Ravel’s La Valse – a personal interpretation

Classical music for all

It is hard to think of a work by the French composer Maurice Ravel that would surpass his Boléro in fame and renown. The piece, performed for the first time in 1928, became an immediate success, much to the surprise of Ravel, who regarded it with no little Maurice Ravelcondescension, said it consisted wholly of “orchestral tissue without music” and was certain that orchestras would refuse to play it. The Boléro was the last link in a long chain of dance music composed by Ravel, some of it written for the ballet, some of it conceived as purely instrumental music – as stylized dances for the orchestra or for piano. Dances permeate his work, from the Menuet antiquehe composed when he was 20, up to the beautifully melancholic slow waltz which forms the second movement of his Concerto in G, one of his last works. Within this group…

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A postcard from Caen, October 2014 (1 of 4)

We arrived at Hotel Bristol in Caen yesterday evening.  It was great to be back in the same hotel after only 4 months, having been here to play in the D-Day celebrations at the   beginning of June.  The same smiling faces at the reception desk, remembering that we like to sit and chat (amongst other things…) late into the evening, so providing us immediately with somewhere quiet to go so as not to disturb the other guests!!

The only thing missing as we walked through the door was the sight of Andrew Burn – he had set up post on a particular chair in the reception area when we were last here, always holding a clipboard. He is unable to join us until today because he was otherwise engaged with a Kokoro concert in Bradford-on-Avon yesterday.

Photo for Judith's blog

Today we have rehearsed ‘Sous Les Pommiers’, a fabulous piece by Sammy Hurden about people’s experiences of WW2 using 22 primary school children from Portsmouth and 80 French school children, 11 musicians (Resonate Strings, a string quartet of utterly charming and delightful French musicians from Orchestra Regional de Basse-Normandie, which is based in Caen, drums and trumpet) and two young narrators reading survivors’ stories linking the songs together, with contemporary film footage behind.  In the middle of the day’s rehearsals, our hosts treated us to a fabulous lunch.

The calories consumed came in very handy during the extremely detailed and lengthy rehearsal of Nimrod that followed.  Now off to pace the streets on the hunt for yet more food. At least it’s not freezing cold and pouring with rain as it was yesterday when we arrived.  Looking forward to our first concert at Caen Memorial Museum tomorrow morning.

Judith Preston

BSO Viola

This was the final part of a project that took place in October when the BSO Resonate Strings and BSO guest musicians travelled to Caen to give the French premiere of Sous Les Pommiers with musicians of l’Orchestre Regional de Basse-Normandie and pupils from a school in Caen.

The project was funded through an EU Interreg grant which was successfully bid for by Caen and Portsmouth City Councils. Our involvement in the project has come about through the BSO’s long-standing relationship with Portsmouth City Council, and in particular a previous EU-funded project which the Mini BSO worked on.

A postcard from Caen, October 2014 (2 of 4)

We arrived at Caen Memorial at 9am as the concert is at 10 in the morning. It feels such an honour to have my music played here. When the children arrive from Puits-Picard School, Caen and Flying Bull School, Portsmouth, Andy Baker and I do a warm up to bring them all together and raise the energy.

The concert began with Bartok’s Romanian Dances, and then Elgar’s Nimrod.  It’s time for the children to come onstage now and they begin with two songs popular in France… one of which has actions… there’s a lovely moment as I see the four Portsmouth teachers in the front row All doing the actions in unison!

And now it’s time for Sous Les Pommiers to begin, and suddenly I feel really nervous. The children’s energy is vibrant and they sing their hearts out…   All the musicians are wonderful and I feel that this work is being given the best opportunity to come alive.

Sous Les Pommiers is in four parts… the first about the gathering of the Armada around Portsmouth on June 5th evening before D Day..    Next comes Codes and Parachutes…   A favourite with adults seems to be Parachutes. But for many of the children, belting out C’est Le Debarquement (It’s the Landings) with Jim Dvorak playing insanely improvised trumpet and Cedric on electric viola, is their highlight.  Afterwards some French children come up to me and say “ La trompette…  Il va rouge”!!

I’m interviewed at the end by Ouest France who write a very positive review the next day.

I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved in this project from the teachers to the musicians, the organisers to the children and their parents.  A wonderful experience!

Sammy Hurden

Composer

This was the final part of a project that took place in October when the BSO Resonate Strings and BSO guest musicians travelled to Caen to give the French premiere of Sous Les Pommiers with musicians of l’Orchestre Regional de Basse-Normandie and pupils from a school in Caen.

The project was funded through an EU Interreg grant which was successfully bid for by Caen and Portsmouth City Councils. Our involvement in the project has come about through the BSO’s long-standing relationship with Portsmouth City Council, and in particular a previous EU-funded project which the Mini BSO worked on.

A postcard from Caen, October 2014 (3 of 4)

I wAndy Bakers Caen Photoas particularly looking forward to our 2 concerts today. In the preparation of this project I had heard many stories about a beautiful building in the centre of Caen which, during the re-capture of the city, had been marked with a huge makeshift White Cross of bed-sheets visible from the air during the Allied bombing. This had identified the building as being both a Red-Cross hospital and also a building that housed the elderly plus women and children. That building was the Caen Hotel De Ville (the Town Hall and the venue for today’s concert) which had become one of the most iconic buildings associated with the 100-day Battle of Normandy (and incidentally next door to the building in which William The Conqueror is buried) and was the building in which we were to perform that day.

I was just not prepared for the beauty of the room in which we were to play. The walls had the most beautiful carved and intricate wooden panelling, above which were hung the most extraordinarily beautiful works of art (I’m not sure of the artist) and we were told that both concerts would be absolutely full.  I realised this was going to be a very special occasion, as in addition to the beauty of the room it also possessed one of the best natural acoustics I have ever heard.

As we began rehearsing Elgar’s Nimrod, I could not help but feel extremely moved as I was overwhelmed with the beauty of that music in such an historic room, which 70 years ago had overlooked one of the fiercest battles of the 2nd World War. Shrapnel and bullet marks were still clearly visible on the panelling and walls, and now a beautiful peace had been created in that very same place by our music. My mind went back to the June DDay70 concerts when my ORBN desk-partner (and dear friend) Fabrice told me that very same story about the White Cross – and how his parents had met in the building during the battle as innocent young children – and were together to this day.

The 2 concerts were very special indeed for me and something I will never ever forget. Both choirs sang their hearts out and the standing ovations at the end of both concerts really showed how much the audience had joined us on what was a truly memorable and very magical musical journey.

We were also joined at the concert by Dougie Scarfe on a lightning visit to Caen to hear us – thank you Dougie for coming all that way to be with us at such a prestigious event. We also had the very great pleasure of being joined by a group of supporters all the way from Bridport (members of Sammy Hurden’s Freedance Community Choir) who Resonate Strings had played for previously in concerts at Portland, Abbotsbury and Powerstock. Thank you too for making the effort to be with us and supporting us.

At the end of the concert one of the senior representatives of Caen City Council told me she had seen a French mother in the concert in tears. She spoke to her and the mother explained that they were tears of joy – she felt that she had never had the ‘courage’ to enter the Hotel de Ville building before – and now her child was singing there, and was achieving something VERY special and truly memorable in a magnificent and beautiful place – her place. The Caen representative had not been expecting that reaction, and I could tell she was very moved too.

Andy Baker

BSO Double Bass

This was the final part of a project that took place in October when the BSO Resonate Strings and BSO guest musicians travelled to Caen to give the French premiere of Sous Les Pommiers with musicians of l’Orchestre Regional de Basse-Normandie and pupils from a school in Caen.

The project was funded through an EU Interreg grant which was successfully bid for by Caen and Portsmouth City Councils. Our involvement in the project has come about through the BSO’s long-standing relationship with Portsmouth City Council, and in particular a previous EU-funded project which the Mini BSO worked on.

A postcard from Caen, October 2014 (4 of 4)

Our last day in Caen began with an early breakfast before checking out of our friendly hotel and attempting to fit everything we brought into our cars (minus the ‘goody bags’ we had brought from Dorset for our French friends and colleagues).  I have to admit, though, that there was a fairly strong smell of cheese in the car for our return journey.

Our final concert of the tour took place at 10am in the Memorial Museum in Caen – where we’d started rehearsals only three days previously.  It was really impressive to see and hear how much the children had become more confident and more at ease with performing Sammy’s music as the week had progressed.

After the concert, we were invited by our French colleagues to join them for lunch.  It was great to spend time relaxing with them at the end of this project.  It has been fascinating learning about how they work, and finding so much common ground.  Each of us string players really enjoyed working with our French counterpart, and we found that our approaches to playing were so similar that playing as an ensemble was like an extension of playing as Resonate Strings.

We managed a visit to the magnificent Bayeux Cathedral en route to Cherbourg, and had a quick drink near the theatre in Cherbourg where we’d played with some other French musicians as part of the Titanic commemorations in 2012.  It was then time to check in for our return ferry trip to Poole.

This is the end of a project which, over the course of eight months, has seen our relationship and playing with our French colleagues go from strength to strength.  We hope very much that we will be able to work with them again.

Penny Tweed

BSO Second Violin

This was the final part of a project that took place in October when the BSO Resonate Strings and BSO guest musicians travelled to Caen to give the French premiere of Sous Les Pommiers with musicians of l’Orchestre Regional de Basse-Normandie and pupils from a school in Caen.

The project was funded through an EU Interreg grant which was successfully bid for by Caen and Portsmouth City Councils. Our involvement in the project has come about through the BSO’s long-standing relationship with Portsmouth City Council, and in particular a previous EU-funded project which the Mini BSO worked on.