We’d like to share with you some of the photos and videos that are coming though from our tour to Romania, particularly for those who have not been able to see the posts on our social media accounts. This blog just covers our first , very busy, day in Bucharest:
Birmingham Festival Choral Society announced its presence in Bucharest by doing a ‘Flash mob’ rendition of Vivaldi’s Gloria in the big bookshop Carturesti Carusel! We were delighted with this high quality video , sent to us by our Romanian hosts.
Following the flash mob, we gathered on the stairs and gave a 20 minute performance, which was shown live on the bookshop’s Facebook page.
Our first performance over, singers had a couple of hours to relax in Bucharest, before being taken to the University for the next rehearsal and concert.
The Titu Maiorescu University building was covered with our posters, and we performed to a very appreciative audience.
Alexandra Wynne, our soloist on tour, performed Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Stanford’s ‘Blue Bird’ with the choir, and Mozart’s virtuoso ‘Alleluia’.
David Wynne (baritone) sang the solo verse in ‘The Turtle Dove’ and Mitch Holland (tenor) sang the solo verse in ‘Ca’ the Yowes’, both arranged by Vaughan Williams.
Many thanks to Alfred White and Marilyn Kent for taking such great photos of BFCS on tour.
The tour blog written on the first day can be read here.
We look forward to sharing more photos and videos from the tour in future blogs.
After our wonderful concert in Sighisoara, and our big meal together, it seemed as if the choir tour was over. Sunday was the day for packing up and travelling home.
Our Romanian guide and our tour committee had one more trick up their sleeves, however. They decided that we should leave 4 hours earlier than planned, as big delays were possible through some road works. If we were not delayed, we would have time to visit Peles Castle.
Fortunately, there were no delays so we found ourselves with a lovely long break to enjoy the castle and surrounds in glorious sunshine.
Google told us that ‘Peleș Castle is a Neo-Renaissance castle in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia, in Prahova County, Romania, on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia, built between 1873 and 1914. Its inauguration was held in 1883. It was constructed for King Carol I.’
The coach journey to the airport gave a chance to write the blog about the day before. Technology has improved so much since our last tour, 3 years ago. Reliable WiFi in the hotel and on the coach, and a good smartphone meant that the blog could be done on the go. Smartphone photos taken while sightseeing could be added easily. As a singer, it has previously been complicated to get pictures when we were singing, but this time our photographer, Alfred White, sent smartphone pictures of our concerts by Email, in addition to the pictures he’s been taking on his DSLR camera for later delivery. This has also been the first tour where the conductor has conducted from a tablet, instead of numerous music books and pieces of paper.
Another big change since the last tour has been the growth of social media, particularly for our concerts in Bucharest. We have had a big response to our Facebook events and posts, and we have gained a lot of new followers from the concerts. A number of people from our audiences, and the Youth Choir sent messages of congratulation. The bookshop Facebook page carried a 20 minute live video of our flashmob and performance, and the Bran Castle Facebook page posted a video of our singing in the courtyard. The Youth Choir Cor cu Dor posted some excellent photos and a video on Facebook. A Russian tourist posted a 1 minute video of us singing in Bran Castle on Instagram, and sent the original video when requested.
BFCS singers at home, and our families were enjoying the blogs, and posts on Social media, and sent messages of support. BFCS singers on tour were sharing them on their own social media, spreading the word about BFCS and the wonderful experiences we were having. It all made a very exiting buzz – but it was hard to squeeze it all in to the very limited free time!
Our energy started to sag when we reached the airport and saw that our flight was delayed. In the end, we took off 45 minutes late, but this was compounded when we had to wait just under an hour for our luggage at Luton.
Eventually we were on our way, only to encounter big traffic jams at the point where the M1 was reduced to one lane only. We eventually arrived at our Birmingham destination at 2.50 am.
Some singers had to be up early for work, and we were all very weary – but it was all worth it! We’d like to thank our wonderful tour committee for all the hard work they’ve put in to give us such a wonderful experience.
We hope to share photos and videos as they come in, in our post-tour blogs.
The last concert of our tour was to be in the World Heritage Citadel, on the hill above Sighisoara. What a treat!
We arrived late morning and climbed the steep steps to the Citadel. This beautiful spot gives great views over the city. It’s very popular for wedding photos.
We had several hours to relax and explore the little streets and the beautiful clock tower. We even saw a plaque on the house where Vlad Dracul lived – the father of Vlad the Impaler and, presumably, the inspiration for the choice of the name ‘Dracula’ for the fictional character. (see blog 4).
At 3pm we gathered for our rehearsal in the Lutheran Church, formerly the church of the Monastery. This was to be the only concert in a church for this tour, and we were looking forward to singing in this lovely space.
The concert followed at 4.30pm and we were delighted to find a full church, with some people having to stand at the back! What a difference to the night before! We always try to sing our best, but we have to admit that singing to a big, appreciative audience always brings out the best in us. It was a splendid finale, and we all felt on a high. The Pastor of the church came forward to thank us and invite each person to join him in the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. He said that “when I heard your beautiful singing I found it hard to believe in Brexit. ”
The evening sun was coming out when we gathered after the concert, and the sun was glinting on the copper tiles of the clock tower.
We all walked down the steps to the town, and across the road to where a lovely meal was waiting for us to share all together, as this was the last night of the tour.
Following the food, our chair, Liz Collins, gave a speech thanking all the people who had been involved in the success of the tour…
Our tour committee, Tim, Mary, Nick, Alistair and Sue…
Arald, our Romanian guide who accompanied us from when we arrived at the airport to when we departed…
Kevin, our unflappable accompanist on piano and organ…
and David, our MD, who combines the uncompromising quest for high standards with a big sense of humour. Liz had planned to get him a Dracula cloak, but David beat her to it. He was given a Bran Castle baseball cap instead!
There was a 2 hour drive back to the hotel, followed by packing the next morning. The tour wasn’t quite finished, though, as you will discover in the next blog.
Thursday was our only day without a concert! We travelled by coach from Bucharest, the capital city, to Brasov in Transylvania, the mountainous area of Romania.
It was fun to explore the picturesque town of Brasov, and enjoy the local restaurants and cafes. Some ventured up the hillside beyond the city walls to get the view from the White and Black Towers.
Heavy rainshowers moved in, and some very wet singers boarded the coach to the hotel at 5pm. The view of a rainbow from the hotel almost made up for the drenching!
We had all been looking forward to our special choir evening together, starting with a lovely meal. This was then followed by a BFCS ‘soirée’ always the highlight of our tours! We were treated to song, comedy, and instrumental music, showcasing the talents of our singers.
Our special tour guest Sidney, 10 month old son of David (our conductor) and Alexandra (our soprano soloist), enjoyed the music and all the attention!
The evening ended with a comedy version of the Abba song, with us all joining in the chorus. The words “Thank you for the music” seemed a very fitting way to end the evening.
Bucharest day 2 started with a free morning! Some singers set off bright and early for sight-seeing, but others took the opportunity to rest, communicate with home, write a tour blog (!) and just have a quiet stroll around and a bite to eat.
The University of Music was a 20 minute walk from the hotel, and soon identified by the graduating music students in cap and gown, and the BFCS poster on the notice board outside.
Inside, we had our first glimpse of the youth choir, Cor cu Dor, who were to share our concert that evening. As they rehearsed we were bowled over by their perfect performance of popular songs in English from memory. Their ages ranged from about 7 to 18 years of age,and they were led by an inspirational lady who communicated exactly what she wanted through her gestures, rather than a strict beat.
In the concert later we also heard them give an interesting representation of the dawn chorus, and other difficult rhythmic songs, but the star piece was a full version of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with choreography.
We learnt afterwards that they practise 3 times a week, and practise every day when they have a performance coming up.
Our performance provided a contrast, but we hope that the young people and the rest of the audience were inspired by hearing a full SATB choir from the English choral tradition, plus our soprano soloist Alexandra Wynne. They certainly responded to every song with whoops and cheers!
Solo lines in our folk songs were taken by David Wynne and Mitch Holland, and Geoff Evans and Barry Jones sang the solo lines in ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’.
This choir tour had been moved to May (instead of the usual July / August) in the hope of finding lower temperatures. However, the concert on the enclosed stage at the University of Music provided the full tour experience we remember so well from the past, with high temperatures exacerbated by us all standing so close together, resulting in sweat dripping into our eyes and onto the music, and running down our backs. Such is the lot of a touring musician!
The concert ended with the Cor cu Dor joining us again in stage to sing the Romanian song ‘Corborai din deal in vale’ together. The joint choir included singers covering an age span of 80 years, united by a love of singing. It was a good ending to a great concert!
This blog is being written on the coach to Brasov, Transylvania, for the second half of our tour. We look forward to posting about our experiences there.
Greetings from Bucharest, where Birmingham Festival Choral Society are on tour!
We here travelled here on Monday, courtesy of Johnson’s coaches and Wizzair, arriving in our rooms at 9pm Romanian time. The first choice was whether to venture out into Bucharest to find food, or whether to settle for a packet of pretzels in the hotel bar and prioritise sleep!
We hit the ground running on Tuesday, with a rehearsal at 9am (following the logistics of 63 singers descending for breakfast at the same time). Concert clothes had been loaded onto the coach, and music had to be sorted into concert order.
The next challenge was to locate a bookstore in the centre of town for our first short performance. Singers set off on foot, or by metro or taxi, clutching maps, or phones with Google maps. Some did unexpected detours, others actually got there in time to have a drink beforehand!
We gathered in the beautiful Carturesti bookshop at midday, and spaced ourselves throughout the store. When Kevin stuck up the intro on the keyboard, we all burst into song with the first movement of Vivaldi’s Gloria! It made a big impact on the shoppers in the store, and they were soon filming us on their phones. We gathered together on the steps and did the remainder of our 20 minute performance. The store streamed the whole performance on Facebook- you can see it shared on our choir Facebook page.
It was lovely to have a few hours afterwards to enjoy lunch with other singers, before gathering again to be taken to the Titu Maiorescu University for our next rehearsal and concert. It was wonderful to be greated with dozens of posters for our concert on every door and wall space! Our hosts said that they were honoured that we had come, and provided us with welcome refreshments.
The concert took place in a modern auditorium, with a very appreciative audience. The choir rose to the occasion, despite the heat and a long stand with lots of heavy music. The Parry and Elgar were sung with gusto, and the folk songs and Stanford’s Blue Bird made a lovely contrast. The star of the show was our soloist Alexandra, with her amazing performance of Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Alleluia. The audience rose to their feet at the end – so we sang them an encore and got a second standing ovation!
You can see that we squeezed a lot into our first 24 hours! Being on tour is not for the faint hearted, but the experiences will stay in the memory for years to come. We look forward to more Romanian adventures to come… watch this space!
There had been several opportunities to spend time in Auxerre over the five days, and BFCS singers had enjoyed exploring the town and eating and drinking there.
The final concert was held in the church of St Pierre which, the video tells us, has a better acoustic then the Cathedral. We were driven, wearing our choir uniform, to the coach park by the River Yonne, and then walked across the bridge to the church in the town. Some of us were asked if we were a hen party, as we were all dressed the same!! When we explained that we were a choir, our questioners said straight away “Oh yes – from Birmingham. We’ve seen about you in the paper!”
We were feeling very hot and tired at the rehearsal, and tuning began to suffer. Would this last concert be an anticlimax after the three wonderful concerts that had gone before?
We should have known better! Once again, the church miraculously filled up with 300+ people, the adrenaline kicked in, and we rose to the occasion. The tenors and basses at the back said that it was one of the best concerts of all, as all of the parts could be heard clearly, not blurred into a mush by a large resonance, as at Vezelay. One of the joys of touring is that you get to know the works very well, and we were confidently singing much of it from memory. We had all grown to love the ‘Cum Jubilo’ Mass (Dattas) in particular (the Rutter ‘Home is a special kind of feeling’ not so much!). Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, ‘God be in my Head'(Walford Davies) and Notre Pere (Kedroff) were all very moving to sing. We each had our favourites from the thirteen works in the programme.
Sarah Anne endeared herself to the audience by speaking to them in French, then kicking off her shoes and standing on a chair to sing her solos!
Once again, the audience started slow hand clapping for an encore and they were rewarded with the Hallelujah chorus! Roger Millot appeared again with single roses for the sopranos and altos who hadn’t received one in Vezelay. As the singing ended, Patrick mouthed “finished”. Not only was it the last performance of the tour, but it was the last one that Patrick would conduct as our Music Director.
We made our way back across the bridge, with its beautiful view of the Cathedral at dusk. There followed a meal at the hotel, and BFCS concert party from midnight to 1.30am! Despite this, everyone was up in time for the coaches to set off for Birmingham at 9am the next morning – there was plenty of time for sleeping on the 14 hour journey.
BFCS tours are a marvellous way of bringing everyone together to share wonderful singing in inspiring venues in beautiful parts of the world. The friendships made on tour all help to strengthen our choir throughout the year. The fact that about 90% of the whole choir had come on the tour, with ages ranging from 15 to 83 , shows how much they are enjoyed by everyone, and we would like to thank all of the tour organisers for making it all possible.
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.
Saturday in St Julien du Sault was such a wonderful experience that our only fear was that the rest of the tour would be an anticlimax. Not so!
All BFCS tours have something unusual that singers talk about for years. For this tour, it will be the time we sang the Hallelujah Chorus in the square outside Sens Cathedral! This started with one singer, followed by everyone else joining in from all over the square, and coming together in an informal crowd. The sound bounced off the walls of the cathedral, enabling us to hear all the parts and sing with conviction! The customers in the restaurants couldn’t fail to know that our concert was coming!
The Cathedral was huge, so we were fully reconciled to the fact that we would probably only have a small audience. Imagine our amazement when we came out to find it was full! We estimated that there were at least 300 there. The warmth and enthusiasm of the audience inspired us to give our very best performance!
Special memories of the day in Sens:
Two little children starting to dance when we reached the swirly part of Parry’s ‘My soul there is a country’.
A young lady walking the entire length of the church to the front row, as there were no other spare seats.
Kevin Gill’s performance on the huge organ, filling the cathedral with sound.
Sarah-Ann Cromwell’s performance – managing to blend comedy with serious singing (experience gained in the London Quartet, no doubt! )
The man in the front seat who lept to his feet to applaud every time we finished a piece (and sometimes before!)
The coach drivers getting trapped in the tiny streets and having to go the wrong way down a one way street to get out!
We have a day off from singing on Monday, then concerts in Vezelay Tuesday and Auxerre Wednesday. More blogs to follow.
Singing at the St Julien du Sault Festival had been one of the aims of our tour, ever since we had made contact with Les Fontenottes, the choir in the town.
The village seemed very small and quiet, but we were amazed at the size of the beautiful church of St Pierre!
It was wonderful to see that large church full for our concert! We sang a range of sacred music, French music, and arrangements of folk songs from home.
Sarah Ann Cromwell dazzled with Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and Alleluja, and Patrick Larley improvised on the rare renaissance organ in the church. Kevin Gill was versatile as ever, playing organ/piano, or conducting as required.
Members of the audience instantly rose to their feet as we finished, and soon they were slow handclapping for more! (French audiences don’t say ‘Encore’!). They were rewarded with the full blast of the Hallelujah Chorus!
From the moment we arrived, to the wonderful reception at the Fontenotte School after the concert, we were treated to wonderful French hospitality and friendship.
We presented a cheque to the Special School, from money raised at the ‘Taste of Vienna’ concert in Birmingham.
The friendly Birmingham choir singing the world's best choral music.