Sunday, 24 April 2016

Paris - Rob Hansen

After bidding farewell to Chris, Ria, Nancy & John, Fr John, and our warm community of friends in Exeter, the choir boarded flight BE3505 from Exeter International to Charles de Gaulle, marking the beginning of the continental leg of the tour.

Leaving the airport just in time for Parisian peak hour, our two bus drivers nimbly weaved their way to our hotel in the heart of the sixth arrondissement adjacent to the Sorbonne. As we made our way through the city, we were treated to an exciting glance at two of our momentous concert venues: L'Eglise de la Madeleine and the towers of Notre Dame. It was also a pleasure to see sopranos Katherine Norman and Amy Moore waiting for us at the hotel, both of whom were joining us for the European leg of the tour.

With only a little over 48 hours in France, we kept ourselves very busy: fitting in lunches, museums, and four concerts in two days. The first of these was at the relatively small and unassuming Church of St Louis-en-L'Île in a narrow street on the Île de la Cité. The 18th century building had a stunningly generous acoustic that suited both our Renaissance motets and the crunching chromaticism of Francis Poulenc. Our small but appreciative audience made us feel very welcome, and it was a confident start to our European performances.

A quick trip across town found us at La Madeleine, the towering neo-classical monument to Napoleon which sits in the heart of the eighth arrondissement. It was a surreal experience to sing in the church whose former organists include Camille Saint-Saens and Gabriel Fauré, and the iconic building attracted a bigger audience. It is a total privilege to turn up to these magnificent and historical spaces and then perform for an audience that we've never seen before made up mostly of locals, tourists and passers-by. After an hour to showcase our music, it is incredibly rewarding to see their response.

Early the following day we arrived at Notre Dame for a short concert at 11am. At 10.15 we were met at the side gate and whisked away into the choir room in the basement of the cathedral for a short  rehearsal. Our host would then take us up at 11 for half an hour of singing on the steps of the high altar. The majesty of the building and the large crowds of people passing through made it hard to find the right balance between concentrating on the music and taking in our surroundings.

After taking in one last museum, that afternoon we made a special trip to Valmondois, a small town of 1200 people an hour outside of Paris. There we were met by Laurent de Gaulle, second cousin of our soprano Bella Woods and town councillor. We were welcomed with open arms by him and the rest of the town, including the mayor and deputy mayor, and after a well-received concert in the beautiful medieval church, we were grateful to be treated to a feast with the locals in the town hall.

Rob Hansen

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