Have you considered travelling in December? Perfect for either a short or a longer stay to experience the joy of Europe's best Christmas Markets and perform to the crowds whilst you're there. But which destination should you choose? Travel at the end of the winter term is becoming more and more popular with school groups as to avoid clashing with other tours planned in the summer term.
Our no.1 destination for a winter tour. Not only does Poland present great value, it's also one of the most religious countries in Europe, meaning great organs and mass participations, filled to capacity. Cities we reccomend include: Kraków, Warsaw, Wrocław and Lublin.
The classic choice when thinking about a Christmas markets trip. While you can find a magical Christmas market in each German city, we reccomend heading east to Leipzig or Berlin where hotel rates stay low over the festive period meaning you can enjoy a good value tour whilst still experiencing everything Christmas in Germany has to offer.
An 'off the beaten track' option for many, why not head to the largest of the Baltic states for your dose of festivities? Latvia has an outstanding choral tradition and this is evident with the wide number of venues available to you here. Just a 2.5hr flight from London will land you in Riga, Latvia's capital where you'll find the city's medieval old town, brimming with Christmas market stalls and music. If you're really lucky, you might be treated to a dusting of snow for that authetic winter experience!
Contact us today to discuss your winter touring ideas!
Say Zdravo to Dragana! Dragana is part of our world wide network of concert representatives and looks after all of our arrangements in the Balkans, including: Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo. Dragana also enjoys couriering tours in this region so you may have spotted her on the road!
This summer was of course very quite as none of my touring groups were able to travel. Whilst I spent most of my time at home in Athens I did manage to visit friends and the nearby beach of Shinias. I also went to my favourite place, old Panteliemon at the slopes of Mount Olympus not far from the beach of Panteleimonas where we have our summer house. My son Savvas lives on the island of Tinos, so I spent some time visiting him too.
In addition to my work for ACFEA, I’m the manager of our family business, Golden Way Tours where I also work with incoming tourists.
I always take a good book with me, my phone and my iPad.
How to choose just one?! In Montenegro, it’s Kotor, Bosnia - Trebinje, Croatia – Zadar and Dubrovnik, Slovenia -Ljubljana. I like them all equally!
I always make sure I eat a good breakfast to set me up for the day ahead!
Always smile and solve any problems that might occur with patience
I love meeting so many fabulous and enthusiastic music lovers from different countries. As well as enjoying their singing and playing, I love getting to know them and to learn all about the culture of their country too.
Say Olá to Saraswati! Saraswati is part of our world wide network of concert representatives and looks after all of our arrangements in Portugal including Madeira and the Azores.
Taking and enforced holiday! That said, I have just finished harvesting our figs and I'm about to deal with our olive crop!
Whilst I'm not working for ACFEA, I direct and manage the running of the Coral Sinfónico de Portugal
The more striking north, the historic central region, the ever sunny south : all picturesque in their own distinctive way, and populated by pathologicaly friendly people! Take your pick!
Take a Sudoku and a Kindle!
Pencil and rubber!
Oh gosh! So many. Last year, I really enjoyed the Tiffin Boys' Choir performance in the beautiful Igreja de Lapa in Porto where they could adjourn to the fabulous Portrait Room to do their secular repertoire, plus their informal concert in the Livraria Lello, also in Porto.
Say Hola to Paloma! Paloma is part of our world wide network of concert representatives and arranges all of our performance opportunities in Spain. Paloma also often couriers tours in Spain & Portugal so you may recognise her from one of your tours.
I managed to go back to Spain to see my family for the first time since Christmas, after spending lockdown in London. I thought it was going to be a quiet summer, but I ended up visiting areas of Spain I had never been to, such as Cabo de Gata, a natural park on the Andalusian coast, and the islands of Ibiza and Formentera, which were unusually quiet due to the lack of international tourism.
Music has also been a very important part of my summer. Luckily, at this time of the year, most festivals in Spain are outdoors and they have taken place with reduced audiences. At the end of July I went to the last concert of the Festival de Música y Danza de Granada. On 2nd September I attended a chamber music concert in Madrid, which was part of a summer series organised the Fundación Olivar de Castillejo (photo below). Both performances were sold out, the audience were wearing masks at all times and there was no interval in order to maintain social distancing and avoid big crowds.
When I'm not organising concerts I normally do research to explore new areas, find new venues and create new contacts. Outside work I enjoy playing the piano, reading, cooking, going to concerts and travelling, of course!
It's hard to choose just one region, but I think I would probably say Andalusia. The mix of cultures that have lived there over time make its heritage particularly rich; this can be seen not just in its architecture, but also in the music and the gastronomy. Apart from its culture, the landscape in this area is very varied, with a coastline bathed by the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, the famous olive trees in Jaén and the mountains of Sierra Nevada to name a few examples.
Another question that I'm going to find hard to answer! We have used so many special venues in Spain with such good audiences but Burgos and Salamanca Cathedrals are definitely at the top, not just because of their beauty and history, but also because of how welcoming they always are with our groups. It's very rewarding seeing the long queues before the concerts and seeing the reaction of the musicians when we tell them they are there to see them!
Don't stick to the things you already know, try to make the most of being away from home! Learn as much as you can about the country you are visiting beforehand, try the local food, learn some basic words... And never be afraid of asking - our wonderful couriers will always be happy to help you make the most of your trip!
This might sound too obvious, but I can't travel without my phone. Everything that I need is there, from maps to contact numbers and tour info.
I feel very lucky to have a job I love. We are a very close team and everyone is always willing to share their knowledge and expertise, but without any doubts, my favourite thing is travelling with our groups to see everything happening after months of work to put everything together. I love meeting new people and showing them around my country, sharing with them the moments before and after the concerts. Seeing the excitement after a performance and exchanging impressions with the audience are priceless moments and I always find it hard to say goodbye once a tour is over.
Say Hallo to Sue! Sue is part of our world wide network of concert representatives and arranges all of our performance opportunities in Germany.
Like most people, I have been rediscovering old skills and developing new ones, especially baking, tending my garden, painting with acrylics & a spatula and learning to make sourdough pizza. But of course, I have been visiting different parts of Germany to prepare for the Really Big Chorus’ arrival in December, to Landshut, the former capital of Bavaria, and soon to revisit Dresden and Meissen.
I sing in two choirs, like most choirs we tried to continue rehearsals over zoom but without any proper singing. In recent months, we’ve been rehearsing in an underground car park, socially distanced, with miners’ lamps on our heads to read the music. We’re rehearsing for two concerts this Christmas, Gluhwine in the gardens and a ‘bring your own chair’ courtyard concert.
I’m always thinking about concerts in new venues, in new places! In the moments that I’m not, I love reading poetry and visiting historic graveyards. At the moment I’m rereading the poems and ballads of Algernon Charles Swinburne. I also love languages and I’m currently learning Catalan as my son lives in Barcelona. It’s a lovely language, a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese and French which I’m enjoying very much.
Well, I love East Germany and I was the first to pioneer this region for concert tours when the wall came down 30 years ago. My especial favourites are Leipzig and Erfurt.
My favourite venue in Germany has to be the classic Thomaskirche in Leipzig where JS Bach himself was the Music Director between 1723-1750. Outside you’ll find a statue dedicated to the maestro himself and inside you’ll find his gravestone.
Thorough preparation! To quote Benjamin Franklin: ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’
You may find this odd, but nearly all of our inspection tours are carried out in the deepest of German winters, so I never go anywhere without a bobble hat! Spending the entire day in freezing cold churches and organ lofts makes a bobble hat absolutely essential!
I’ve worked continuously for the company for around 27 years and it’s been lovely! It doesn’t feel like working for a company, it’s like working with a family of friends.
Edinburgh - Edinburgh is one of the world's most attractive capitals. The dramatic grandeur of its setting, its wealth of noble architecture and a long and stirring history combine to make an appropriate introduction to the romance of Scotland Edinburgh is one of the world's most attractive capitals. The dramatic grandeur of its setting, its wealth of noble architecture and a long and stirring history combine to make an appropriate introduction to the romance of Scotland
Jersey- At 9 miles by 5 miles, Jersey is the biggest of the Channel Islands and it feels much bigger than it actually is, with its myriad country lanes and long, rugged, windswept coastline. While the buzzing capital of St Helier is its heart, the rest of the island has plenty of appeal, from the superb south and west coast beaches to the castles and WWII fortifications along the north and east coasts. Add to that a world-class zoo, several poignant museums, a laid-back atmosphere and excellent food and it's easy to see how Jersey draws visitors to its sun-drenched shores.
Northern Wales - The large resort of Llandudno enjoys a setting on a spit of land between two sandy beaches. From the West Shore, there are panoramas of Conwy Bay and the more distant Snowdonia National Park
West Country – The cities of Bristol & Bath are some of the most scenic in the country. World Heritage site Bath, famous for its Hot Springs, Roman Baths and stately Georgian architecture is just 15miles southeast of Bristol, home of the famous muralist Banksy.
Central England – Visit Central England to see areas of outstanding natural beauty, the home of William Shakespeare, and England’s second city, Birmingham. Central England is a place steeped in art, history, and culture. See one of Britain’s architectural jewels, Lincoln Cathedral, or visit the hometown of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon. You can also see the inspirations for one of his most beloved plays, the battlefields and tomb of Richard III in Leicestershire.
Say hi to Kate! You’ve probably met her if you’ve been on a tour to Poland — or one of the any number of European countries where she couriers.
What have you been up to this summer?
I have used the quarantine and quieter summer to take care of myself, cook at home, and eat clean. I’ve been doing the 10,000 steps a day challenge for 90 days already – and am still going! This time has been wonderful to think about what is really important in life, make new decisions, and to explore my beautiful country — Poland — which has still so much to offer.
What do you normally do when you’re not leading an ACFEA tour?
I’m a full time jazz manager so I organise the life and concerts of jazz Artists in Poland and abroad. It is not easy to be at full speed 24/7 so whenever I have a chance, I like to travel and tick off the next destination on my bucket list (which seems to be endless!). Travelling and exploring new places makes me happy.
What is the one thing you never travel without?
Where’s your favourite destination to lead a group?
I should say Poland since I’m Polish but I love to go with groups to other places, especially to Spain in winter, where the temperatures are much more pleasant than in my hometown.
What’s your best travel advice?
Always respect the culture you are exploring. And try not to think about how much your spending in your own currency, it spoils the fun!
What’s your favourite thing about being a courier?
I get to see new beautiful places or go again to those I love! I love that there is always something new to experience with every group and there is nothing better than working whilst travelling.
Zurich Youth Symphony Orchestra embarked upon a very successful tour of the UK in October 2018 and I shared their experiences with them throughout as courier. Beginning at the historic Snape Maltings, they performed in a joint concert with Suffolk Youth Orchestra (another regular client of ACFEA) to a sizeable and appreciative audience. It was wonderful to see both orchestras cheer each other on! As the final concert of Suffolk’s conductor Philip Shaw, a veteran of Suffolk County Music Service, it was a special evening for all. For dinner we hired a private fish and chip van from a local supplier –a great start to the tour!
The next day the group visited Cambridge where they experienced the delights of English weather -torrential rain and cold winds! Their second concert was in Reading at Leighton Park School where they were warmly welcomed by the Director of Music. Despite a 'small' set back on arrival as two tyres burst on the instrument van, the concert was a success and very enjoyable. 18 year old violin soloist Annouk Brönnimann impressed everyone with a spectcular performance of Khachaturian’s concerto for solo violin.
On Tuesday we travelled onwards to London via Windsor to watch the changing of the guard at Windsor Castle, followed by a traditional English afternoon tea. Our wonderful coach drivers Jaimie and Craig, very much part of the team by this point, particularly enjoyed this day. On Wednesday evening we went into the heart of the City of London to watch the BBC Symphony Orchestra in concert at the Barbican Centre. Coming from Zurich where concert programmes are often quite conservative, the modern repertoire choices were a highlight for the group and they left inspired for their final two performances.
The next day was a full day spent at James Allen Girl’s School (JAGS) in Dulwich where both orchestras joined together side by side to perform a new piece composed by Peter Gritton (Director of Music for JAGS) entitled ‘Trip to Mars’ and the final movement of Dvorak’s Symphony No.9. They made a fantastic sound which was very much appreciated by the invited audience [photo: both orchestras together in rehearsal of Trip to Mars].
The final concert at St James’s Church, Piccadilly on Friday was the perfect way to round off the tour -they performed their repertoire in full, the well-loved Dvorak Symphony No.9 “From the New World” and the lesser known Khachaturian Violin Concerto. There was a retiring collection raising money for the Otakar Kraus Music Trust - their mission is to ensure that every child and adult has access to affordable music therapy in the community, helping to improve their well-being and quality of life through creative and participatory music making. The 250 strong audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation and donated over £1000. I’m so pleased I was able to share in the successes of this very talented youth orchestra!
Two tour managers from ACFEA, Becky Shaftoe and Dan Porterfield, recently attended the School Travel Forum AGM in Birmingham. John de Vial, ABTA Director of Financial Protection and Financial Services, gave an excellent presentation on Brexit and the UK travel industry. ABTA is working hard with the UK government, and across Europe, to secure the best possible outcome for the travelling public as the UK departs the European Union. ABTA is lobbying to safeguard our transport links, including our air routes, and protect valuable consumer rights. Post-Brexit, it is important that travellers continue to enjoy visa-free travel and access reciprocal healthcare arrangements currently offered by the European Health Insurance Card.
Whilst there is still much uncertainty in the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the UK government is advising passengers to have 6 months passport validity for travel to Schengen areas beyond 29 March 2019. As always, it is essential that passengers continue to take out adequate travel insurance in addition to carrying an EHIC.
ABTA has produced several reports on Brexit and the UK travel industry which may be accessed here:
Site inspections are always full of excitement and the trip with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO) was no different. As a first time visitor I was constantly stunned by the beauty of the landscape, the variety of food and how warm and hospitable the locals were.
We landed after midnight at a regional airport (to applause from the plane…) and sped through the streets of Sibiu to the hotel. Early next morning we visited our first concert venue, walking through the Christmas markets of this former European Capital of Culture and arrived to the sound of the Sibiu Philharmonic rehearsing Spartacus by Khachaturian. There followed our first long drive of the trip seeing many a horse and cart along the way.
The next stop on our adventure was the tiny Saxon village of Malancrav where we visited one of many fortified churches in Transylvania with original pre-Reformation frescoes and the wonderful Apafi Mansion. Then it was on to Sighișoara, the birthplace of Dracula, where we climbed to the church atop the hill and had a lovely dinner just a short walk from Dracula’s house!
The next day we decided to take a “shortcut” from Sighișoara to Brașov and ended up on uneven country lanes with the snow falling around us – the car got quite grubby but we had beautiful views of the countryside and spotted some wildlife. We also managed a brief stop at the castle stronghold of Făgăraș where we were allowed to take the throne for a few minutes. It was very cold in the gothic Black Church in Brașov (so named because the roof and exterior walls and roof were blackened from a great fire in 1689) so we retreated to a restaurant for dinner where we were instructed to try the local tipple called palinka – a traditional fruit brandy – which was very strong but delicious!
On our final day we made the long journey to Bucharest this time stopping in Sinia for a view of the magnificent Peleș Castle as well as coffee and a cake. In Bucharest we took a tour of the Athenaeum, a landmark of the Romanian capital city (see first and last image) and afterwards I tried another traditional Romanian dish (essentially cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat) which was very nice indeed.
So ended the site inspection to Romania. LSSO's tour in July of this year was a great success, their performances were received by appreciative audiences and the group came back with lifelong memories of the culture and hospitality of this country.
When you accept a job as an ACFEA courier, you know that you are taking on a huge responsibility. Tour Managers work on their tours for months. They know every little detail about the group and about the destination and, when the tour is set for departure, they pass the responsibility onto the courier to ensure all runs smoothly. Eton College was the first UK school group I worked with as a courier, but I was not alone on the tour – I was accompanied by Pilar, an experienced courier who had couriered for many ACFEA tours.
Our courier role involves taking care of all of the details of the tour – all of which are tailor-made. Duties include getting in touch with hotels and restaurants beforehand to make sure all the arrangements are reconfirmed, checking that the coaches are going to be waiting for us at the right time and contacting the venues to confirm the group’s arrival and concert set-up arrangements.
Couriers also have to be quick to understand how groups are organised and adapt to their needs. With Eton College, we went through the itinerary with Tim, the group leader, at the end of every day and he would then pass on specific instructions to the students. All the boys were very collaborative and always willing to help when it came to loading or unloading the coaches and the instrument van. Due to the high temperatures of Spain during the summer, our interaction with Nik, the van driver, was extremely important - instruments are valuable and delicate so it was important for us to ensure they were not exposed to the sun. Nik was incredibly helpful at all times and thanks to his previous experience transporting instruments for professional orchestras we were confident he knew what to do.
The highlight of the tour is, of course, the concerts which were truly outstanding! From my personal point of view, it was a privilege to act as an interpreter for the conductor and express the group’s gratitude to the audience in my native language. After every concert members of the audience interacted with the performers, thanking them for being there. For some it was the first time they had ever seen an orchestra performing live. But it wasn’t only an emotional experience for the locals attending - one of the matrons who came on the tour couldn’t stop crying when the soloist performed Sibelius Violin Concerto. She explained to me that she had watched him grow up and now she had to say goodbye to him, after six years. Witnessing how involved the staff are with the wellbeing and development of the children had a huge impact on me.
After ten days of hard work and little sleep, I can only say what was an incredibly rewarding experience it was - I made lots of new friends and I cannot wait for my next tour to begin!
As Tim Johnson, Director of Music at Eton College, said in his opening address, it was thoughtful of the Royal Family to organise Harry and Meghan’s wedding so that it coincided with the MMA Conference. The trade fair venue, Eton College’s magnificent School Hall, would have been splendid enough in its own right, but coupled with the carnival atmosphere in Windsor on May 19, the whole weekend created a very special atmosphere. Inspiring keynote speeches from Tony Little and Will Gompertz, choral evensong sung by delegates in Eton College Chapel, and the opportunity to view the magnificent Eton Choirbook in the College library, added to the unique attraction of the event. ACFEA was proud to sponsor the final dinner in the elegant surroundings of Dorney Lake Boathouse, and the evening was rounded off with a spectacular musical fireworks display.
Michael Portillo attends London Oratory concert in Seville and Choir releases rew CD on Sony Classics label
The London Oratory School’s Schola Cantorum had an immensely successful tour to Granada and Seville during their February 2017 half term, singing to full houses. At one of their four concerts, at Iglesia de la Anunciacion, Universidad de Sevilla, there were queues stretching back two blocks and with 350 people inside there was standing room only. A rather special guest, Michael Portillo attended and the Music Director, Charles Cole, was delighted to meet him after the concert.
The choir posted 3 minute videos each day of their tour on Facebook.
The Choir’s new CD “Sacred Treasures of England” was released in February 2017 on Aim Higher Recordings in conjunction with Sony Classics and sold extremely well at each concert venue. Have a listen here.
Few things get closer to the heart of what an international concert tour can teach than performing with a local group.
Joint concerts can be tricky to co-ordinate, given that typical concert seasons and touring times mean host groups aren’t always available. But when they’re possible, they are such a beautiful, clear example of how much we have in common with our brothers and sisters around the globe.
The West Village Chorale from New York City had one such experience while traveling through Greece last summer. As the tour unfolded, the members’ Facebook posts were full of snapshots of the singers exploring ancient archaeological sites in the radiant sunlight, tales of the choir warming up in some of the country’s finest Neo-classical venues, and, as you would hope, a copious amount of photos of them hanging out on the beach under that famously deep blue sky. But, by the night of their final concert on the island of Tinos, a joint concert with Ta Paidia tis Horodias, the local youth choir, the status updates were filled with even deeper emotion. Former Artistic Director Michael Conley posted:
The best moments of the tour happened last night when we shared our final concert with a local children's choir. During the warm-up they sang an American spiritual, which wasn't on their program, just for us. It was so lovely! And during the concert they sang an Eastern Orthodox hymn, an Ave Maria, a Greek folk song, and ended with Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" in Greek! It was so moving and so heartfelt, and such a perfect expression of what we need a lot more of in the world: joyfully crossing borders and tearing down walls. May the children show us the way!
The touching concert experience continued to resonate after the Chorale went home and inspired them to pool donations for the youth choir. After only a few short weeks, they raised $1,500. Of the gift, Georgia Bakogianni, Ta Paidia tis Horodias’s director, said, “It is like a gift coming from heaven and this is proof that music can bring people together and make us better!”
The Greek choir has always wanted to perform beyond Tinos, and now the group is able to do just that, at a festival of school choirs in the spring of 2017. “Thanks to you, we will be able to climb up a level and have new choral experiences,” Georgia said. As WVC singer Marianna Cayten said, “I’m so happy we can do a bit to expand their world. They certainly did for us.”
In July, the International Festival Chorus Children’s Choir saw a group of 8 to 14 year old excited kids, their staff and supporters touch down in London from Beijing to embark on a tour of England and Scotland.
Their aim was to get a taste of the English choral tradition, both educationally and musically and after a long haul flight, were thrown in at the deep end with a touching performance at Southwark Cathedral on their first full day.
Under the Cathedral’s imposing perpendicular arches they sang to an enthusiastic audience, with a repertoire of Western and Chinese songs. After a panoramic tour of London and an excursion to Harry Potter World, the group attended a workshop at St John’s College, Cambridge with its Director of Music, Andrew Nethsingha, who explained to the group the Cambridge College singing tradition and he took them through a couple of pre prepared pieces. Onwards to Telford, the group joined forces for an inspiring workshop day of music making with the National Children’s Choir of Great Britain at Shrewsbury School before heading up via the Lake District to Glasgow. They ended their tour with a trip to Edinburgh, a final rewarding performance at the ISME Conference at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and prizes handed out at a meal at the Corinthian Club in Glasgow.
ACFEA Tour Consultants were delighted to facilitate the Queens' College Cambridge concert tour to France in July 2016. We are always pleased to share memories and photographs of past concerts on our website and so we are thrilled that we can share the Queens' College tour report. Their tour of Angers, Nantes, Tours and Paris is documented in this excerpt from their own official report as written by members of the Choir!
DAY 1 – Friday – Anna Thomas
At 12pm prompt we arrived at St Pancras, where we were met by our refreshingly charismatic tour guide, Clare. Her flawless organisation skills were evident immediately as we swiftly boarded the Eurostar. An hour’s change in Lille station gave us time to visit our first Irish pub of the tour. It took the best part of 7 hours to reach our destination in Angers at 10pm, but the extensive journey had us pumped up and ready for the evening ahead.
We finished the evening with a relaxing walk towards Angers Cathedral. This night-time view was a perfect introduction to the sequence of magnificent French churches that we would see during the tour. On returning to our hotel, we slept peacefully in our beds with the comforting knowledge that this was just the beginning of a magical, action-packed and intensely musically rewarding week away!
DAY 2 – Saturday – Michaela Higham
As day 1 was a notably long day of travelling, we were excited to be off so very bright and early on Saturday morning starting the tour properly with a day trip out to Nantes. After dumping folders and cassocks (never again to smell quite so fresh) in Nantes Cathedral, and being suitably awed by the size of this venue, we parted ways with everyone off to enjoy different parts of the city before the afternoon rehearsal. Several of us headed down to the Château des ducs de Bretagne, admiring the city from the walls. It was from these walls that we spotted a suitably large fountain, and so we did the only acceptable thing and left the castle walls to paddle in it instead (QCCC’s reoccurring attraction to being in medium sized bodies of water is a well-documented but ultimately unexplainable phenomenon.)
Having found some flyers for tonight’s concert in the local tourist office (and been incredibly excited that our faces had been flyered around the city in preparation for our arrival), we decided to take a bunch and hand them out as we walked, with surprising success in spite of our relatively poor collective command of French, native French speakers notwithstanding. Heading over the river, many of us made it to a particularly unusual tourist attraction – “Les Machines de l’île” – a museum devoted to large mechanical creations, including a huge moving elephant and spider, the former of which sprayed us with water from its trunk, perhaps signalling that we really ought to get back in time for our first rehearsal of tour, before the evening’s performance.
Nantes Cathedral proved to be a hard performance venue, but ultimately a rewarding and very beautiful one. Whilst we found it hard to fill the huge space on the first concert of the tour (especially as we had currently lost a quarter of our tenor section to a wedding), it was really encouraging to see the cathedral packed and to pull off a concert so well when we hadn’t sung together in a month! We arrived back late but finally managed to get some rest before Sunday and its two concerts.
DAY 3 – Sunday – Edward Reeve
This day was the only one of the tour fully spent in Angers, whose connection with the Anjou dynasty had prompted our journey to this part of France in the first place. This day was also my twenty-first birthday, and slightly unusually in the history of my birthdays, began with a Catholic mass in a large French church. We arrived at St Joseph in time for a quick briefing on the service structure, which was all the more delightful given how extravagantly the actual service varied from all written plans. The choir entered to the sounds of a very fine Cavaillé-Coll organ, and were led to seats just behind the altar, where they engaged in the congregational mass, a psalm and hymn in French, extracts from the Byrd Four Part Mass and anthems by Purcell and Duruflé - what the service lacked in terms of recognisable cues and organisation was more than made up for by the beautiful acoustic and enraptured congregation.
Mass finished with a walk back to the Cathedral, where it was my duty to lay a bouquet of flowers (as close as we could find to green and silver) on the memorial to Margaret of Anjou. The choir sang Pearsall’s “Lay a Garland” to mark this moving tribute to our foundress.
Our third venue of the day was the best acoustic of the tour: St Serge. On asking about the main West End Organ, Jack and I were informed “non – c’est abominable!” A recent heatwave had rendered its tuning unforgivable, so Jack and I played the small choir organ. The choir performed very strongly, and the audience was large and appreciative at the concert. Our French contact Séverine (From ACFEA Tour Consultants) had prepared a special treat for Jack and me, and that evening led us to the darkened cathedral to try the monstrous and magnificent organ there, guided by the Titulaire. The cathedral was soon reverberating with Vierne, Bach and Alain. My puzzlement at being walked home by a different route gave way to astonishment and delight when Severine and Jack ducked into a creperie and I was knocked back by the loudest rendition of Happy Birthday I have ever heard. We all had a lovely dinner, followed by drinks outside in one of Angers' main squares.
DAY 4 – Monday – Helen Barker
On Monday, we got to be tourists for a large part of the day: we started off the day with a visit to Fontevraud Abbey. It was so pretty, in a style that looked very typical of northern France, and we gave a spontaneous performance of “Beati Quorum Via” in the grounds, which (to us at least...) was very atmospheric! We recorded this and you can hear it here:
Afterwards, we went to the Château de Villandry and gave an open-air concert – we were also blessed with good weather, so the castle looked beautiful! (And our crowds didn't get soaked!) We then had time to explore the grounds, and take some (fabulous) photos. Following on from that, we travelled to Tours, where we performed in a beautiful church - as the composer Poulenc had come from that area, they were particularly appreciative of us including his work in our programme. This was one of the busier days of the programme, but it was certainly a rewarding one!
DAY 5 – Tuesday – Andrei Smid
After a lovely trip along the Loire valley the day before, everybody was hoping for a lazy morning. As one could tell from our sleep-deprived zombie faces at breakfast that was not the case. But hey, looking on the bright side, we were going to Paris!!!! Arrived at the station, Clare (ACFEA's Tour Manager) diligently distributed our train tickets, and soon we boarded the train bound for Paris. In between singing along to smash hits from Disney’s “Frozen” (who knew basses could sing like a girl), and composing fugues to the SNCF jingle (to be featured as voluntaries next year) time passed fairly quickly and lo and behold, nous arrivons à Paris.
Later that day, we had our first Paris concert in the beautiful church of Saint-Louis-en-l'Île. To me, this was my favourite concert of the tour. Our singing was fantastic, the sound extraordinary, and the audience warm and lovely. Jack and Edward brought the house down with spectacular renditions of Bach’s St Anne Prelude and Fugue, and Passacaglia in C minor and we enchanted the audience by singing 3 pieces while surrounding them in their seats. Though initially reluctant (it was quite difficult to sing while not hearing everybody else), we followed Ralph’s indications and what a marvel it was! Being so far away from each other made it feel as if I were singing a solo and so I did (I’m a tenor, I can’t help myself!) I remember the surprised look on the faces of the audience members blessed to be sitting right in front of me and hear my fabulous tenor lines. Either that or they were horrified, couldn’t say for sure (let’s be optimistic and assume the former).
DAY 6 – Wednesday – Hannah Bowstead
This for me was the busiest day of the tour. It was also one of the busiest days of my life, so to avoid a gargantuan account that Tolstoy would be proud of, I will condense the day into a list, because this is apparently the done thing nowadays.
Highlights of Day 6 include (but are by no means limited to):
Realising that it was 2:30am and I’d been up for 18 hours – and not quite believing that the Notre Dame concert had been on that same day
The memories of the day will surely remain with me for a very long time.
As will the pain in my feet.
DAY 7 – Thursday – Will Ackernley
As the final day dawned, a motley crew dripped into breakfast like a series of slow tears. Yet for others a parting Hotel Ibis breakfast had little hope. In all it would seem the choir pace of life had taken to Clare's words of Parisian wisdom: “life's too short, we'll get the next train.” Soon we would fraction off into those valuable friendship groups we had earlier been instructed to create.
The morning hours would see QCCC representatives scattered across the capital indulging in past times encompassing musée visitations and/or sleep. As our hours were numbered, the troops began to collect their luggage and head for Gare de Nord, with the realisation setting in that no input from our supreme leader had yet occurred, though we strode on triumphantly to the ticket gate. One final outing for Clare – sweet relief or saddening reality? As we watched the lights of Paris fade into the distance, a soft shadow cast over us and our call of “Lord, let me know mine end” was seemingly coming to fruition. The Quexit of a week before touched back into a wet London – and whilst the question of whether the grass is greener on the other side remained unanswered, we were all happy to be safe in the knowledge of the happiness implanted by sunflowers to certain key members of society.
And so it goes, the final goodbye for some. Heavy losses have now been sustained as the realisation dawns that some of our members may never be in our company again. The biggest loss to each of us will be of individual choice, but certainly QCCC seems to be losing much of its substance, with the loss of three C's: choral scholars, choral exhibitioners and Clares.
As the tour came to its end and we went our separate ways, the overriding feeling to the tour was that we wouldn’t have spent the week any other way!
April 2016 saw ACFEA Tour Consultants bring New York's Nightingale-Bamford School Chamber Chorus to Spain for a concert tour which included the cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada.
The tour saw twenty members of the choir participate in Mass followed by a concert in the Iglesia del Santo Angel, a 17th century Baroque Church in the centre of Seville. From here they moved on to Cordoba and were able to perform in Circulo de Amistad Liceo Artistico y Literario, a beautiful building which is registered as one of Spain's cultural and historical monuments. Their final concert was in the Church of our Lady of Sorrows in Granada and it was here where each member of the choir was presented with a souvenir gift from the parish priest and in turn the choir reciprocated with a gift and a donation to the church.
The tour also included plenty of sightseeing and a tour to the Alhambra Palace, as well as a flamenco lesson which added a taste of authentic Spanish culture!