Vezelay is a very special place for many people. The little town on the top of the hill and the 11th century Basilica have been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries, and Vezelay is now recognised as a world heritage site. The views of the countryside from the hilltop are breathtaking.
Patrick Larley, our Music Director, and his wife Gill love Vezelay so much that they have visited here 27 years in a row. The Basilica is full of music: the spiritual community of monks and nuns sing services here every day, and many prestigious choirs visit here. Would we be able to attract the same audience as these professional singers, especially as our concert time was 9pm? There had been other concerts at 4pm and 5pm, and the day visitors had long gone.
No matter! Part of the joy of choir tours is singing in wonderful places, and we would treasure this experience, even if the audience was small. We knew that it would include Tom, a former member of BFCS who moved away from Birmingham about 13 years ago. Tom has adopted the lovely idea of booking European weekend breaks around our tours,and has attended our concerts in Slovenia, Estonia, Slovakia, Dublin, and now Vezelay.
We also knew that some other special visitors were taking a 3 hour drive from the South of Burgundy to be with us. These were the family of Sylvie Dattas, one of our second sopranos.
Sylvie is French, but has lived in England for many years. At each of our tour concerts, Sylvie has introduced the Kyrie and Mass written by her late father, Jean Dattas, in 1951 while he was organist at Notre Dame in Paris. Patrick Larley has transcribed the music from the original manuscripts, and our performances of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei on this tour are the first time this beautiful music has been heard in concert.
Before the concert, many BFCS singers wearing tour poloshirts were handing out leaflets in the town, and we had seen many posters in shop windows.
It all paid off, as at 9pm the Basilica was filled with 300+ people! We heard of people who had come to our concert in Sens, and had driven for 90 mins to hear us again in Vezelay. With such a wonderful audience, how could we fail to sing our very best? We included the Benedictus in the Schubert Mass this time, which has a beautiful part for soprano soloist (Sarah-Ann Cromwell) supported by tenor (Mitch Holland) and bass (Patrick Larley). Kevin Gill also did a dazzling rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.
Here is a video recording of ‘God be in my Head’ by Marilyn Kent:
We had prepared a very special encore for this special place: a setting of the Lord’s Prayer (Notre Pere) that Patrick had originally heard sung by the monastic community here at Vezelay. Many people found this very moving.
However, that was not enough for this audience! They slow hand clapped until we sang again – the full Hallelujah Chorus! Roger Millot, our French tour coordinator, appeared with a bouquet for Sarah-Ann and individual roses for the sopranos and altos in the front row. Still they clapped, so we made a quick decision to sing Chilcott’s version of the Londonderry Air. Some wanted a fourth encore! Many people came up to thank us – I was told by one French gentleman that we made him feel the music in his heart.
It was the most wonderful experience. As we left the Basilica it looked beautiful in the warm light. People have been singing here for 1100 years, and we can now add ourselves to that number.