An innovative concept for festivals pushes classical music to “let its hair down”
La Folle Journée is a French annual classical music festival held in Nantes and the largest in the country. Its name refers to the alternative title of Pierre Beaumarchais’ “The Marriage of Figaro (“La Folle Journée” or “The Follies of a Day.”)
René Martin founded the La Folle Journée festival in 1995 with purpose of presenting short classical music concerts for diverse audiences in one day. Since its founding, the festival has expanded to cover 5 days of events and many other cities inside France. Other countries have adopted a similar format and today the festival has sites all over the world, including Rio de Janeiro (about 36,000 visitors for 48 concerts), Bilbao (about 29,000 for 60 concerts), and Tokyo (about 192,000 visitors for 221 concerts.)
La Folle Journée is a popular event founded on strong artistic demands, which have been the key to its storming success. The festival’s greatest achievement and principal aim is “overcoming the prejudice that surrounds classical music, without deforming its values.”
Often, classical music is viewed as inaccessible because of the culture and ritual associated with it, along with the perspective bestowed upon it by society. Social views are powerful determinants of behavior. It’s not easy for us to go against what society deems is right and wrong. Often that’s a good thing, but in the case of classical music, it can be an unfortunate hinderance. A social definition of classical doesn’t typically include “accessible music for the masses.” The sheer stature of classical music and its legendary composers can easily intimidate the casual listener.
It is in this area that La Folle Journée shines. By bringing classical music closer to the audience without diminishing the value of the music, it achieves something truly fantastic: “opening new horizons, while retaining the freedom of choice.”
The audience is granted the ability to meet composers or members of a national music school in their own time. Visitors can move from room to room, sampling a rich musical palette that caters to a wide range of tastes, sensitivities, and cultural practices. Rooms are often acoustically matched to their corresponding musical effects and styles. This promotes self-discovery on the part of the listener while keeping them in a comfortable zone, recognizing and allowing for each person’s capacity to concentrate and listen. Furthermore, with relatively low prices the festival is a sincere effort towards promoting classical music in a cross-cultural and economical fashion.
Behind the scenes is an incredible administrative, organizational, and visionary staff capable of hosting over 270 concerts and 1,800 enthusiastic musicians in direct contact with the audience, in the space of just five days. La Folle Journée boasts an impressive network of partner institutions and groups, along with an infrastructure of hotels, restaurants, transport operators and traders to support a festival of this immense scale, provide a quality welcome for visitors, and broadcast effective communication and promotion before and during the events.
Check out the video below and also this article from La Folle Journée’s website to learn more
Should this festival concept be imported to the US?
Does the idea of opening up classical music in this way appeal to you? Or are the long-standing conventions and format of the classical concert essential to the “classical tradition?”
Would such a format work well in the United States?
Share your thoughts with us below. This is a critically important topic that we will be exploring more in the coming weeks.
A beautiful performance from the festival: