The work day starts in London at 9 o’clock. For nearly everyone. Perhaps it’s a function of the city’s role as a global financial powerhouse. Or its former imperial glory. Whatever. It chooses its own hours. This is how it was possible for me to take a 6:45am jet-lag-busting run yesterday morning and virtually own the streets surrounding our hotel, the normally bustling Covent Garden.
The rains came shortly after I returned to the hotel where all 29 of us tour participants are staying. The count includes KUSC Director of Development Minnie Prince, our tour guide Gavin Miller, me, and 26 KUSC listeners, mostly repeat customers on this amazing sold-out adventures.
Kitty and Abby, regular KUSC tour participants, steer in the direction of a new friend at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The rain made for a wonderfully atmospheric London morning as we joined countless young children and their mums (it was a Bank Holiday) at the Victoria and Albert Museum, under the brilliant guidance of a decorative arts expert who showed off wondrously varied treasures from the new European Galleries. Though the famous historical musical instrument wing has been dismantled for obscure security reasons, they’ve simply dispersed the museum’s peerless collection of lutes, harpsichords, virginals, you name it, throughout these galleries. You keep stumbling on these gloriously decorated instruments everywhere. More fun this way.
German guitar from 1693 by Joachim Tielke at the Victoria and Albert.
French harpsichord from 1681 by Jean-Antoine Caudry mimicking Japanese gold and black lacquer.
Real black and gold Japanese lacquer. Priceless. Which meant museum guards were not enthusiastic about my plan to “borrow” the set.
Following a captivating morning at the V & A, we gobbled up a fine lunch at The Punjab in the West End, one of the oldest North Indian restaurants in the UK. Then last night came our first concert: a 115th birthday gala at Wigmore Hall, an intimate, acoustically luminous chamber music venue where Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten introduced many of Britten’s songs and Prokofiev played his own piano music. On this occasion, it was all Schubert, an immensely moving Schubertiade, which began with the B flat Piano Sonata, his final work for solo piano, played by Elizabeth Leonskaja. Then came the ‘interval”, complete with free drinks. The next set was Schubert’s final String Quartet, the Quartet in G, played by the phenomenal Cuarteto Casals. Revelatory. And after another wine-flowing interval we were treated to nearly an hour of Schubert lieder, performed by four major young talents: soprano Mary Bevan, replacing her sister Sophie Bevan; mezzo Terra Erraught, tenor Allan Clayton, baritone Henk Neven, and a splendid young accompanist, James Baillieu.
For Schubert groupies like myself and many of our tour participants, it was pretty close to heaven. But don’t just resent our good fortune! Click here to enjoy watching and listening to the entire Schubert-athon, thanks to Wigmore Hall’s enlightened and generous webstreaming policy!
We are excited to see Kenneth Branagh’s controversial production of Romeo and Juliet, starring young TV heartthrobs Richard Madden and Lily James in the title roles, and the unusual casting of 77 year-old Sir Derek Jacobi as a song-and-dance man Mercutio.
Tomorrow we’re off to Oxford, Churchill’s Blenheim Palace, and a bit of R & J.