Nathan Laube: “Would you like to go up to the bell tower?”
Kathy: “Sure, why not!”
Little did I know that after Nathan led me up all the steps to the organ loft at the Cathedral of St. Étienne in Bourges, that was only HALFWAY up to the bell tower. It was not until I climbed ALL the way up, and ALL the way down that I saw a sign saying that you had to be in good physical shape. There were 396 STEPS up (!) and 396 STEPS down and of course, going down was a piece of cake but going up—not so much! (I know I will be sore tomorrow!) But, oh, the view was simply spectacular and just priceless on this clear, clear day.
Let me share what Nathan wrote on his Facebook wall about this magnificent cathedral, which was built starting in the 11th century and finished in the 13th:
It goes without saying that it’s an interesting time to be in France right now, but I couldn’t be happier that I’m here to make music in some magnificent spaces. Our hearts are broken, but Is there any better therapy than making and sharing music? The next six weeks will take me all over Europe in the course of some 19 recitals in 6 countries, and it’s hard to imagine a more jaw-dropping place to begin this tour than at Bourges Cathedral. As far as Gothic goes, it doesn’t really get much better than this, even if it is a rather idiosyncratic take on the typical French models. It has no transepts, its facade features 5 mammoth portals (a particular feature that was mirrored in St. John the Divine in NYC several hundred years later!), and the interior is divided with two circulating aisles and an incredible double ambulatory, resulting in a staggering 5-layer pyramidal elevation. One has the impression that there’s no possible way that those seemingly pencil-thin columns could support such a lofty vault. They do – and they’re not so thin (probably 7-8 feet in diameter)!
The program was:
Rameau: Overture to “Les Indes Galantes” (trans. Rechsteiner)
Froberger: Fantasie sopra Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La
Muffat: Toccata Septima
Muhly: The Rev’d Mustard His Installation Prelude
Preston: Uppon La Mi Re
Boëly: Fantasie et Fugue, Op. 18
Widor: Mystique (from Trois Nouvelles Pieces, Op. 87)
Duruflé: Suite pour Orgue, Op. 5
Nathan’s recital was part of the XXXI Les Très Riches Heures de L’Orgue en Berry series and his magnificent playing matched the magnificence of the building. I was so impressed with how he brought out so many colors of the organ, matching perfectly with all the many brilliant stained glass windows of the Cathedral. It was a real aural kaleidoscope, displaying so many nuances of sound, and yet the instrument only has 77 ranks. The organ sounded comfortably full, but did not blast. It goes without saying that his playing just gets better and better—and the 400-500 people in the audience gave him a standing ovation.
After the concert we went to a small reception, in which everyone was speaking French, of course. I was only able to catch bits and pieces of the conversation, but after all, it has been 48 years since I lived in France and my vocabulary is almost completely shot. I am amazed that I remember anything at all now that I’m in my (ahem) golden years! Hey, I’m glad that I have not gotten lost so far, and that my extremely rusty French has gotten me around!
We went out to a nearby restaurant and Nathan was good enough to walk me all the way back to the train station. Thanks for a great day, Nathan!