Victor Hugo is a literary giant. His output of novels, plays, histories and poems was enormous. He was also a very active political figure, taking a prominent part in great 19th century debates including the issue of capital punishment, to which he was profoundly opposed. A European Union was one of his many visions. His anti-royalist political views led to his exile and 15 years spent living in Guernsey. Those 15 years were some of the most productive of his life, seeing the publication of his great collection of poetry, Les Contemplations, the conclusion of Les Misérables, and the writing of Les Travailleurs de la mer, amongst many other works. Les Misérables became, of course, a hit musical. An earlier work Notre-Dame de Paris is better known to us as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and was even made into a Disney cartoon a few years ago. The Travailleurs de la mer, or Toilers of the Sea was actually set in Guernsey. It is a powerful evocation of the human spirit and the forces of nature in conflict with each other.

The bicentenary of Hugo’s birth in 2002 was marked by a number of events, including a week-long international music festival, the 1st Victor Hugo International Music Festival. The festival was a great success and included memorable performances by Véronique Gens, Jean-Philippe Collard, the Ysaye String Quartet, The Harp Consort and the English Chamber Orchestra. The festival began with a concert given by Camera Obscura in Hugo’s extraordinary home, Hauteville House, St Peter Port. The house is owned by the City of Paris and open to the public from April to September. It is well worth a visit.

Victor Hugo’s poetry has inspired composers from the very beginning. Each festival includes a Hugo Recital, the centrepiece of which is the premiere of new settings of Hugo poems by a contemporary composer commissioned for the purpose. In this way we combine Hugo’s literary work with modern composition, which seems an entirely appropriate way to commemorate his work and to ensure that it lives in the Channel Islands. In time there will be enough new settings to produce a songbook and recordings.

The 2nd Victor Hugo International Music Festival was held in 2004 and was again very well received, featuring memorable performances by the following: The Lindsays, Kathryn Stott, the Martinu String Quartet, I Fagiolini, Camera Obscura, Dimitri Ashkenazy, Karina Gauvin, Roger Vignoles, The Harp Consort and Musica Antiqua Köln. Richard Dubugnon composed new settings for the Hugo Recital, sung by Karina Gauvin. During the same period a very successful Folk Festival was also held, the whole week being brought to a celebratory conclusion with a Club Ceilidh.


Victor Hugo in middle age

Victor Hugo in middle age

The Third Victor Hugo International Music Festival will be held between 23rd and 30th September 2006 and opens with a performance by the Northern Sinfonia conducted by virtuoso violinist Thomas Zehetmair.

The Northern Sinfonia is one of Europe’s leading chamber orchestras, renowned for its dynamic approach to programmes and performances.

Other highlights include the Storioni Trio, the St Petersburg String Quartet and the prodigious young French pianist Lise de la Salle.

The acclaimed mezzo-soprano, Bernarda Fink teams up with Roger Vignoles to deliver the Hugo Recital which will again feature new settings of Hugo poems, this time composed by the French composer and musicologist Jean-François Zygel. Zygel is renowned in France as both a musician and teacher who has produced acclaimed DVD masterclasses on Debussy, Franck, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn.

Bryce Morrison, writing for Gramophone magazine, said this about Lise de la Salle:
"I have rarely heard a young pianist so in love with music, so memorably and naturally immersed in the task in hand. Music is, quite simply, her world; she moves within its realm as naturally as a fish swims or a bird flies. Lise de la Salle is a talent in a million.”

The 3rd Victor Hugo International Music Festival promises to be a wonderful week for music lovers and we look forward to welcoming you.