D-Day 70: The Armed Man Project, Normandy (Part I)

Day 1

We’ve all arrived safely at Hotel Bristol, Caen, after the overnight ferry trip from Portsmouth. A bit bleary-eyed, admittedly, since you don’t get much sleep before being awoken at 4.45am, an hour before the ferry docks.

Our contingent of eight BSO musicians are here to join forces with l’Orchestre Regional de Basse-Normandie and give five performances of Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man (A Mass for Peace) over the next week, these concerts being part of the many commemorative events taking place in Normandy to mark 70 years since the D-DAY landings on 6 June 1944 and the battle of Normandy that followed.

BSO Resonate Strings

We were welcomed at the ferry terminal by the CEO of ORBN, Guillaume Lamas and Milko Topic their Manager for this project who quickly whisked us to the hotel in the orchestra’s mini-bus. Having checked into rooms, we were joined for breakfast by Guillaume and Milko who handed us specially made t-shirts for the concerts, badges, guide-books, and maps. They suggested that as we wouldn’t be back from rehearsals until well after 9.00pm we should have lunch before departing for the rehearsal at 1pm, which resulted in us rather bizarrely, sitting down for lunch at 10.30am UK time.

In order to accommodate over 200 performers, ORBN are using a huge gymnasium for the rehearsals; as soon as we arrived we were surrounded by French musicians warmly welcoming us. For four of the ORBN musicians it was a case of a reunion since they’d worked with the members of the BSO Resonate Strings on the first part of this orchestra exchange project in February, when they came over to Portsmouth to join our players and pupils of Flying Bull primary school to give the premiere of a specially commissioned new work, Sous les Pommiers, written by Dorset-based singer/songwriter Sammy Hurden.

In order to perform ‘The Armed Man’, ORBM have engaged many additional players, and it was fascinating to watch the CEO personally introducing every extra musician, and of course the BSO to the orchestra’s principal conductor, Jean Deroyer who is directing the performance.

After many handshakes, kisses and embraces took place – all distinctfully and delightfully French, we were greeted by Camiile Varin and Dominique Demont, representatives of Caen City Council, who, together with colleagues, Claire Looney and Billy Ansell, from Caen’s twin city Portsmouth, made the successful bid to the EU Interreg Fund which has enabled the project to happen.

One of the challenges for the BSO players was trying to follow the conductor’s instructions since he spoke entirely in French, but again the ORBN musicians were so helpful to our musicians in translating bar numbers and letter cues.

Tiredness was creeping in and coffee was definitely needed. Suitably refreshed, the musicians returned for the evening rehearsal, now joined by choirs of children and adults from the three Departements of Normandy – the first time the 200 performers rehearsed together. Accompanying the music is a new film drawing on archival material from the Memoriale museum, Caen, created by Didier Lelievre, ORBN’s stage manager.

I have to take my hat off to the BSO players for by 9pm, they’d been in an intensive six hours of rehearsal and had been up since before 6am. Before retiring, a quick drink was the order of the day – a quiet café, a few beers, the odd glass of wine and cidre.

Andrew Burn
BSO Head of Projects & D-DAY 70 Tour Manager

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