Reviving the charms of the concert-promenade

If you are in Paris today, May 29, you might want to wander in the Jardin de Ranelagh between four and five in the afternoon, where you will be serenaded by a baroque ensemble in the kiosque à musique. If you cannot make it that day, there is a list at the bottom of this blog of Sunday concerts-promenades in similar kiosques taking place in the city throughout the summer.

There is a story behind these concerts and behind the kiosques themselves. There is always a story.

Let’s start with the kiosques. (In English, we call them bandstands, which sounds rather military, and the bands that once played in them in England often were.)

The Jardin de Ranelagh was created in 1774, its name borrowed from a successful pleasure garden founded on property owned by Lord Ranelagh (the name is Irish) in Chelsea, London. It was located outside the western limit of Paris at the time, and in its early days, it was frequented by none other than Marie-Antoinette, who had a pied-à-terre nearby.

The kiosque à musique at Ranelagh, likely the first in the area, was constructed in the 19th century. It looked like this:

What is there now is a replacement, the wooden version having long since crumbled.

The idea of an outdoor music pavilion caught on, and over the 19th century, kiosques were constructed in many parks in Paris and in other French cities. Adolphe Alphand, the architect of much of Paris’s park design and park furniture, gave them his endorsement by including images in his massive book Les Promenades de Paris. Here is his design (shown in a cut-away view on the right side) for one in the Bois de Vincennes:

The balustrade and the latticework are similar to the original Ranelagh kiosque, but Alphand goes one better with a little topknot. Alphand also created a festive version for the Champs-Elysées.

This one, too, has been replaced by a newer version, but the replacement is a little closer to its 19th-century incarnation.

More than 30 kiosques were built in Paris. Artists such as Raoul Dufy painted them; he called this painting Dimanche (Sunday), because the kiosques came alive on Sunday afternoons.

Many fell into disuse after the First World War, but have gradually revived in the 21st century, particularly as venues for the annual Fête de la Musique. Here is a picture we took of the very large kiosque in the Jardin du Luxembourg in 2014, with dancers in period costume.

In 2016, the city repaired and renovated 33 kiosques, adding electrical outlets and improving lighting and safety.

Then came the pandemic.

Our friend Mary Ann Warrick, who lives near the Jardin du Ranelagh (which is crossed by a boulevard called Chausée de la Muette), kept noticing the kiosque and wondering why it was so seldom animated, particularly when other outdoor venues were being used for gatherings that could not take place indoors. She wrote to the mayor of the 16th arrondissement in 2020, remarking that it was a pity that the kiosque near La Muette was so often muet (silent).

Mary Ann, who originally came to Paris to study mime and settled there permanently, knew many musicians who might be willing to perform in the kiosque. Since 1999, she has hosted chamber concerts in her own drawing room, making use of her splendid Steinway grand. Norman and I have been lucky enough to attend several of these “Chez Nous” concerts.

When the pandemic struck, Mary Ann maintained her commitment to the musicians by recording and broadcasting concerts from an otherwise empty drawing room, calling them Chez Nous/Chez Vous. Two of these online concerts have inspired blogs (one about bells, the other about Camille Moke, a largely forgotten pianist).

She was preparing for a Christmas concert in December 2021, when she learned that the City of Paris was calling for proposals to animate the kiosques in 2022. The deadline was December 27. Her first reaction was, understandably, “No way.” There was not enough time to prepare a proposal.

But gradually she began to change her mind. She already had an extensive mailing list of musicians who might participate. And the idea of bringing together musicians and audiences in a safe and open space made so much sense. But she couldn’t restrict it just to the local kiosque. It would need to involve other kiosques in other parks.

But not just any kiosque. Mary Ann considered the range of options and eventually chose a dozen locations, all kiosques of similar size (45 square metres) and proportions, all of them on the Right Bank. Willing musicians volunteered for these venues and the proposal came together.

It was a leap of faith. There was no money, because the project had to be approved before she could approach funders. But it was selected, along with others, for a summer-long program of open-air performances. She put together a bare-bones budget, reckoned she could cover expenses for the first few, and launched the series on May 8 in the Square Maurice Kriegel Valrimont in the 18th arrondissement with a concert for harp and violin.

A second took place on May 15 in the Square des Epinettes in the 17th, with a violin and guitar duo:

Mary Ann’s sister, Becky Barbier of Barbier Design, created a lovely logo for the series.

The concerts are not without challenges. Weather is an obvious problem. In one of the first two concerts, the gardiens in the park informed Mary Ann that a huge storm was on its way and said they would have to close the park. Hoping to avoid the storm, she started the concert early. The storm held off, but people who had missed the beginning by arriving at 4 p.m. were disconcerted. The musicians good-naturedly replayed the first part of the concert to keep everyone happy. (The rain finally descended at 9 p.m.)

Acoustics in the open air are another challenge, especially on windy days. But at least on Sundays, the city is quieter, with less traffic. Small children with water pistols are another hazard. And kiosques have no backstage area. Mary Ann and the musicians must bring everything that is required, except for the chairs. These are provided by the park and the audience can place them wherever they like.

The response has been enthusiastic. Free live music in a park draws in people who might not enter a conventional concert venue and lets them get close to the musicians. And the performers get to reach new audiences. They include classical, folk, and popular musicians and even some dancers.

We hope to get to one of the concerts-promenades later in the year (the series continues into October). In the meantime, we will have to content ourselves with the offerings in our local Toronto park, in the bandstand there.

But from now on, I will think of it as a kiosque à musique.

If you would like to contribute to the concerts, you can become a member of Productions Chez Nous, 39 boulevard Suchet, Paris 75016. More information is available on the organization’s Facebook page.

Here is the list of the next concerts in the series. Do please spread the word.

  • June 12 – Kiosque du Square d’Anvers-Jean-Claude Carrière, Paris 9 (« Improvisible »: music and dance improvisations)
  • June 26 – Kiosque du Jardin de Ranelagh, Paris 16 (The Pierre-Michel Sivadier Trio, a world premiere performance)
  • July 10 – Kiosque du Square des Carpeaux, Paris 18 (« Two Sisters/Two Violins »: Dhyani et Susila Heath)
  • July 24 – Kiosque du Square Paul Robin, Paris 18 (Galina Lanskaïa, violinist, light music from the classical repertoire)
  • August 7 – Kiosque Jules Ferry, Paris 11 (Thibaut Reznicek, free-style cello, in partnership with 1001 Notes)
  • August 21 – Kiosque du Jardin Villemin, Paris 10 (The Dhrupad Ensemble, traditional music of Northern India, Jérôme Cormier & Co.)
  • September 4 – Kiosque du Jardin des Champs-Elysées, Paris 8 (L’Heure bleue: Women’s vocal trio, popular tunes and some old favourites)
  • September 18 – Kiosque du Square du Temple Elie Wiesel, Paris Centre (Iéna & Co., violin & guitar vocal duo: folk music that rocks)
  • October 2 – Kiosque du Square Trousseau, Paris 12 (Ensemble instrumental Charles Koechlin: wind quintet, classical and contemporary works)
  • October 9 – Kiosque du Square Courteline, Paris 12 (The Double-Bec Trio/ oboe, oboe d’amore and bassoon: music as light as air)

Text by Philippa Campsie, based on an interview with Mary Ann Warrick. Contemporary photographs by Philippa Campsie and Mary Ann Warrick, with additional images from Wikipedia and historical images from Gallica.

About Parisian Fields

Parisian Fields is the blog of two Toronto writers who love Paris. When we can't be there, we can write about it. We're interested in everything from its history and architecture to its graffiti and street furniture. We welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, and musings from all readers.
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4 Responses to Reviving the charms of the concert-promenade

  1. Mary Ann Warrick says:

    Merci beaucoup for your insights. I wish to add that music is good for us and that live music practiced in the city opens our senses to the myriad symphony of our daily life, fugitive moments that connect us body, mind and soul. Bien à vous en musique.

    • Although I have loved the concerts presented on line by Productions Chez Nous/Chez Vous, which have supported the musicians and lifted the mood of the audience in some of the darkest times of lockdown, I long to be in the presence of musicians as they perform. And how better to feel safe at the same time than to gather outdoors and enjoy all the beauty of the parks and gardens along with the music?

  2. marilyn clemens says:

    Very interesting. You don’t mention the high-attended concert series in the Luxembourg gardens.
    Also, the Square du Temple has a kiosk that is used for concerts.

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