, most famous of course for its mustard, and now the scene for over a hundred low brass players gathering together to share the enjoyment of making music ‘this’ way! As a principal soloist at this festival I knew that it was going to be quite a physically demanding time, particularly as the attractions of the excellent food and wine in the area are well known. The other main guest soloist was Arnaud Boukhitine, who I first heard many years ago at the World Tuba and Euphonium Competition in Guebwiller,France. He has since gone on to make a huge reputation for himself as a soloist, teacher and a musician who is not afraid to do innovative things and moreover cares passionately about music. The other guest, who also has some musical skills as a clarinetist, is best known as a performer and teacher in the sphere of martial arts, his name being Gerard Chemama. He brought to the festival it completely different perspective on how to use our bodies to achieve control, power, energy and balance in our world of musical performance. It was a very great treat for me to work with him at a 3 hour class on the Saturday morning for all participants, where we investigated how our different perspectives and the way we breathe, study and perform can be closely related to the disciplines of martial arts.
The first day of the festival, 4th the April, was based in the town of Autun, where Gerard gave a morning class in the school of music. After an excellent Chinese buffet lunch it was masterclass time with myself working with about 20 excellent high level students and Arnaud working with some very fine tuba players upstairs at the music school. It was a long 3 hour class in which I did my best to communicate in French. When I forgot the words my good friend and French euphonium superstar Anthony Caillet helped me. His English has come on tremendously since I first met in several years ago, and his euphonium playing is as remarkable and virtuosic as ever. I believe there are several intriguing clips of some of his imaginative work on YouTube which I would encourage you all to try to find. That evening I performed with the Harmonie Municipale De’Autun, and played Harlequin, Philip Sparke and also the first movement of the Horovitz concerto as well as some variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The young people of the band did a very fine job here even if some of the tempos changed from the previous evening’s rehearsal. It was a real pleasure to see the faces of these young musicians giving of their best to a very large audience in the Hexagon concert hall in the town. In the first part of the concert a tuba ensemble and big band and children’s choir performed a very imaginative work by Mark Steckar. Following a good late dinner at the hall with all the performers I drove with the Besson sales representative from France Vincert Nackaert, to a comfortable hotel in Dijon ready for the next long day which began at 9.00 AM with the shared class with Gerard. We had around 130 musicians in for this class in which many of the routines that I used regularly were combined with exercises from the world of martial arts. It was a very good time. After lunch all musicians to the instruments and divided into smaller groups to prepare the music for the large massed ensemble, which was to perform that evening and at a large concert in a market hall in Beaune the next lunchtime. Besson had a fine exhibition of new instruments there and most of the participants had the chance to try the new Besson euphoniums and tubas. Many of them already played Besson, which was good to see, but I was particularly pleased to see the reaction to the new instruments which was universally excellent. I managed to escape for about 45 minutes to get a little rest in the hotel before my rehearsal with the military band I was to play with that evening, in the famous acoustic of the Auditorium in Dijon. The band was the Musique des Forces Aeriennes de Dijon, conducted by Rene Wartell, a most genial and friendly man. I knew that I had to play three pieces with them but I did not know that they would follow one after another in the second half of the program. When two of those pieces are major concertos, the concerto by Vladimir Cosma and James Curnow, with the latter’s Rhapsody in between, it made for quite a tough 50 minutes of non stop playing. The Auditorium is becoming very famous and revered by many musicians and justifiably so as the sound quality it encourages is really first class. I was delighted to see between 900 and 1000 in the audience coming to hear a programme of low brass music. Arnaud Boukhitine played superbly in the first half, as did Anthony Caillet, who played a brand new piece by Thierry Caens, who teaches in Dijon and he’s a very famous trumpet player too. His ‘Slam Fantasy’ was given its world premiere by Anthony who did a remarkable job as ever. I was very happy with the performance of the band and especially pleased with the second movement of the Cosma Concerto which was for me the most enjoyable performance that I have ever given of this beautiful work, so thanks to Rene and the band for their support. The concert finished with a piece called Scottish Metisse, a rather strange and funky piece that Vero had found and arranged herself for large tuba ensemble and band. It worked extremely well as a finale to the concert with Anthony and Arnaud proving that they are also jazz Gods! The large audience were most appreciative, so much so that we had to play it again. Later we finally made it to a bar that was open after midnight to enjoy a little liquid relaxation at the end of what had been a very long but enjoyable day. The next morning, rather too early, we made our way to the town of Beaune, often frequented by British tourists in search of happiness, property and tranquility. I’m not sure in which order. Our large ensemble rehearsed for an hour in the large market hall in the centre of the historic town, then we took a little break and at midday performed for family and friends and the curious who were enjoying the beautiful spring weather in this part of France. Anthony and I also played a baroque duet during this concert. Virtually as soon as it was finished long wooden tables were put in the marketplace and a delightful and typically French lunch, rather long, followed! It was a beautiful way to finish Festi Tuba and was a chance for everyone to talk a little, say our goodbyes and thank yous. Many returned to Vero’s house to unwind and taste even more superb food and wine before we could declare the weekend officially over.
So, many thanks to all involved especially Vero and her family, and it was particularly gratifying to see so many very young players involved, encouraged by family and their teachers. I have a feeling that low brass playing in France has a very good future. Many leading players and teachers came to support during the weekend. It would be lovely to see such dedication and enthusiasm in all other countries were I perform. Thank you Vero – you did it again!!!
A bientot et merci beaucoup.