Guitars, a Lute, an Oud, and a Kora: 3rd Le Temps des Guitares Festival is a Hit in Southern France

STORY AND PHOTOS BY SUSAN HARRISON/Vice-President, Le Temps des Guitares Association

(A note from CG editor Blair Jackson: Purely by coincidence, my spring trip to France took my wife and me to the Lot region and to lodgings just half an hour from Puy L’Evêque, which has hosted a small guitar festival the past three years. Alas, we were there too early in the year to actually attend the festival, but we enjoyed a nice lunch and tour of the region with one of the festival’s principals, Susan Harrison. I asked Susan to write up an account of this year’s typically eclectic offering, which once again, proved to be a great success. Her account follows.)

The months of preparation by our small team of volunteers were all worth it. The third year of the Le Temps des Guitares festival was indeed the best yet, with the more than 1,100 people attending a testament to its success.

The small town of Puy l’Evêque in the Lot Valley has a medieval center that cascades down the hill to the river Lot.  But not content with relying on this heritage, and the obvious attractions of Cahors wine, walnut orchards, and the gastronomic offerings of duck and Cabecou goat cheese, they see their role as cultural leader for the area. The open-air Theatre de Verdure amphitheatre is an ideal spot for all sorts of concerts and theatrical presentations, accommodating 400 or more spectators in a natural courtyard, with the church of Saint-Saveur (mostly constructed between the 14th and 16th centuries) immediately above, offer a fall-back as a venue in case of a summer storm. The festival team do a fine job of transforming this site into a colorful village setting, with the help of the municipal team, local plant suppliers, caterers, and of course wine makers. Music and wine make a delicious combination.


Saint-Sauveur church and the amphitheatre where the festival takes place. Photo: Regan McMahon

The Artistic Directors and originators of the festival, Olivier Bensa and Cecile Cardinot, recognized as top guitarists in France and abroad, set out once again to provide an eclectic mix of styles. With eight different concerts over the four evenings, this was achieved—and then some. The first night saw virtuoso Liat Cohen play some of the classic repertoire from Villa-Lobos, Tárrega, and Bach. That was followed by Valérie Duchateau with her special show The Guitar Sings Barbara evoking the 20th century work of singer Barbara Brodi (1930–1997), the “Lady in Black,” who rose to prominence singing songs by such French pop music icons as Jaques Brel and George Brassens, but then composed many of her own songs rather than always singing the work of male writers. Duchateau’s guitar did the singing on many recognizable songs, but the poetry was spoken—complete with a single rose and a candle setting the atmosphere.

The second night, Stephanie Jones, young Australian now furthering her studies in Augsburg, Germany, charmed the audience with works by Regondi, Piazzolla, and William Walton. Her presentation, composure, and lightness of touch were delightful. Rarely have the depth and energy of Walton’s Bagatelles been so well conveyed. She was followed by Joseph Tawadros, Egyptian by birth, Australian by education, Londoner by recent adoption, playing the oud.  He has performed with some greats, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra; this time this colorful personality was playing his own compositions solo, with passion and some flamboyance, but also with introspection and humor—to great acclaim from the crowd.

Stephanie Jones
Joseph Tawadros and his oud

On the third night, the hugely talented guitarist Alexandre Bernoud played some of the more recent classics—Albéniz, Barrios, Piris, and Martin, then some recognizable Roland Dyens arrangements of French songs, which, though difficult, he made flow so easily (and also were very well received). Following him, and by way of contrast, the Freres Méduses (Jellyfish Brothers)—Frenchman from Toulouse Benoit Albert, with American Randall Avers—purposely moved off traditional repertoire in favor of Benoit’s own compositions. Their modern style is technically brilliant, but perhaps not such easy listening for some. Thankfully, the threatening  rain held off!

Alexandre Bernoud
Freres Méduses: Benoit Albert (L) and Randall Avers

On the final night, Saturday evening, local heroes Bensa-Cardinot started with John Dowland, with Olivier Bensa on the lute accompanying Cecile Cardinot’s lovely, pure voice. Then it was back to guitars with Piazzolla. Their encore was  a “four-handed” lute piece by Dowland, yes, played on a single lute, to great delight and amusement. Then, the stage was turned over to Ballaké Sissoko from Mali, with his wonderful and hypnotic 21-string Kora. The audience wanted that delicate melody to continue all night, especially one Senegalese woman present who had tears in her eyes. The capper for his program was a guest appearance by Joseph Tawadros, who brought on his oud for an unplanned, magical, and completely spellbinding jam session that brought the house down. A grand finale indeed!

How will we be able to follow that next July?

Olivier Bensa and Cecile Cardinot: Four hands, one lute
Ballaké Sissoko