27 – 28 – 29 May 2015
Two expats in Switzerland from different centuries, connected over time by a passion for music and art that’s celebrated at the Festival de Mai—an exceptional series of chamber music concerts in Suisse Romande that celebrate music and art in the spirit of Isabelle de Charrière.
The picturesque village of Colombier in the canton of Neuchâtel, with its impressive castle, has another lesser known site of historic and cultural significance to Switzerland: the salon de musique of Isabelle de Charrière. British expat and accomplished pianist, Alison Cullen, discovered this unique space with colorful Empire-style murals when she was looking for a site to host a chamber music festival.
Alison Cullen: A British expat in Switzerland
After an extended hiatus from performing to focus on raising her three children, Ms. Cullen from Britain, who trained at the Chopin Academy in Warsaw, saw the festival as a way to reconnect with her passion for music. Now in its third year, Festival de Mai boasts three evenings of concerts at three different venues from May 27-29, 2015. While the festival continues to evolve—engaging a dialogue between different art forms—chamber music remains at its core, and it continues to take inspiration from Madame de Charrière’s intellectual curiosity and artistic interests.
Isabelle de Charrière: A Dutch Expat in Switzerland
Similar to Ms. Cullen, who hails from Manchester, England and serves as the artistic director for Festival de Mai, the famed Isabelle de Charrière was also an expat in Switzerland. Born in the Netherlands, Madame de Charrière lived in Colombier from 1771 until her death in 1805. She was a prolific writer, publishing her first novel anonymously at the age of 22—a satire about Dutch nobility, Le Noble, which apparently caused a scandal at the time. In addition to her passion for writing, she also loved music and tried her hand at composing minuets, sonatas and more.
During her years in Switzerland, Madame de Charrière lived in the 17th century Manoir du Pontet in Colombier with her husband, Charles-Emmanuel de Charrière. As the former tutor of her brothers, he was considered an unsuitable match for a woman of aristocracy. Her salon de musique at their home served as an important cultural center in Suisse Romande, as she hosted musical performances and literary readings in this elegant and intimate space.
The beautiful murals that adorn the walls and ceilings of the salon de musique, however, did not exist during the time of Madame de Charrière. They were added in the early 19th century. A restoration of the salon de musique was completed with the support of Fondation Kindermann in 2008, ensuring the continued use of this space for cultural and intellectual exchange.
Expanding Festival de Mai: Chamber Music and Visual Arts
Like the multiple artistic interests of Madame de Charrière, the 2015 Festival de Mai expands to include visual arts along with exceptional chamber music. In particular, two concerts will incorporate works by Polish artist Bartosz Sikorski (also a double bassist for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), who explores links between music, color, form and light. Mr. Sikorki’s short animations will be screened in between works performed during a recital given by internationally-acclaimed Szymanowski Quartet at the Neuchâtel campus of the Haute École de Musique de Genève. Throughout the 3-day festival, he will also have a special exhibition on display at the Galerie Lange + Pult in the nearby village of Auvernier.
Following each concert, Festival de Mai will host a reception with local wines from Burgat Caves and refreshments from Walder Confiseur-Chocolatier.
Ticket price: Adults: CHF 38; and AVS/students: CHF 28. A subscription for all three concerts is CHF 85. The final concert at Galerie Lange + Pult is free and open to the public (limited number of spaces available). For reservations: email email@example.com or call 079 337 58 62.
Festival de Mai
Association suisse Isabelle de Charrière
Projets FNS – Isabelle de Charrière / Belle van Zuylen: un esprit indépendant au tournant des Lumières, Université de Neuchâtel – Institut de littérature française
Manoir du Pontet (Chemin du Pontet 2), Société d’histoire de l’art en Suisse
Winterthur-Wülflingen: résonances musicales et littéraires, Centre national d’information sur le patrimoine culturale
(Photos courtesy of Festival de Mai).
By Heddi Nieuwsma