Chamber Choir in Paris
9 August 2012
The Chamber Choir enjoyed a wonderful five days in Paris at the beginning of July. In a year that has seen the choir acclaimed for their competition and concert performances, including their appearance on BBC1’s Songs of Praise, this short tour gave them a chance to continue develop their music-making on an international stage by singing in some of the wonderful churches of France’s capital city.
Three concerts and one service kept the Oakham singers incredibly busy, performing an exceptionally wide range of repertoire spanning from English church music of the Renaissance to present-day arrangements of spirituals and jazz standards. The Napoleonic grandeur of the Church of the Madeleine was the setting for the first recital, and the choir sang confidently in its resonant acoustic. Extended works by Byrd and Tippett were set alongside French choral classics, including Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine written when Fauré was the organist at the Madeleine. A Saturday evening recital at The American Church offered an opportunity for a more varied programme, contrasting a complete performance of Vivaldi Gloria with English partsongs, Gershwin arrangements and American spirituals. A journey out to the Parisian suburbs on Sunday afternoon gave the choir a chance to sing highlights from all their programmes this year in the beautiful church in Enghien-les-Bains. This raised over £250 for a local charity (Enfants du Mékong), whose co-ordinator wrote in glowing terms of the choir's "extraordinary voices. It was fabulous"
However, the rare opportunity to sing Sunday Mass in Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, was the highlight of the tour. Armed with music by England’s own William Byrd (his glorious Mass for four voices and communion motet, Ave verum), the choir processed into their stalls to be presented with a packed cathedral of over 1,000 worshippers, in addition to a similar number constantly circling the building on the tourist trail. With solo soprano Holly Singlehurst, the choir began with a pre-service Marian motet (Janacek’s rare Zdravas Maria), and then sang the core parts of the service after a warm welcome in French and English from the celebrant. The choir’s beautiful singing clearly made a distinctive impression on the congregation, who applauded the choir at the end of the service. As the sounds of another exceptional organ improvisation echoed around the cathedral, the choir were privileged to process out down the long nave.
The packed itinerary also gave the pupils a chance to experience some key Parisian sights, starting with a trip up the Tour Montparnasse on the first evening, providing spectacular views across the whole city. A guided tour of the Opera Garnier gave the singers first-hand experience of this historic theatre which has achieved legendary status in the novel and musical “The Phantom of the Opera”. No trip to Paris would be complete without taking in at least a couple of art gallery visits, and visits to the Musée d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou offered a glimpse of some of the great art works of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
The singers and accompanying staff are to be congratulated on such a wonderful trip, from which all returned exhausted, but musically and culturally inspired.