A key regular feature of Musique-Cordiale events is a period of rehearsal and performance of major choral works by the Ensemble Cordial, a European choir & orchestra with instrumental and vocal soloists. It consists mainly of French, British, German and Swiss musicians and singers and included musicians from the USA and South America in 2006. The ensemble includes some internationally renowned instrumentalists and professional musicians, interacting educationally with budding young singing and playing talent from 'conservatoires'. It has provided a springboard for promising singers and musicians who tend to appear at the festival while at or soon after graduating from colleges such as the Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music in London. It also includes good enthusiastic amateurs, there to build up their skills and contribute to the music-making.
The annual Musique-Cordiale summer music festival takes place in and around Seillans in the Var in the south of France. It is a growing international musical experience. Like the autumn music weekend, which has taken place under the umbrella of the Canterbury Festival, in Kent, England, it features concerts and open rehearsals by the Ensemble Cordial as well as performances and master-classes by other musicians. Concerts take place in churches, public buildings, out-of-doors and in specially-erected stadiums in the towns.
The festival repertoire, from classical to jazz, from sacred to sexy, is designed to suit an eclectic variety of tastes. There has been a particular focus on choral works and opera arias, performed a capella or with a full or chamber orchestra. Such concerts are interspersed with, for example, violin, piano, trumpet or oboe recitals, musical soirées, lectures and lively youthful gigs by singer-songwriters. Classical training and a passion for music, professionally performed, are common features among most of the musicians, regardless of what kind of music they play or sing. Recent and future performers include Artisan, Emily Kraemer, Stephen Roberts, mezzo-soprano Polly May, Piers Adams & Red Priest (violin, cello, piano and a variety of recorders), Hans Martin Ulbrich (oboe), Florenz Jenny (bassoon), pianists Marina Nadiradze, Paul Posnak & Martin Kasik, oboist Mike O'Donnell, promising young sopranos Rosie Bell, Anna Leese & Elizabeth Drury, counter-tenor James Armitage and the Bolivian Soloists quintet (flute, cello, violin, double bass and piano).
Young conductors such as Tomas Netopil and Kevin Griffiths provide energetic new approaches to the direction of works which the Ensemble Cordial performs; the Bach Mass in B Minor, the Mozart Mass and the Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin have found favour with audiences in the past and the latter reappeared in the 2007 repertoire by popular request - and also because the choir found this an intensely satisfying a capella piece to sing. In 2007, the choral programme included Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, The Brandenburg Concerto (J S Bach), Handel's Dixit Dominus and Zadok the Priest with the Duruflé Requiem, with its 2 organs played by Andrew Parnell and vocal solos by Christopher Wray and Rosie Bell, providing the musical centre-piece of three final choral concerts performed in three beautiful old churches under the baton of conductor Errol Girdlestone.
Each year, a specially-constituted Quartet, consisting of well-known chamber music players, plays as a quartet under the guise of Quatuor Cordial 2005, 2007 etc. Other pieces performed in concerts during the 2007 festival included: familiar opera arias sung by Anna Leese following her recent Covent Garden debut, including J C Bach's Cara la dolce fiamma and, with Andrew Staples, the Mi ciamano Mimi, O soave fanciulla duet by Puccini and ; Trumpet concerti and sonatas by Albinoni, Handel and Vivaldi, JS Bach's Concerto for 2 violins and the Marcello concerto for oboe and strings. The Quatuor Arpeggione string quartet performed a concert and its violinists, Nicolas Risler and Isabelle Flory also played in the Ensemble Cordial again in 2007, with Nicolas leading the orchestra, conducted by Errol Girdlestone. Musical direction in 2008 is by Kevin Griffiths & Tom Seligman, himself conducting at the festival for the first time. The artistic director of the festival is violinist and viola-player Pippa Pawlik.
Concerts in 2007 took place from 10 - 20 August in the towns (and lovely Provencal "villes perchées") of Bargemon, Seillans and Mons. The 2008 International Musique-Cordiale Festival runs from 7 - 17 August 2008.