I am back from France and trying to process it all. Last night Parliament Choir and Southbank Sinfonia performed in the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame, under the direction of Simon Over. The queue for the concert trailed all the way across the square to the road in the late evening sunshine, and, as a result, the venue was packed for the concert. We performed music by Poulenc, Howells, Vaughan Williams, Gounod and, of course, my own Tu Es Petrus. On Monday night, as the choir rehearsed it, I wandered around the far end of the Cathedral, trying to pick out the ghost of Perotin in the shadows of the building. He was here, I told myself, he walked here. Even sitting at a bar on the South Bank my thoughts wandered – his house was here. A flight of fancy, perhaps, from a composer with a vivid imagination, but in that Cathedral, with those sounds, it seemed perfectly natural.
As soon as the piece got to bar three (a bar of nothing) the choir understood the piece in a way that had not been apparent in Cadogan Hall. While in Cadogan the bar of nothing was, well, nothing, in Notre Dame the sound washed back, around, above and below, better than I had imagined it. At the end of the rehearsal I wanted only one thing – it needed to be louder! A touch unfair, given that they had been rehearsing for three hours, but they took heed and performed it massively at the concert. It was one of those moments that will be hard to forget – file it alongside Magna Carta day and JEBO at what used to be the Hammersmith Odeon.
For all the beauty of Paris I have to say that it is ridiculously, eye-wateringly expensive, and for no particularly good reason – a bottle of house red Bordeaux in France should not cost the equivalent of £22 under any circumstances, but there it is, and the prices rocket skywards from there. It has been some time since I was last there, but I do not remember it being quite so financially ruinous, so it has been good to get home and have a decent meal and a bottle of something decent (and from further afield than France) for a fraction of the French bill.
However, this was a concert and a visit about more than just music, especially after those despicably cowardly attacks in Paris last year. I would be lying if I said I had not been just a little concerned in the run up to the concert but, having said that, if we stop doing what we do they win, and evil will out if good people do nothing. There was a beautiful symmetry in what we did last night, the violence of the attacks at the Bataclan on those attending a concert counterpointed by a gesture of Anglo-French solidarity, itself expressed through music. Somebody on the radio said recently that you cannot begin to understand the horror of attacks like that until you have seen what hard objects can do to soft bodies. Well, totalitarian ideologies and regimes fear music with a passion, and their fear is our strength. Music is, after all, just vibration, and those who would destroy soft bodies with hard objects will never understand the redemptive, restorative, emboldening quality that waves of sound can have on beings composed primarily of water.