Friday 22nd May 09.00hrs
I have just arrived in Paris. I am here to fine tune the last preparations for our biggest and most important event in the Equity Music Tours Calendar. The Nottingham Symphony Orchestra along with 5 other adult choral societies from England are coming to Paris to perform the Verdi Requiem in the massive and awe inspiring Eglise de la Madeleine tomorrow Saturday at 8.30 PM. The Requiem will be offered in celebration of the 70 years of peace which have reigned in Europe since the devastation of World War 2. With this in mind I have asked a famous French choir and a German choir to travel to Paris to join us. – English, French and Germans singing the Requiem together in harmony and in peace. That is the plan – my mind is racing - La Madeleine is vast, it seats 1200 people with room for another 200 standing… it is Pentecost weekend, the Parisians are deserting Paris in droves for the long weekend, will we get an audience…??
Two hundred posters and three thousand flyers have been put up in the churches, boutiques and cafes across Paris. I have emailed, faxed and posted advertisements to the major “Whats On” magazines of the French Capital. Pariscope and Officiel des Spectacles, but there are a thousand other events happening in the French capital – will they publish? I have a final meeting with the Madeleine Management where we trawl through the bowels of the great church looking for suitable changing facilities for 250 performers. Then a phone call to the local Mayor of the 8th Arrondissement. She agrees to see me; Barry and I jump in a taxi and 10 minutes later we are sitting in her Louis XV office. Yes, after protracted correspondence, she finally agrees to come and officially welcome our conductor and Soloists on behalf of the French State.
We wait anxiously at the Dream Castle & Magic Circus Hotel for the 4 coaches from England to arrive. At last they are here – 170 musicians and singers from England quickly joined by their 70 French and German Counterparts – 250 performers in all. Then they are rehearsing – all singing together for the first time – trying to shake of the fatigue of a 12 hour coach journey – trying to sing in harmony…
Saturday 23rd May 19.30hrs
We are all assembled in the vast Eglise de la Madeleine, The rehearsal in the famous church is finally over. The risers are all in place in front of the great altar. The spot lights are arcing down. Nick and Frances are at the reception desk we have hastily arranged beside the vast doors.. Barry and David have been guarding the entrance to the changing rooms all afternoon to ward off pickpockets, I make a last call to Radio France…It is time.
Derek Williams, the conductor takes a 20 strong brass ensemble onto the imposing steps of La Madeleine. They sound the trumpet voluntary high into the French night, from the steps of the church, calling out to the Parisians, summoning them to our Requiem.
The great doors are opened, a surge of humanity rushes forward, the vast church becomes alive and organic, general hubbub, chairs scraping, people scrambling for position – and finally standing room only. Through the throng, we lead the Mayor and her party and John Bentley and his guests to their seats in the reserved section. The orchestra take their seats – from left and right, seven choirs from three countries file in. Tuning and anticipation and…… SILENCE. The soloists – English, French and German walk on … Derek takes his baton.. and then so softly … Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine…et lux perpetua luceat eis…
… At the end – 1500 blasé Parisians are on their feet, cheering, clapping, and paying homage. I give a white rose to each of the soloists and to the conductor..
Afterwards, at the reception, kind words are said by the conductor thanking Equity for her contribution, organising the concert, the hotels the accommodation and the transfers. “It has been a privilege”, I reply.
Nicholas Francis - May 26
With my thanks to David Gallick, Frances Carrasco, Nick Clarke & Barry Hodge for their valuable work as tour escorts “on the road” with the group, and again to David Gallick for his invaluable support and work on the pre-tour organisation. My thanks also to John Bentley for coming to the concert and representing Equity.