Notre Dame: Christmas concert in an empty cathedral | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 24.12.2020
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Notre Dame: Christmas concert in an empty cathedral

For the first time since the fire a year and a half ago, a choir will sing in the Paris cathedral - in a Christmas Eve concert in the construction site.

Seen from above, scaffolding surrounds Notre-Dame

A concert deep within a construction site

"Notre-Dame is a bit like our home," Henry Chalet, conductor of the Notre Dame Choir told the Paris BFM TV station. He said he was "excited" to finally be able to enter the cathedral again after a year and a half. After all, the choir has sung at the Paris landmark for 850 years.

On Christmas Eve, 20 singers, two soloists and an organist are scheduled to perform a concert that will have no live audience in the cathedral itself, due to strict coronavirus protection measures, but will be broadcast live on television.

From the big top to the cathedral

It is only the third event to take place in the famous cathedral since the devastating fire in April 2019.

In June of that year, Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit celebrated a mass in the Chapel of the Virgin Mary for about 30 people, half of whom were priests.

On Good Friday 2020, the archbishop spent a "time of meditation" in the empty cathedral while violinist Renaud Capucon played Bach sonatas and actors read texts by Paul Claudel, Francis Jammes and Mother Teresa.

Last year, the traditional Christmas Midnight Mass moved to a circus tent in the Bois de Boulogne park in the west of the French capital.

The Notre Dame main organ is currently being restored, so a small organ was rented for this year's Christmas concert.

A year and a half ago, the fire not only destroyed much of the 19th century roof and the crossing tower, but also the cathedral's unique acoustics. Researchers from the renowned Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques (CNRS) and the Sorbonne are working on reconstructing what is listed as a French acoustic heritage.

Reopening planned for 2024

The timing for the Christmas concert is perfect. In late November, a gigantic scaffold was removed that had been erected before the fire for repairs on the crossing tower. The entire buttress had to be reinforced with wooden beams so that the scaffolding could be dismantled. The flames had basically welded together the metal bars of the 200-ton and 40 meter high scaffolding. Weather conditions and then the coronavirus pandemic delayed the removal for months.

Notre Dame cathedral, fire and smoke

People all over the world were shocked when Notre-Dame was engulfed in flames and smoke

It is now clear that the Notre Dame Cathedral can be saved. The walls could have collapsed under the weight of the scaffolding or during its dismantling. "The threat that the scaffolding posed to the cathedral no longer exists," said French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot. Early next year, more scaffolding will be installed inside the building to allow work to be carried out in the nave.

But in the meantime, the Notre Dame choir can give a Christmas concert there, broadcast live.

The fire in April 2019 caused the collapse of the roof truss and the cross tower designed by 19th century architect Viollet-le-Duc. French President Emmanuel Macron pledged both would be rebuilt according to the historical model by the time Summer Olympics in Paris roll around in 2024. The timetable is considered to be extremely ambitious.

New Year's Eve concert with Jean-Michael Jarre

Another concert, audience-free but live-streamed, is scheduled at the iconic Parisian venue for December 31. Performed by electronic music artist Jean-Michel Jarre and titled "Welcome to the Other Side," it was commissioned by the city to replace the traditional New Year's Eve party on Champs Elysées boulevard, cancelled due to coronavirus-related contact restrictions. The playbill includes parts of Jarre's "Electronica" (2015) and early well known works like "Oxygene" (1976) and "Magnetic Fields" (1981). That night, visitors can virtually stroll through Notre-Dame's interior using an avatar provided by the musician.

This article was adapted from German by Dagmar Breitenbach.

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