Philharmonia Orchestra Principal Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen chats informally with Gail and KUSC tour participants in a café downstairs at St. John’s Smith Square following the all-Stravinsky Concert entitled Faith.
The setting for this third concert in Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Stravinsky: Myth and Rituals series with the Philharmonia Orchestra was a former church, St. John’s Smith Square. On the program: a group of the composer’s austerely beautiful late religious works, such as Requiem Canticles, Mass, and Cantata. Also included: Stravinsky’s highly personal laments for, respectively, poets Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot, and President John F. Kennedy. Salonen treated this haunting array of almost never performed works as one continuous oratorio: instead of applause, church bells chimed softly between the individual works to afford the time for brief stage changes. Candles and soft lighting in the former chapel added to the atmosphere. Even those on the tour who tend to shun 20th and 21st century music were captivated. For me, a lifelong Stravinskyite, like my colleague Alan Chapman, it was almost painfully beautiful. During the Mass and Cantata I could hardly move. It was an evening none of us will soon forget.
Earlier in the week, we hopped on a bus to Blenheim Palace, the family seat of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill (and the location of that fine tapestry above). The magnificent home, with its showy state rooms and 80 acres of formal gardens, was a gift from Queen Anne to the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, in gratitude for his victory over the French and Bavarians at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The exquisitely designed gardens, landscaped in the 18th century by Capability Brown (how could he miss with that name?) are simply a small parcel of 2,000 acres of brilliant green parkland that surround the Palace.
We took lunch at the famed Oxford Union, where prime ministers pick up their debating skills, then took a walk around Oxford’s beautiful town and gown.
No drought here. The surrounding meadows and forests between London and Oxford are the greenest green upon which any of us have ever feasted our eyes.
The sold-out Kenneth Branagh production of Romeo and Juliet that night back in London at the Garrick Theater polarized the group. Some felt Branagh took too many liberties (A 77-year old Mercutio? Who tap dances? Yes, it was Sir Derek Jacobi, but….really?) and hired inadequately experienced actors in the title roles. Others were entranced. Everyone loved the new score provided by Patrick Doyle, who wrote such a brilliant soundtrack for Branagh’s film of Henry V. So if you closed your eyes…..it was a perfect production!