I was 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.
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.