After months of anticipation, today was our first performance in Normandy – at the Caen Memorial Museum, where in less than 48 hours the Heads of State of 17 Nations gather to commemorate D-Day and the Battle of Normandy – momentous events that signalled the beginning of the end of the Second World War.
We arrived in good time for our rehearsal, and witnessed a veteran in a wheelchair having his photograph taken outside the museum. We have seen several veterans this week, some of whom travelled on the same ferry as us from Portsmouth (there were also a number of vintage military vehicles coming off the ferry when we arrived).
Everything was set out ready for our rehearsal, including microphones (one for each of us – the performance was being televised). The space in the museum was used imaginatively, with three young singers placed high above the orchestra and a chair set up for the principal cellist, Aurore Doué to play the solo in the Benedictus, also high above the orchestra. The lighting on these performers was perfectly positioned to add to the atmosphere.
Beneath the shadow of a fighter aircraft from the landings, suspended from the ceiling of the museum, we joined our friends from l’Orchestre Régional de Basse-Normandie and a choir of over 200 adults and children to perform Karl Jenkins powerful mass for peace – ‘The Armed Man’.
It is difficult to describe the sense of occasion and how privileged we felt performing this piece in Normandy during the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day. We had caught glimpses during rehearsals of the film which Didier Lelièvre had created to accompany the performances. These powerful images of conflicts and reconciliation helped to create a unique experience that moved our Normandy audience to prolonged applause and standing ovation.
It was a very special performance – one which I will always remember.