November 2007: Visit to Bad Homburg

Exeter Express and Echo

Source: Jean Usher, EFC - (written for Exeter Twinning Circle)

There can surely be no better way of forming new friendships and cementing existing links than spending an extended weekend together making music. This was certainly the experience of members of Exeter Festival Chorus who recently made their first visit to Bad Homburg to take part in two performances of Elgar's “The Dream of Gerontius” with the Bachchor der Erlöserkirche of Bad Homburg. It was definitely a packed weekend including not just rehearsals and performances but a service in the Erlöserkirche on the Sunday morning during which members of the two choirs again sang together.

Having already welcomed members of the German Choir in November 2006 members of EFC were eagerly looking forward to meeting up again and sharing in preparations for two very special performances. However we did not spend all of our time singing. We were welcomed in an official reception in the Gotischen Haus, where we were greeted in impeccable English by the Burgermeister, Dr. Ursula Jungherr, to whom the Chairman of EFC replied in equally excellent German.

Saturday morning gave the visiting group (who numbered 45 in total comprising 38 singing members of the Choir, six partners of Choir members and our Musical Director, Nigel Perrin) an opportunity to enjoy a guided tour of the town. Our group were fortunate to have as our Guide to the town Helga Hahnenbruch, who was delighted to see us and asked us to convey her greetings to members of the Exeter Twinning Group and in particular to Brenda Kite, our Chair.

Since the chief reason for our visit was to rehearse and perform together with our German hosts it was not surprising that our busy and superbly organised schedule was centred on music-making and we were all impressed with the efficient way in which rehearsals had been planned, seating for this very large group of singers at rehearsals and performances had been thought out and everything proceeded extremely smoothly. We soon fell under the spell of the Bad Homburg Choir’s Musical Director, Susanne Rohn, and charmed by the way she achieved the musical effect she desired whilst retaining her unflustered demeanour.

The high points of the visit were definitely the two concert performances in which we were were accompanied by the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra and superb soloists – the English tenor, Peter Wedd, who gave a stunning performance as Gerontius, and his German counterparts, Dagmar Linde and Markus Flaig.

It goes without saying that the hospitality extended to our group was exceptional and John and I particularly appreciated the opportunity to be reunited with the members of the Bad Homburg Choir who had stayed with us in November last year in a wonderful dinner arranged for us by Gabi Frankenburg, on whose shoulders had fallen much of the detailed organisation of EFC’s visit. Friendships made in November 2006 were deepened and promises made to meet again in June 2008 when the Bad Homburg group have promised to return to Exeter to join with us in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem along with members of Choirs from Hanau in Germany and Rennes, our French twin-town.

I end my account of this visit with three brief memories, which in their way illustrate what twinning is all about. The first took place at the airport on our arrival when our hosts eager to make sure that we made our way safely to Bad Homburg from Frankfurt had provided us with guides to meet us at the airport and conduct us via the railway system. Our guide helpfully explained that we needed to acquire tickets from a nearby machine for the train but it was only after a somewhat fruitless few minutes that we realised we were endeavouring to buy train tickets from a "Geldautomat" – a cash machine! Secondly we were somewhat bemused by Susanne’s entreaties to “Give me your eyes, please!” till we realised that it was her way of asking us to watch her – a universal request made by all conductors of their choirs. Finally one humourous experience to illustrate that there were lighter moments. One of our members, a talented organist, keen to try out the three organs in the Erlöserkirche, took the opportunity to do so whilst everyone else went off to enjoy a post-Concert buffet supper in the Unterkirche. His wife, having selected a plate of tasty morsels on her husband’s behalf, became rather anxious as the time went on and after an hour had passed he had still not appeared at the meal. A search party was sent out – only to find that the enthusiastic organist had been inadvertently locked inside the Church!