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Events in France this month: art, nature and music festivals

Discover the events not to miss in France this September.

Normandy Impressionist Festival, until November 15

The Normandy Impressionist Festival is all about impressionism, the 19th-century art movement that claims some of France’s most successful and admired artists, such as Claude Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir.

A relative newbie on the art festival scene, Normandy Impressionist Festival has seen loyal impressionism-appreciating art fans flock to the region annually since 2010, to delve into the world of impressionism through a host of exhibitions on both impressionist and contemporary art, live performances, conferences and more.

This year’s theme to mark the festival’s 10th anniversary is ‘colour day by day’. It is part of the festival’s re-invention under General Commissioner Philippe Piguet, and offers a look into the continuous theme of colour in the impressionist movement, how artists related to and used colour, and how their artworks are mirrors reflecting what society was like at the time of each piece’s creation.

We asked him what attendees can expect from this year’s edition, and what makes this year stand out. “The specificity of Normandy Impressionism 2020 is to highlight the fact that, if the landscape is the DNA of Impressionism, it is crossed by vectors such as the human, the playful and the societal. It is also to assert its openness towards contemporary, multidisciplinary creation, because impressionism is a matter as much of content, forms and means as of energy and dynamics.”

The exhibitions in Caen on “The Burning Cities. Art, work, revolt” in Le Havre are perfect illustrations. The festival’s events have been selected by the Normandie Impressionniste committee, and the festival will take place across the region’s cultural institutions; in museums, art centres and choreographic centres. The aim of the festival is to keep the movement prevalent today, respecting its conception by Paris-based artists back in the 1870s, by allowing attendees to immerse themselves in the past, present and future of impressionism.

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What to see

‘The garden of a thousand colours’. The vibrant colours and diverse nature of the public gardens and green spaces of Montivilliers are known to have inspired the impressionist painters. Installations and decorations will be installed, to highlight the city’s points of inspiration and give attendees an idea of why these green spaces were such a source of creative stimulation for the artists.

‘Black water lilies’ at Museum of Fine Arts. This exhibition revolves around a Monet-themed comic book by Fred Duval and Didier Cassegrain, authors of the comic book adaptation of Michel Bussi’s novel, Nymphéas noirs. Explore drawings loaned exclusively by private collectors.

PLUS: for readers interested in contemporary art, head to ‘Milléniales. Peintures 2000-2020’, an art exhibition in Bordeaux (September 25 2020 - January 3 2021) showcasing a wide range of artists, sharing the most significant developments in painting in the last twenty years.

International Garden Festival, The Domaine of Chaumont-sur-Loire, until November 1

Consciousness about the state of the planet is at an all-time high, and topics are popping up in conversations and in daily life now more than ever. Back this autumn with an extremely relevant theme is the International Garden Festival, where the theme is set to be ‘Return to Mother Earth’.

The festival is held at the Domaine of Chaumont-sur-Loire, a site where heritage, art and gardens come together. There are three particular areas to explore: The Chateau, a fortress built in the year 1000 to watch over the border of the counties of Blois and Anjou; The Stables, built in 1877 by Paul-Ernest Sanson, the architect of the Prince and Princess de Broglie – they were considered in the 19th century to be the most luxurious stables in Europe, with a saddle room full of harnesses designed by Hermes; and finally, the historic grounds, an “English-style” landscape that stretches over 32 hectares.

Here you will spot the reservoir (water tower), the “rustic” bridge which separates two of the 30 new gardens, and a dog cemetery, once ordered to be constructed by Princess de Broglie who was a known animal-lover (dogs, cats, donkeys and monkeys in particular) and wanted her beloved animals to be buried close to her in the palace.

This year’s theme is all about highlighting the wonders of Mother Nature, protecting her as an “eternal source of fruitfulness”. The designers have been tasked with creating green spaces that keep this spiritual and informative theme in mind. An organiser of the event told us how proud the whole team is of the 29th edition of the Festival.

“The theme ‘Return to Mother Earth’ is extraordinary. We present 30 new gardens until November 1st, including a beautiful one from South Africa by Leon Kluge,” they said. As for what not to miss in September, the organiser highlighted Les Botaniques de Chaumont-sur-Loire. “It’s a plant show and sale taking place over the weekend of the 19th and 20th of September 2020. Over these two days you will find a diversity of plant varieties for sale, and have the opportunity to meet people and exchange horticultural know-how and gardening tips. This second edition is once again the result of a partnership between the Domain and the organisation Plantes et Cultures, an association of plant nurseries that aims to promote plant diversity, respect for the environment, sharing expertise and promoting the work of nurserymen and collectors.”

“The Prince and Princess de Broglie (former owners) had several plant collections, so the Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire felt that it was important to revive this period and invite today’s producers and collectors to take part.”

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Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, September 19 - 20, across France

The Journées européennes du patrimoine, or European Heritage Days, are days in which both the private and public institutions of France (and the rest of Europe) open up to the public.

It is an annual event held on the third weekend of September, and this year marks the 37th edition. The theme? Heritage and education. Les Journées du patrimone are hugely popular in France and encourage cohesion between residents of the country and France’s institutions, as well as highlighting how much there is to learn about French history and culture.

This year’s edition is eagerly awaited, after cultural life in France was put on hold because of the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown. Franck Riester, France’s previous Minister of Culture, says the organisation behind the 2020 European Heritage days has been an example of “extraordinary mobilization”, and will offer a “newfound access to culture”. Visitors will be able to access France’s historic monuments and institutions and enjoy guided tours, demonstrations, exhibitions, quizzes and readings, at venues such as Château de Vaux and the splendid Salle Labrouste at the National History of Art Institute in Paris.

The event was launched in 1985 in France, and now sees all 50 European countries open their institutions up to the public, in the hope of promoting local cultural diversity, works of art, architectural styles, and local skills and traditions that make the European Union a “mosaic of European cultures”.

By opening itself up, the Council of Europe and the European Union who run the Journées du patrimoine as a joint initiative, also aim to create a climate in which racism and xenophobia have no place, and in which tolerance reigns. With an overwhelming amount available to see and do, we recommend perusing the website to decide what to visit and when. You can choose to discover tangible or intangible heritage, pick from categories such as hidden treasures, cultural routes, archaeology, landscape/nature and industrial heritage.

We spoke with Monsieur Laurent Roturier, director of the DRAC Île-de-France - regional direction of cultural affairs - about the September 2020 Journées Européennes du Patrimoine

What's special about this year's events?

The European Heritage Days aim to celebrate heritage in all its forms, whether tangible, intangible or natural. Visitors can benefit from a rich program that includes numerous cultural events and experiences: guided tours, demonstrations of know-how, exhibitions, games/quizzes, readings, escapes games etc.

Nearly 3,000 events take place in 1,500 locations in Île-de-France. Each year, la DRAC Île-de-France (Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles - The Regional direction of cultural affairs) is proud to contribute to make honor to Heritage in Île-de-France. In 2020, thanks to the shared theme “Heritage and education: learning for life!”, The European Heritage Days will celebrate the full potential of Heritage as a learning tool and a source of inspiration for the future.

In this year's theme, a particular attention will be paid to school buildings in Île-de-France such as La Sorbonne, and la maison d'éducation de la Légion d'honneur (a house of education) of Saint-Denis (93). We are also proud to include in the EHDs program some historical institutions that build scientific knowledge on Heritage: Institut national d'histoire de l'art (INHA) or l’Institut National du Patrimoine (INP).

What's not to miss?

This year, the EHDs program is enriched by a large diversity of first participations. For the first time, l’Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO) (75), the Qatar Embassy (75) or L’Ange Volant de Gio Ponti (92) join the EHDs.

Places of power remain very popular during the EHDs. Among the most well-known venues in Île-deFrance, l’Elysée, prefectures, ministries and embassies open their doors to the public for the weekend. In Paris, one of the most exclusive visits would be le Palais du Luxembourg, le Petit Luxembourg, residence of the president of the Senate, and the Garden’s greenhouses. It is opportunity to explore the Senate’s exceptional heritage, garden and architecture during these special days focusing this year on the theme of education.

What’s more, le ministère de l’Éducation nationale (Ministry of Higher Education), le ministère de la Recherche et de l’Innovation (Ministry of Research and Innovation) and l’Hôtel d'Avaray (The Royal Netherlands Embassy to France) are not to miss in Paris. Outside Paris, town halls or prefectures of departments are often gems to discover. The EHDs are more than guided tours. Many fun activities take place: escape games, scavenger hunt, creative workshops, story readings for children, but also shows, costumed reenactments.

Any behind the scenes secrets?

Through guided tours or exceptional workshops, public can exceptionally discover some secret universes. During EHDs, visitors can go behind the scenes of many theaters: Théâtre Montansier in Versailles (78), Nouveau théâtre Montreuil (93), Théâtre de Brunoy (91), Théâtre des Quartiers d’Ivry (94). Visits to archaeological excavation sites such as le sanctuaire Gallo-romain of Vaux-de-la-Celle (95) (a Gallo-Roman sanctuary) or the Pincevent site are also exclusive.

The EHDs are also the opportunity to discover the richness and diversity of professions linked to heritage. Through workshops and demonstrations of know-how, artisans show their unique expertise. Visitors can access to the restoration workshops at the Musée de l'Armée (Invalides, Paris) or the Musée de Nemours in Seine-et-Marne (77). In Saint-Denis (93), les ateliers d'art de la Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais (art workshops) which notably manufacture Marianne statues, also open their doors.

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Strasbourg Musica Festival, September 17 - October 3

In 1982, France’s Minister of Culture created the Strasbourg Musica Festival, with the hope of making contemporary music more accessible to a wider audience and young people, and to celebrate the musical repertoires of the new generations of musicians.

Today, it is one of the most significant music festivals in Europe. The programme boasts over 40 events spread across a fortnight each year, hosted in cultural institutions across the city, also encouraging interest and exploration of what else the place has to offer.

The festival allows visitors to enter into a space created to nurture and showcase artistic expression and freedom and the programme offers something for everyone, from a live set by a Japanese artist, an experience described as a “techno-digital bath”, to a grand performance of a marching band by a well-known national opera company.

The festival benefits the city, too, as 50% of the festival proceeds is reinvested in the local economy. This means young people get access to musicians, encouraging budding artists and performers to pursue their dreams. Here are some highlights we recommend booking:

100 Cymbals. This performance, the first of the festival, will launch this year’s edition of Musica with a unique bang; the sounds of 100 cymbals that will create an “abyss of vibration”. A rare listening experience, 100 Cymbals will take place in the Hall Rhin of Strasbourg’s Palace of Music and Congress. The stage performance will be accompanied by vibrant visuals. With this, the performer, Ryoji Ikeda, is able to showcase the “rich potential of cymbals”, an instrument that you will never think of as rudimentary or unimportant after you experience being immersed in the sounds of 100 of them!

Tribute to Klaus Nomi. A performance paying homage to Klaus Nomi, an elusive figure in the music industry. After being discovered by David Bowie in late 1970s New York, Nomi created the genre ‘experimental cabaret’, which combined elements of baroque opera and electro current, a non-conforming music scene that was emerging at the time. Though his time in the spotlight was brief, having disappeared two years after his first album release, Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth sees him as a pioneer of musical synthesis to be celebrated, as he will be in this inter-contemporary set.

Femenine. Julius Eastman was an American composer, pianist, vocalist, and dancer. In 1974, he created Femenine, a musical performance that includes 14 different musical instruments, including clarinets, bassoons, percussion, a piano, saxophones and trumpets. Hailed as a musical masterpiece, Femenine is a showcase and expression of Eastman’s passion for “living music in the strongest sense of the word”, and his personal struggles. He describes himself as “Black at heart, musician at heart, homosexual at heart”, and Femenine echoes his experience of coming up against establishments that were constructed against him and others like him... not to mention the racial and sexual taboos of his time, and the gender-conforming nature of society that squashes the horizons of many even today.

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