In July, the Hartford Chorale traveled to Paris with 80 singers and over 20 friends and family members. Over the course of their weeklong “Americans in Paris” tour, they sang three different programs at three different performances in some of the city’s most iconic venues. Richard Coffey, Music Director, reflects on the tour’s inspiration, planning, and magic as it unfolded during the tour:
At the age of 26 I sang the Duruflé Requiem in a performance accompanied at the organ by Marie-Madeline Duruflé-Chevalier, marking the beginning of my lifelong love affair with what I still consider to be one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. I have had the privilege of conducting the work many times since then, never thinking that the opportunity might come for me to have that honor in the Duruflé ‘temple’ itself. Yet, after having visited St. Étienne-du-Mont on almost every one of my several trips to Paris, my dream to present the Requiem in that sacred space was finally going to come true, in the form of a magnificent tour by the Hartford Chorale, for which I serve with pleasure as Music Director.
Hartford Chorale Director Richard Coffey with Vincent Warnier at St. Étienne-du-Mont in Paris
Getting to work with Vincent Warnier, co-titular organist of the church, was the tour’s true pièce-de-résistance. Mr. Warnier is steeped in the Duruflé tradition – its instrument, its magnificent space, and a close relationship with Mme. Duruflé herself. He knows the complete Duruflé oeuvre and performs and accompanies with unparalleled mastery. Working with him in both a private rehearsal and in the chorus/organ rehearsal revealed his immense talent, his reverence for the scores, his respect for those with whom he performs, and a compelling generosity of spirit. Following the final rehearsal, he graced the chorus with genuine words of high praise for our work.
Of course there were many other memorable moments of the tour, including the pleasure of providing musical leadership for a service of worship in the historic American Church in Paris. The church’s distinguished Music Director, Fred Gramann, not only hosted us with grace and charm, but made possible an environment in which we could offer our own gifts of music and also join our voices with those of the standing room only congregation, yielding a thunderous and thrilling sound. Chartres Cathedral is, of course, one of the most venerated holy places in all of Christendom. Performing a fully unaccompanied program there permitted us to explore the acoustical glories of the space, and the large audience made clear its pleasure at what they had heard.
To cite the single most memorable moment, a return to the Duruflé Requiem is necessary, and that was the instant when all of us were finally able to deliver the fruits of our labors, rehearsing at last in the Duruflé church and hearing the opening notes of the work on the organ for which it was conceived. A look at the faces of the singers revealed a common splendor, silently acknowledging “this is what our tour is all about,” and for that I will be forever grateful. The concert itself was one of unexpected calm and poise, made possible because all of the stars were in alignment, and Maurice Duruflé was smiling upon us.