The friendship between the two chairmen, of Danone and the Festival, was embodied in the artistic and social achievement of Evian's Musical Encounters, but this was not to be all. In the early 1990s, Antoine Riboud decided to abandon the Casino, its Auditorium (which is no more) and its Theatre. He wanted to offer Slava the datcha he dreamed of. In Gstaad, the musician saw the tent at the Yehudi Menuhin festival, and wanted something better for his festival. The Evian Musical Encounters was possibly to become the only festival to build its own concert hall. Antoine Riboud saw the larch forest that separates the two Evian Resort hotels, and under which flows the Evian water spring, as the perfect location to accommodate the festival hall.
The architect Patrick Bouchain and acoustician Yaying Xu were given the challenge of building a 1,200 seater auditorium with flawless acoustics in record time (8 months), in difficult conditions (sloping land, the felling of the forest not allowed, a small area on which to build) and a limited budget (10 million francs = 2 million euros). Patrick Bouchain designed a concert hall made entirely of wood, with just a huge aluminium shell with alucobond petals on the ceiling to provide perfect acoustics. The hall sounds like the inside of a cello and at the back of the stage, birch trees are a reminder of the cellist's homeland.
Inaugurated on 21 May 1993 by Jacques Toubon, Culture Minister at the time, the Grange au Lac combines luxury Murano glass chandeliers and music at its most natural with the frugality of the untreated wooden seating. It does not look like much from the outside. Spectators arrive on foot or via the funicular railway and spot this huge barn built from red cedar and Jura pine among the larch trees. One could almost stumble across it by chance in the woods.
La Grange au Lac in figures
120 birch trees
14 520 m3 (22 x 47 x 15 m)
260 m² stage
1,7 seconde reverberation time
The first editions of the festival took place at the Casino Theatre, located in the heart of Evian, facing Lake Geneva. A concession of the Water Company since 1892, the theatre was at that time one of the most lively entertainment venues in town. It remains an address for the performing arts during the main season.
Later re-named Antoine-Riboud Theatre, it is still a key festival venue today where concerts are held in the morning and afternoon. These concerts showcase recently-discovered young talents as they embark on their career along with experienced performers who enjoy the short programmes and closeness of smaller venues.
An Italian bijou
The Antoine-Riboud Theatre, which can seat 300, was created between 1883 and 1885 by an apprentice of Charles Garnier, the famous architect of the Paris Opera house. Behind its neoclassical façade, the small Italian-style hall has retained totally unspoiled the beautiful polychrome and gold décor produced by Négri at the end of the 19th century.