The Church at St-Jean-de-Côle, Dordogne
This year, we tried a new approach to choosing a holiday – we picked a charming house in a village we had never heard of in a country we had rarely visited: St-Jean-de-Côle in southern France. And so it was that after two days of unplanned meandering we arrived just a few hours before a free concert was to be held in the village church. With no idea of what to expect, we went along half an hour before the advertised time to find the church half full and the musicians, casually dressed, half-way through a piece. At first we thought we’d missed most of the concert; maybe 17:30 doesn’t mean half past five but half before five, as it does in Austria. But at the end of the piece there was no applause and the musicians didn’t seem to expect it: it must be a rehearsal. A few minutes later the musicians left the stage and the church began to fill up. Half past five came, people began to chat, and a few made a fuss of Oliver, allowing him to practise the few words of French that he knows. Six o’clock came and went. It’s normal, we were assured, nothing ever starts on time, and so we relaxed and waited to see what would happen.
And then the musicians returned, in full evening dress, and the concert began. Some of my favourite pieces of music were being performed by some of France’s most eminent professional musicians, in a tiny village only a matter of hours after our arrival. It was one of those extremely fortuitous occasions that cannot be planned; a lovely welcome to the village, an opportunity to meet some friendly people and hear some very special music beautifully performed.
The evening ended with an extract from Joseph Haydn’s “Les Adieux”. As it is performed, various musicians leave the stage in turn, the conductor included, and so the piece ends with only two violinists on the stage. It was a superb and very funny finale to a magical and completely unplanned evening.