AAM in France – Day 5, La Chaise-Dieu

Once again, Saturday began luxuriously with free time until 5 PM.  Our stay in Le Puy has been unusual in that the choir and orchestra are in the same hotel, which changes the dynamic immensely.  At breakfast we set the Nutella-meter; 12 minutes after the boys came down to breakfast until the 500g jar was emptied.

A friend in AAM who is not playing this patch happens to be visiting the area so we met for lunch with her family. Once again, it was a long hot search for a restaurant that had enough space and an interesting enough menu but we eventually succeeded and it was lovely to see them.

Our un-air conditioned bus left at 5 for a beautiful drive to Chaise-Dieu but it was difficult to enjoy as it was sweltering.  We were pleased to find that it was pleasantly cool in the cathedral. The festival in Chaise-Dieu was one of the first large-scale festivals in Europe and has seen thousands of world-class musicians play in this glorious cathedral. It is an immense honour to be joining those ranks.  The cathedral is immense and is home to a very important fresco cycle of the 14th-century Danse Macabre.  It was packed for the concert, which was also broadcast live on France Musique.

Our rehearsal was efficient and productive and allowed for a picnic in the park for some, a sit-down meal for others.  The choral scholars (the men of the choir) had a small rehearsal for their service on Sunday morning but also had plenty of time for their sit-down meal.

The concert held a number of surprises typical of live performances.  When the choir filed in, they were accompanied by a bat; it seemed that it would fly up into the ceiling and roost, but it flew back and forth all night, careering wildly and nearly dive-bombing soloists.  Everyone knew they were being filmed and did their best not to follow it with their eyes, but sometimes the temptation was too hard to resist and it looked like the entire choir was at a tennis match.  Towards the end of the first half, I heard someone clap his hands; in fact, it was a violin string breaking.  The player carried on as normal and used the next rest to pull off the broken string but didn’t disrupt the concert to go off and change it but waited instead  until the interval.  Impeccably professional!  In addition, there are several written-out echoes in which the second tenor sings backstage, imitating the passages of the first tenor.  It is great fun to watch the audience perk up and crane their necks, trying desperately to find the source of the music.

The concert finished at about 11 PM and by the time we arrived back at the hotel, everything was shut up tight.  We were very sorry that there was no chance to continue socialising but that didn’t stop the choral scholars who headed out to town with a football, ready to conquer a French square somewhere.

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