12 July, 2016

Sur les nids sur les genêts ... sur les champs sur l'horizon...

I have joined a small chamber choir called the Ensemble Claudio Monteverdi late last year. We have partnered this season with the Choeur de Chambre d'Ile-de-France (CCIF) to sing a near complete anthology of French 20th century composer Francis Poulenc's music for unaccompanied choir. This week end, we went on tour in the rural Morvan region of Central France where Poulenc had spent some time and composed some of his music.

The building in which we were hosted, held our rehearsals and gave one evening concert was a purpose-built structure for musical projects. Many working rooms at the Maison du Beuvray have a piano or harpsichord. The largest room suitable for concerts also holds a grand piano and even an organ. However, the rural setting with the view of the Morvan mountains made the location also ideal for a yoga or meditation retreat.

Our first concert on Friday evening was given in stifling heat, which made concentrating on the singing rather difficult. Windows were being opened one after another all along the concert to try and let a breeze into the hall. Because we were alternating pieces sung by one choir and then the other, I had many opportunities to take a seat in the audience and listen to CCIF. And among the complex harmonies of Poulenc's music, I could also discern the chirrup of the crickets in the night outside. This reminded me of a blog post I wrote six years ago: I was experiencing the same thing again in a live setting.

This pleasant reminiscence was turned into great exhilaration as we succeeded in pulling off the performance of the poem Liberté by Paul Eluard, set by Poulenc on fiendishly difficult and disconcerting harmonies for double choir. Reaching the final chord of the piece with the two choirs at the top of their voices and two solo sopranos singing a very high-pitched note is at once a relieving and breathtaking conclusion to an arduous piece.

Francis Poulenc, Figure humaine, New London Chamber Choir, Hyperion