Friday, 13 June 2014

Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra visit L'Ensemble Vocal et Instrumental Jean Marie Lorand in Rennes Saturday 24 - Wednesday 28 May 2014 Report from violinist Ellen Stratton

Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra
& L’Ensemble Vocal et Instrumental Jean-Marie Lorand
Rennes Cathedral
Wednesday 28 May 2014
(Photography Nigel Cheffers-Heard)

EMG Symphony Orchestra
May 24th to May 28th 2014

38 members and friends of EMG Symphony Orchestra including Director of Music, Marion Wood travelled from Exeter to Rennes for a joint concert in Rennes Cathedral with the French choir “L’Ensemble Vocal et Instrumental Jean-Marie Lorand”. Our last combined effort was in May 2006 in Exeter Cathedral, so this trip was long overdue.

Our first morning was spent with host families, variously being taken to visit local places of interest, catching up on sleep and being given a leisurely lunch before meeting up at our first rehearsal venue, an industrial unit on the outskirts of town. Democratic seating was quickly organised among the string players, sharing desks with French counterparts.  The wind players made mutual arrangements, and then Schubert was under way. And of course the 'how to conduct a rehearsal in two languages' challenge. Marion Wood's bowing requests were met with complete incredulity from several string players, but we emerged, two movements later, hot and sweaty - it was quite cramped in there and apparently the choir was supposed to fit in somewhere too - with a burgeoning performance. The overhead doors opened to reveal the 'snack break' ... trestle tables groaning with delicious homemade food prepared by choir members. Mmm. We did finally tear ourselves away, and now it was Eloi Marchand the French conductor's turn to rehearse the Mendelssohn psalms. Somehow the choir did fit in. Perhaps it was the wine, perhaps it was the heat or just simply the speed at which Eloi took Psalm 114 but the semiquavers were no joke. Psalm 42 with the lovely soprano, Anne-Laure Josse-Binet, was a real pleasure to work on.

The next morning we were up bright and early for a trip to Mont St Michel. While waiting for tickets for a group of about 40 of us to be sorted we used the time to practise a madrigal and gave a passable rendition of 'Now is the month of Maying' to a bemused but appreciative group of tourists. We learned a lot of fascinating details about the history and construction of M S Michel, had time for lunch in the village and then emerged to a beautiful blue sky as backdrop to our final photos. The weather was very well organised, raining while we were on the coach or indoors, so we never needed our umbrellas.

Then it was time for the dress rehearsal in Rennes cathedral. With a wonderfully resonant acoustic and long echo the Gabrieli a 15 sounded very impressive, despite lack of time to rehearse it the previous day. The choir sat listening to our Gabrieli, clapped loudly, then went off to warm up. Meanwhile we rehearsed the arias in Psalm 42, and waited. Eloi went through some of the dynamics he wanted, and finally the choir were ready. Detailed work followed. The semiquavers felt even faster than before and it was getting on for 10 pm when we finally got on to rehearsing Schubert. It was a long night.

Most of us were up and alert for our 10 am tour of Rennes the next day, and the rest joined for the official reception at the hotel de ville later on. The Mayor welcomed us warmly and made it clear to us that on our shoulders rested the job of preserving the European Union, having just had the results of the EU elections.

In the evening was the gala concert at Rennes Cathedral, billed for an 8.30 start. In fact it was nearer 9, and a packed cathedral heard the chair, Rachel Wieck deliver an impressive speech in French. Marion Wood led the orchestra through a beautifully crafted Schubert, taking the echo into account, and by then had completely won over even the more sceptical 'you let her choose your bowing!' string players. Anne-Laure captivated the audience in Psalm 42 and the semiquavers were actually quite manageable in Psalm 114. We even got an encore. There was a small reception with a few speeches after the concert, washed down with cidre et cassis, and it was time for our last night before returning to England.

It was a fantastic trip, no real hitches despite a few mislaid items during the course of the five days. It was wonderful to renew acquaintances from previous joint ventures with the Rennes Choir, and their generosity towards us all was exceptional. We hope to be able to return the generosity by inviting the Choir back to Exeter soon.

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