AAM in France – Day 3, St. Malo to Lessay

Unlike Wednesday, today dawned bright and sunny. Because it was an 11.15 departure, I had plenty of time for a final walk along the beach and the ramparts with a quick detour to the small island connected to the mainland by a causeway. There were warnings all along the path to beware the incoming tide which could cut you off from the mainland – as I didn’t want the bus to leave without me, I hurried around the island and off as quick as I could manage.

Al Ross and Malcolm Greenhalgh, our organist and organ tuner, were invited by Henri Chesnais, director of the Festival de Musique Sacree, to play the big organ in the cathedral. They were joined by the King’s organ scholar, San Lau, singing in the choir for this tour, who also got to play the organ. They said it was a remarkable experience and a fabulous instrument; this sort of thing is one of the surprise delights on tour!

After an uneventful bus journey but filled with views of Mont St. Michel, we arrived in Lessay well in time for lunch.

The hotel was on the outskirts of the very small town and, hearing that nothing would be open, we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. There were about eight of us sitting together and it was very nice, although not terribly speedy, only allowing for a 45-minute rest before leaving for the abbey.  Although the bus was one hour early for the orchestral rehearsal, we were happy to find beautiful gardens adjoining the abbey where we lolled on the grass until we were called.

The Abbaye de Lessay is a beautiful open Norman church which was completely destroyed in the war and rebuilt stone by stone. It is long and narrow, with very simple decorations and stained glass and an extremely clear acoustic.

The men rehearsing for Sunday's service


We were bussed back to the hotel for a repeat of lunch; with only one hour to eat, change and board the bus, it was a hurried affair. Our dressing room was a fine example of the non-luxurious facilities one comes across in extremely historic venues – an unrenovated stables with no mirrors. Never mind; the only problem for me was squeezing through the crowded church with my instrument, trying not to thwack any unsuspecting audience members with a tenor violin.

Our elegant green room

The concert was, once again, very enjoyable for both musicians and audience. Because of the sight lines of the church, there were two video cameras projecting a live feed onto screens set up through the church. We could see the reverse image through the back of the white sheet, but there was a ¼ second delay which was extremely disconcerting; Stephen Cleobury conducting in real life was followed just behind by Stephen on the screen. The final movement, the Magnificat, is a large collection of 12 smaller movements in which I only play the final five minutes so I had to force myself not to watch the screen while not playing.   I really enjoyed the piece last night; it’s a true masterwork and I heard things that I’d missed before.  It seems to be the proof of a great composition that there is always something more to discover, no matter how many times you play a piece.


Two people in the audience are members of the AAM board, who happened to be on holiday in Normandy. What committed board members!  Afterwards, there was a reception in the stables (!) for both audience and musicians, serving Breton cider and madeleines, for the true French experience.

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