AAM in France – Day 1, St Malo

Today is the first day of the AAM’s tour of France playing the Monteverdi Vespers with the King’s College Choir conducted by Stephen Cleobury – as well as the first day of this new AAM blog! I’ll be your tour host for the next six days; I’m Cassandra Luckhardt, and I’m playing tenor violin in this production – although usually I play the more familiar instruments known as “cello” and “viola da gamba.”

Usually the first day of an international tour involves an early start as we all have to get ourselves to the point of departure; in this case, the orchestra was picked up from Victoria and Heathrow and driven down to Poole on a bus, where everyone hopped on a five-hour ferry direct to St. Malo, the first stop on the tour. I myself live in Amsterdam so had a solo journey here involving two high-speed trains and one distinctly low-speed Metro ride in Paris. I arrived at the hotel at about 6.30pm and expected the group to arrive about an hour later, but in fact they had quite a delay and only arrived at about 9pm when everyone headed out for a well-deserved meal. I was lucky enough with the weather to enjoy the evening walking around the ramparts of the town. It’s a lovely walled city; unfortunately, it was almost completely destroyed by bombing in 1944 but was carefully restored, brick by brick.

A bit more information about this tenor violin I’m playing. We’re performing the Marian Vespers (Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610) by Claudio Monteverdi, arguably his best-known composition. Published in Venice while the composer was working in Mantua, the large-scale work is a masterpiece uniting exceedingly-varied compositional styles into a unique whole. The piece calls for solo singers, choir and an orchestra made up of cornetts, sackbutts, recorders, strings and continuo. I am playing tenor violin – although it is a bit unclear which instrument Monteverdi had in mind. The part is mostly a bit high for a cello, although in one movement is much too low for a viola. Generally, a tenor violin is a small cello tuned one octave below a violin, i.e. G-D-A-e. I borrowed an instrument and was unsure how it would fit into Monteverdi’s sound world – it has four strings, like a cello, but frets like a gamba. Imagine my delight when I saw the original of this instrument in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and discovered that it was built in Brescia sometime before 1609 – Brescia is about 65 kms from Mantua! So there is absolutely no doubt that I’m playing the correct instrument for this piece and very possibly the exact one that Monteverdi had in mind.

Our first concert is this evening in the Cathedral; I’ll let you know tomorrow how it went!

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