London, Day 5

It was sunny, today! That was a welcome change.

This morning, we went to two music stores in Westminster near Oxford Circus: Chappell of Bond Street and Schott Music Shop. I was very pleased to pick up print music for several Arvo Pärt pieces, although I couldn’t locate the two I had wanted to find. These will definitely do, though.

After that we went to a fine chocolatier near Regent Park called Rococo Chocolates. Wonderful! After lunch with fish and chips, we went to the British Museum and saw Assyrian sculpture, the Rosetta Stone, Roman statuary, and mummies from ancient Egypt and Rome. We made it just in time for Evensong at Westminster Abbey, which really fed my soul. After that we had a leisurely walk from there to the Thames and then along its length for about half a mile. It was rush hour, and it was amazing to see, on this beautiful day, how many bicycle commuters there were out, riding the streets with just as much purpose and ownership as the other vehicles. We must have seen a few hundred!

After this we had another fine dinner at Porters. I was too full and tired to go with the pudding, as I had on Thursday. So it will have to be just a memory.

We have a bit of packing to do. But then it will be bed time, as we have to check out tomorrow about 7 a.m.

So, goodbye to London. It was a pleasure.

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London, Day 3, Pärt Deux

I wanted to say a little more about yesterday’s events. In particular, I needed to talk about the 8:00 concert. It, too, was excellent. Every piece was performed with great technique, marvelous sound, and insightful interpretation.

The BBC orchestra is really marvelous. Their proportions in the strings are very different than my orchestra: 18-20 violins, 10 violas, 10 cellos, 6 basses. That makes for a much less top-heavy sound. Of course, I listened attentively to the violas!

I was very happy to hear Pärt’s Symphony no. 1 (1963). It is so different from the tintinnabuli style he originated and for which he is known, preceding the earliest example of it (Für Alina) by thirteen years. Likewise preceding the tintinnabuli period is Symphony no. 3 (1971), although it was more lush sounding than no. 1, reflecting Pärt’s earliest experimentation with chant. It concluded the first half. I would love to listen to both of them again.

The second half began with Pärt’s Berliner Messe (“Berlin Mass”) for orchestra and choir. I was thrilled to hear this live. It has been a deep favorite of mine for more than 11 years. For most of that time I have known it in its setting for four voices and organ. More recently I acquired a recording of it for choir and orchestra. Last night’s performance was as moving as I had hoped it would be. The BBC Symphony Chorus is not as perfect a group as the BBC Singers are (that is, the choir for the 6:00 performance), but they made fine music of this deep and hopeful work.

The conclusion of the concert was Tabula Rasa, a double concerto for two violins, strings, and prepared piano. It consists of two movements: a frenetic chase and then a slow, almost elegiac meditation. The composition comes from very early in Pärt’s current period. This was a decidedly outstanding performance. Every one of the many notes in the first movement was well placed, and the introspection of movement two was traversed with appropriate confidence. (There’s something in that last sentence that’s instructive for preaching.)

At the end, however, Tammi and I had to question the conductor’s wisdom in choosing to place this piece last on the program. It ends very quietly, with one section after another ceasing to play, until only the two soloists are playing. And then they stop, and the piece continues for several more counted measures of complete silence. And that was the end of the concert. Odd? We thought so. Maybe we’re too American in our expectations, but one would think that a better end to the concert would be something like the energetic last movement of Symphony no. 3. Indeed, that’s what was supposed to end the concert, but it was decided (perhaps for stage logistics, or union requirements) to end with “Tabula Rasa.”

But I was not at all disappointed. I am so glad that I was able to be there. As I said in the last post, this sequence of events was the reason why I initially wanted to come to London and why I included it in my grant proposal. Finally getting to hear Pärt’s music live and performed so well means a lot to me. As Tammi and I entered the Hall to take our excellent seats, I turned to her and whispered, “I think I’m going to cry!”

Not all of my readers will get my enthusiasm for Pärt’s music. Let me try this way of summing it all up: I hear in his music such pure, simple joy in God, an earnestness for the core affirmations of the Christian faith that wants to move outward and inward and bring us all along with it. For me, that’s what Pärt does in his music.

London, Day 3

We got back too late last night for me to post about the day, so I’m doing so about 9 hours later. And Tammi’s waiting for me so we can eat, so I will have to make this short.

After breakfast and a trip back to Jermyn Street for some goodies, we went to the Barbican Centre for the events for which I initially wanted to come to London: a sequence of concerts featuring the music of Arvo Pärt. At 3:30 we saw a film about Pärt, “24 Preludes for a Fugue.” This was very interesting and enjoyable. It helped Tammi a lot, as it gave her a good introduction to Pärt and his music.

After this we stood in line to see if I could get a ticket for the 6:00 choral concert. I was thrilled to get one. Tammi was happy to go shopping and read, while I enjoyed an outstanding hour long performance by the BBC singers. It began with the organ piece “Trivium,” which my church’s organist, David Bellows, played for Good Friday 2011. Then the choir became the focus, and performed “Beatitudes,” “Missa Syllabica,” “Summa,” “Seven Magnificent Antiphons,” and “… Which Was the Son Of.” The choir was marvelous. The pieces were glorious.

After a bite to eat and drink in the Barbican lobby, during which the BBC Family Orchestra and Chorus performed Pärt’s “Zvon,” Tammi and I made our way into Barbican Hall for the 8:00 concert. This featured the BBC Orchestra, conducted by Tönu Kaljuste. I was very pleased that Kaljuste would be conducting, as he has long been a proponent of Pärt’s music. The works performed were Symphony 1, Silhouette, Symphony 3, then, after the intermission, Berliner Messe and Tabula rasa.

More about this later. It’s time for breakfast.

London, Day 2 (the “My Feet Hurt” edition)

We did a lot of walking today. But it was a good, full day.

After a late breakfast, we took a boat tour on the River Thames. We disembarked near the Tower of London, and chose to tour that for two hours. (Yes, it probably deserved more time.)

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Then we went to find some lunch, and we happened upon a pub that is sibling to the place where we had breakfast yesterday. It was quite delicious, and the bartender/server was very nice.

Afterward we checked out some of the shops in the neighborhood, and then went to Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Ah, evensong. It was glorious. The acoustics there are very long; the sound continues for several seconds after the final cut. This choir was only men, no boys. The trebles were glorious. I regret that I did not pick up on the suggestion of the usher to sit in the choir seats to be closer to the singers. If I am able to go again, I’ll try to do that.

I’m sure that many people there did not attend for religious reasons. They have two sections of seating: the foremost for those who supposedly have some intention of participating in the service (if only by standing and sitting at the right times) and those who are there to observe the ritual as an artistic spectacle. I was glad to be present for scripture read and sung, and for prayers uttered and intoned.

After this, we made our way over to Jermyn Street near Piccadilly Circus. Jermyn Street is home to a number of excellent men’s clothiers, haberdashers, shoes stores, and the like. I was in heaven. Actually, I was late. Some had closed for the day, and before long, all of them had. I’ll have to go back tomorrow.

We then walked over to St. James Park and then to Buckingham Palace.

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We wanted to go in and say “Hi” to any royals who might be there. But certain people did not seem inclined to let us in.

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We made our way back to the hotel to drop off some things we had collected during the day, and then we had a bite to eat at the bar downstairs.

Time now to rest for tomorrow’s adventures.

London, Day 1

Last night was a late one, so we slept in a little. I got up around 9:30 a.m. (London time). Soon we made our way out into the city.

We had a late breakfast at a pub across the street.

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Mine was a fairly traditional English breakfast: Cumberland sausage, two eggs, beans, ham, a grilled tomato and a grilled mushroom cap, toast.

Then we went on our way, looking for what sights we could see. We had a lot of fun in the Covent Garden Market, where we heard an enthusiastic string quartet who played the first movement of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik with choreographed steps. Corny but winsome.

Then we looked for a Tardis, but all we could find was this:

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A bus tour of London sounded good, but if we had known we’d have to wait 45 minutes for the bus then maybe we would have decided otherwise. But once on we were glad to be there. It was good to have the overview of the major attractions in the heart of London.

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This will help us decide what we want have be our focus in the next few days. I think Westminster Abbey, the river tour, and the Tower of London are quite likely tomorrow.

Traffic is heavy in London, so it takes longer than we expected to get places. I wanted to attend Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral at 5:00 p.m., but just the taxi ride took 20 minutes, at which point I had business at the Barbican ticket office to conduct (with nothing to show for it in the end, alas). So, evensong will have to wait for tomorrow.

We ended the day with a (stereo-)typical English meal of pies at Porters. I had the most amazing Shepherd’s Pie I’ve ever had.

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Tammi doesn’t like to show off her food, so no picture from her meal.

Well, maybe this shot would be okay:

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We shared a dark chocolate pudding for dessert.

We’re both tired but happy.

London Calling

Tammi and I arrived last night in London. As we were walking through Heathrow Airport, I said to her, “I’m in London! Finally! I think I might cry!”

I’ve wanted to go to England for years. When I was a sophomore in college, I considered doing a semester in Scotland, but decided against it because I didn’t want to be away from Tammi for that long. I’d rather go with her. And now I have.

By the time we got to bed it was about 3 a.m. London time. The plane got in a little later than scheduled, then the line (oh, sorry, the “queue”) for customs was very long. We were next to some people who had been two rows ahead of us on the plane. Turns out their Americans, and he’s the pastor of a church in London. They were very helpful. By the time we got to the Underground (subway) station, the last train had just left. So with them we took the bus. After some good conversation and a minor adventure looking for the hotel with another American acquaintance, we got to our rooms and eventually were able to settle down to sleep.

It’s now some 7 hours later, and we’re just about ready to go. We’ll take in some sights, and some food. I figure that tomorrow will be a heavier day of touring.