From Schubert to Beethoven
We are staying this week in a small village that cozies up to the banks of the Dordogne river in the Bordeaux wine growing region. Asques, like small and large cities throughout France, is enjoying a national summer concert series — the12th year for this series. Last night and this evening, we decided to attend two local concerts to listen to the classical music programs being offered. Asques is a small village and has an old roman church at the top of a small hill that overlooks the village and the Dordogne river. Last night’s concert was held inside. The inside of this church is very simple consisting of two elongated barrel vaults sitting side by side about 50 feet in length each. The adjoining vaults are supported by two simple Roman arches. The interior walls are barren except for the statues of Mary and Christ, and a small stained glass window here and there.
The concert presentation that evening was Opus 100 by Franz Schubert. The instrumentation consisted of piano, violin and cello.
Having played concert bass in school orchestras from junior high and into college, I am familiar with many of the classical composers and I wanted Cheryl to have the experience of attending something that the local people would themselves attend. As it turned out, we were the only non-locals there.
The musicians were set up in the middle of the church and seating was available in a half circle around them. The setting couldn’t have been more intimate. Surrounded by the village locals, we settled in. When the musicians started playing, we were startled to hear rich, vibrant tones coming from their instruments. At first, I thought they surely must be miked. Surprisingly, they weren’t. The acoustics of this small chapel were amazing! You could hear every nuance that the exceptionally talented musicians played. It was incredible and a joy to listen to.
This evening we attended the other concert, Beethoven. The concert location was in the village of Mouillac, a short drive from Asques. As before, the concert was held in a small Roman church. This church, however, was about half the size of the previous one and was much more an example of ancient Roman architecture. At first, I was wondering how the musicians (a septet of violin, viola, cello, concert bass, French horn, bassoon, and clarinet) plus any audience could possibly fit into such a small space. The interior of this chapel was very simple, almost stark with few adornments of any kind, no windows, and the entire structure was a single barrel vault. The seven musicians sat at one end while the audience was, once again, seated in a semi-circle around them. The musicians were highly skilled professionals. Most were in their early thirties although we suspected that one or two were younger. Listening to the stringed instruments in such close proximity and with the acoustics of the chapel, made you appreciate the quality of the sound, the expressive inflection of every tone, and the crisp richness of every note. It was a wonderful experience and one that we will carry with us for a long time.
One of the things that we noticed and remarked to each about was the fact that in both concerts there were children. Not many but those who were present were about 3 and 4 years old. Not once during the two hour concert, including pauses lasting up to a minute between musical passages, did any of these children, talk, fidget, or make ANY disturbance of any kind! We were amazed! They simply sat next to their parents, quietly played with a toy, and slept if they felt like it. The adults (including yours trulies), showed the utmost respect for the musicians. Not a sound was heard from the audience to detract from the exceptional quality of the musicianship. The audience also held their very appreciative applause until the end of the presentation.
The wonderful thing about traveling is when you discover traditions, customs, or behaviors in the local culture that are different from yours. Cheryl noticed that when the audience applauded, at first it sounded just like any other applause. But after a minute or two, there came a rhythm to it in the form of 3’s with a short pause between the next three. The musicians would exit and return to acknowledge the applause three times. This happened at both concerts.
The summer concert series for this area is over until later in the summer. We hope to catch other concerts series at our next location.