Harmony in the Pyrenees

Etchings Festival participants Etchings Festival participants outside their 14th Century cathedral performance space in Auvillar, France.
(Professor John Aylward, second from right.)

Clark University Music Professor John Aylward believes that to be at our most creative, we need to unplug and step away from our busy digital lives. With the help of collaborators from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, he founded the Etchings Music Festival for Contemporary Music in Auvillar, France.

The music festival, held in the Midi-Pyrenees region, is the “perfect place for honest, frank interactions with musicians from all over the world,” says Aylward, who is the festival’s artistic and executive director. “It’s about as far away from our normal tech-frenzied routine as you can imagine. It’s a unique experience to retreat to a quiet place to cultivate your art in a community of other passionate artists.”

“I wanted to create a positive environment for young emerging composers to develop their craft in a quiet setting,” Aylward adds. Concerts take place in a fourteenth-century renovated chapel, but the music itself is contemporary — a juxtaposition that helps make the Etchings Festival unique “You don’t expect to hear modern music in a centuries-old space,” Aylward explains. “And you wouldn’t think that some of the most cutting-edge music would be workshopped, rehearsed and performed in such a remote setting.”

Now in its seventh year, the Etchings Festival is part of Aylward’s research collaboration with contemporary European composers. Each June he travels to Paris, Strasbourg, Berlin and beyond to work with colleagues who are “some of the best interpreters of modern music throughout Europe.” He then brings their work—and often the composers themselves—to the festival.

“These composers not only inform my own compositions, but also expose the young musicians who attend the Festival to some of the best international contemporary composers of our time,” says Aylward. Among the composers teaching master classes and lessons are Philippe Hurel, Stefano Gervasonoi, David Rakowski, Fabien Levy, Louis Karchin, George Tsontakis and Georg Friedrich Haas.

“I think I can safely say that seclusion works,” laughs Aylward. “We’ve not only cultivated great new composers, but premiered an incredible amount of new music. I’m proud that the Festival can make this contribution to the contemporary music community.”