A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

Day 2: London, continued...

(in which I realize that the inside of a London flat is strikingly similar to the inside of a Washington, DC apartment)

sunny 80 °F
View European Adventure, June-July 2010 on coolmcjazz's travel map.

Well, I'm only partially being tongue-in-cheek, here, friends. Truth is, I think needed a good day of relaxing to counteract all the continent-leaping I'd been doing, and I took full advantage on Tuesday. As mentioned previously, I woke up a bit groggy from those hand-pulled ales (2, count em) Monday night, but the time spent at Greenfield's polishing up that mammoth first post (sorry) cleared my head out just fine. I then headed back to Des's and spent a few hours uploading photos and getting the post up. Suddenly I realized it was… 5pm (er, 17:00) and that a good portion of my day had been spent not sight-seeing. Blech. However, I put on my cultural awareness cap, opened up the magical interwebs, and happened upon a terrific concert opportunity within a few hours in London: Haydn's gorgeous and mammoth masterwork "The Creation" (Die Schöpfung), performed at St. Paul's Cathedral at 8pm (er, 20:00), by the terrific Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. I went online and booked the cheapest ticket available, way on the side ...

We interrupt this blog post from a train traveling from London to Harwich Town, England, calling attention to the fact that a GREAT BIG GIANT ASTERISK, which will be explained in Day 3, needs to follow the final clause of the preceding sentence. Carry on.

… of the giant church, in the furthest row back.

At this point it dawns on me that I in order to maintain my monthly running goal (a streak I have stubbornly kept up with since January), I must run 14 miles by the end of the month. Which is tomorrow. So… after scarfing down half a pizza and a cappuccino by Des's place, I lace up and bolt out the door, with the intentions of running toward St. Paul’s so I know where I’ll be for the concert. It’s a nice 6 mile run over the Chelsea Bridge and through loping, windy streets, passing numerous pubs (“why am I running when I could be joining these fellows?”) and people trudging home at the end of their work day. I run to King’s Cross, which I did not yet know would figure handily in the following day’s events.

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After returning home and showering, I briskly walk-run over the same path I had so recently conquered, and after finding my way through windy, ancient alleyways, arrive at St. Paul’s, yet another giant edifice soaring toward the sky. The British seem to like things that are very high; the broad, ornate exterior reminds me very much of the colossal churches of Rome. I’m there precisely at 8:00, and concert ushers standing on the giant steps direct me toward the ticket booth inside. I’m handed my ticket and just following a prayer (rather unfamiliar for a classical concert) and just before the conductor strides in, I hand my ticket to an elderly usher who whispers “walk straight up, turn left.” After taking another quick “cathedral punch” to the gut (see Westminster Abbey, Day 1), I pass by about 40 rows of people sitting in the center section all who have paid considerably more than I. I follow instructions and turn left, but as I do, I notice that the far right four chairs of the central section are, quite conveniently, unoccupied. Screw it, I think. What’s the worse they’ll say? “Is that your seat?” I’ll just say the concert was ready to start and I didn’t want to be walking around in search of my seat, which is the truth anyway. With the opening downbeat starting in about 10 seconds, I plop down. Somehow, I’ve scored 50 pound seats in the front row of the center section, about 15 rows back from the stage. What’s the English word for “win?”

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I’m not sure I can describe the music I heard last night. I’ll try to be brief. The opening chords, written by Franz Joseph Haydn just over 300 years ago, seemed to transport the entire hall and everyone in it to that period, especially given the dramatic atmosphere of St. Paul’s, where Haydn himself visited. (Sidenote: I remember discussing with Airplane John that I didn’t think London was known to be a great Mahler town, but it certainly is a great Haydn town, perhaps stemming from his own activities in this city. In fact, Haydn was inspired to write "The Creation" after two visits to London in the 1790s!)

Haydn wrote “The Creation” as a three-section oratorio, which attempts the rather weighty goal of depicting the world at its birth. To the extent that the aesthetic potential of Western classical music might be possible of such an undertaking, I think he succeeds. I must confess that I don’t know this piece all that well – I love Haydn’s piano sonatas, and I dutifully trudged through his tuneful trumpet concerto in high school competitions – but his music, the epitome of the classical style, has always seemed a touch on the “polite” side of the ecstatic spectrum for me. Not enough angst. Yet there it was last night: drama and passion and majesty, the quintessence of craftsmanship – I think perhaps it took hearing this music in its natural environs for me to “get it.” I wasn’t familiar with the Swiss conductor Thierry Fischer, but he was a real winner – sort of like a young Simon Rattle, a tuxedo-tailed marionette coaxing infinite gradations of tonal color, nuance, and ensemble blend from a clearly engaged orchestra of around 60, chorus of close to 100, and three exquisite vocal soloists. I love watching vibrant conductors who love what they do, and who conduct not just with their hands but with their entire bodies. Also, I particularly enjoyed the soloists, each one of whom led urgency, personality, and rock-solid technique to their solo and recitative sections – and, perhaps, most fittingly, the young, resplendent Welsh soprano Julia Doyle, while singing “The Creation,” was herself pregnant! Hearing this music will perhaps be my first entrance in my "Top 10 Musical Experiences of the 2010s" – anyone who read this entry on my other blog knows that that's pretty high praise from me.

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After the concert finished I took a few minutes to walk around the large cathedral (though perhaps not as massive as some of the churches I’ve seen in Rome), snapping photos. This technically wasn’t allowed, but no one said anything until I was just about ready to leave anyway. I found out that the concert of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony slated for July 8 was already sold out, which may end up altering my travel plans later in the trip – at the least, I’ve now seen St. Paul’s. (Though I neglected to look for the burial spot of cathedral's architect, Christopher Wren, whose epitaph states: "Reader, if you seek his memorial – look around you.")

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Outside the cathedral I spent a while taking photos of statuary, experimenting with camera angles and my 50mm-1.8 lens, then walked a bit around Paternoster Square, where I came upon an interesting, fairly recent statue ("Shepherd and Sheep," by Dame Elisabeth Frink), which I noticed had been dedicated by the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin. A rather bold statement put in a prominent location, but I liked it.

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After walking around the cathedral to take it in from different angles, I called it a night and walked back toward Waterloo. On the way I passed by a café where a young man was struggling mightily through “Heart and Soul” on a beat-up piano that had been left as part of a citywide piano festival. (There’s a similar thing going on in NYC right now, I believe.) After he left I played a few tunes myself, including Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day (in London Town)” and garnered some applause from passersby. I took a few artsy photos of the piano, walked back over the bridge to Waterloo and called it a night. When I got back to Des’s flat, I felt the strong urge to get a move on, feeling that apart from the great experience of St. Paul’s I’d wasted too much time not sight-seeing on Day 2. I spent time attempting to book some lodging options in Paris on the afore-mentioned "airbnb" site for the following evening, and got to sleep around 4am, excited about where I might end up the next day.

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PS – I have loads of pics from Day 2, but am about to dock in port, so will try to upload later. Still trying to figure out best photo uploading/maintenance system. {editor's note from Amsterdam: done and done.] :)

Posted by coolmcjazz 05:14 Archived in England Tagged photography Comments (4)

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