Beethoven and Burgundy
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Beethoven and Burgundy

The MUSIQUE & VIN AU CLOS VOUGEOT in the Côte de Nuits pairs fine wine with world-class musicmaking.
by Sophie Menin. 

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Marlis Petersen and Matthew Polenzani in concert at Clos Vougeot, 2015
© JL Bernuy
The festival has become a cornerstone of the Burgundy social calendar.
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Yunpeng Wang in performance in 2015
© JL Bernuy

IMAGINE BEING INVITED TO AN INTIMATE CONCERT performed by world-class musicians in a Renaissance-style castle with a medieval wine cellar situated on the Route des Grands Crus in Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits. Before the concert, you get to sample wines from local royalty—iconic producers such as Lafarge, Roumier, de Villaine, Dujac, d’Angerville, Faiveley and Mugnier. It is late June, and with the sun lingering in the night sky, you make your way to a tented courtyard where the orchestra, conducted by Maurizio Benini, opens with Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A major. Next come excerpts from Carmen, Werther and Roméo et Juliette, sung by soprano Marlis Petersen, tenor Matthew Polenzani and a featured young artist, baritone Yunpeng Wang. The singers are in their best form. The concert is followed by a gala and a wine auction for the benefit of young musical talents. The flow of the evening is seamless, from the tasting to the concert to the dinner afterward.

For those who attended Musique & Vin au Clos Vougeot in 2015, this is not a fantasy but reminiscences of a night at a festival that always seems to be more than the sum of its parts. “It’s really a case of two plus two equals five—tasting wines of that caliber in their native land and then experiencing a concert of the same quality one hears at Lincoln Center or Covent Garden,” says festival director David Chan, who also serves as concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Choosing his words with care, he adds, “Sometimes the quality is even higher. For me, there is something about the atmosphere at Clos Vougeot that gives just a little more inspiration than even the great concert halls of the world.”

The festival, now in its ninth season, was born of a friendship between Chan and the celebrated Burgundy wine consultant Bernard Hervet. Charismatic leaders in their respective fields, each man wished to be part of the other’s world. A devoted lover of classical music since discovering Frédéric Chopin’s piano concertos at age fifteen, Hervet dreamed of inviting top-tier musicians to perform among the vineyards. Chan began studying wine after his father-in-law gave him a collection of rare bottles from the Napa Valley and Bordeaux. The more he learned about wine, the more he grew enchanted with the ethereal beauty of Burgundy, and he set his heart on spending more time in the storied region. 

By 2007, Chan had become a fixture on the New York wine scene, particularly Burgundy tastings, and a mutual friend thought it would be interesting to introduce him to Hervet. They met for breakfast on the Upper West Side, and the conversation quickly turned to the shared qualities of music and wine. Both are universal languages that allow you to say things you can’t say with words. “A great oenologist once told me that to make fine wine you have to know everything about technique and then use it as little as possible,” says Hervet. “It’s the same with music.” Chan agrees. “Both demand your respect and attention,” he says. “The more you give, the more they reveal and draw you in.”

By the time the check for the breakfast came, they had decided that Chan would give a private concert for wine producers and a select group of invited guests at Clos Vougeot that June on his way to teach at the festival in Verbier, Switzerland. He performed with his wife, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra violinist Catherine Ro. The program included pieces by Mozart and Handel for violin and viola, with Ro playing viola, and a Bach violin solo. A sense of magic pervaded the ancient winery as the vibrations of the string instruments filled the room. Plans for a festival gained immediate and unwavering support from key members of the Burgundy firmament—Domaine de la Romanée Conti, represented by Aubert de Villaine; Domaine Faiveley, represented by Erwan Faiveley; and La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, the fraternity of Burgundy wine enthusiasts who own and operate Clos Vougeot. 

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The stage in the festival’s tented courtyard
© JL Bernuy

Nine years later, Musique & Vin au Clos Vougeot has become a cornerstone of the Burgundy social calendar. It has hosted performances by Yo-Yo Ma, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Joyce DiDonato. It gathers its own ephemeral orchestra, L’Orchestre des Climats de Bourgogne, which this year will be led by Charles Dutoit. It has also established an enviable charity wine auction, for which renowned local producers donate bottles from their personal cellars, attracting avid collectors from London to Macau. Proceeds from the auction go to fund fellowships and commissions for instruments to be handcrafted by Europe’s most prominent luthiers and lent to gifted young artists.  

Musical selections for the 2016 festival include Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy and Brahms, as well as arias from Don Giovanni and La Bohème. It begins on June 18 at the Grandes Halles de Beaune, with a free concert showcasing fellowship recipients. Over the course of a week, there are two concerts at Clos Vougeot, preceded by tastings, and a concert and tasting at Chateau de Mersault before the festival concludes on June 26 with the gala event and auction. For those who cannot make it to Burgundy for this singular marriage of wine and music, there are plans to take it on the road. The tour begins in October 2017, with a concert in New York—just a stone’s throw from the breakfast spot where the idea for the festival was born. spacer 

Sophie Menin is a New York City-based journalist and the author  and publisher of the website 

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