“Something very beautiful came of this, beyond the music”

Music creates bonds. This is something that four choirs and orchestras from France and Germany can testify to. Here is an excerpt to mark World Friendship Day on 30 July.

In 2017 the conductors Burkhard Schmitt from Germany and Nicolas Jean from Strasbourg in France met in the course of the preparations for the International Youth Convention 2019. Nicolas assisted Burkhard in working with and leading the large youth orchestra. “We enjoyed working together,” Burkhard remembers.

That was not the end of it though: the two musicians soon realised that they had a lot in common. Burkhard conducts the Konzertchor Südhessen, a vocal ensemble, and the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra South Hesse. And Nicolas conducts the French orchestra JONAS and the choir Collegium Cantorum from Strasbourg.

Good things worth waiting for

Almost at the same time, the two musicians had the idea of doing a project together. They quickly planned a programme for 2020, but Covid-19 thwarted their plans. Two years later, they could finally put their plan into action: “Two concerts that had been postponed umpteen times could finally take place at the beginning of July 2022 in Wiesbaden and in Strasbourg,” Burkhard reports. On 3 July, the two choirs and orchestras from both countries performed Johannes Brahm’s A German Requiem in the New Apostolic church in Wiesbaden, and on 10 July in the historic St Thomas’ Church in Strasbourg.

Why a German composition?

Why the German Requiem of all things? “The Alsace region in France, which shares a border with Germany, is very much marked by German,” explains Burkhard. The historical region has a unique mix of French and German influences. “The members of both French ensembles speak German well—much better than most of us speak French. And when we got together, Nicolas had the idea—also because the German language is ultimately the link between the ensembles—to perform the German Requiem together. That was actually his wish.” For the French choir it was a great experience, he says. “The co-operation with a German choir was obviously a great opportunity for them to perform this work.” What’s more, the content of the Requiem is also well suited to the divine service for the departed that takes place every year at the beginning of July. Burkhard Schmitt said that the French choir’s pronunciation was excellent.

Music bonds

The choir members and instrumentalists from both countries met about halfway in Mannheim (Germany) for their first joint rehearsal weekend in June. On the weekends of the concerts, rehearsals took place on the Saturday, during which the respective hosts welcomed their friends from the neighbouring country with open arms. Warm friendships developed. “I heard that some planned to stay in touch and get together,” says Burkhard. In the evenings, the French and German musicians went out and enjoyed dinner together. “Something very beautiful came of this, beyond the music.”

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Katrin Löwen, Andreas Rother
International, Music