19 October, 2007
the magic of classical music, live!
Well, just in case you're not going to the football on Saturday (!) there's something you simply must do. Get in the train and go to Oxford, to the North Wall, and hear English Sinfonia play. We went last evening to a concert at the Grosvenor Chapel here in Mayfair, sponsored in a very lordly fashion by our landlords the Grosvenor family, and it was a glorious, unforgettable evening. We went last year during the Christmas season (at least Avery's grandmother and I did, the rest of the family basely abandoning us for I forget what much less culturally enlightening evening's entertainment), so at least I knew what we were in for. And silly John refused to go again! So I took Avery's great friend Jamie, herself a pretty mean violinist, and could not have had a more appreciative couple of guests.
We settled down in our front-pew seats, fresh (or rather just flustered) from getting Avery out of riding clothes and into something for the concert, and having Jamie dropped off by her mum right before the concert. The church atmosphere quietened us right down, as did the lit votive candles all along the stained glass windows to either side. Autumnal flowers filled the nave, and lots of posh looking people filled the pews: in particular a very large, well-upholstered lady very well-dressed, full powdered, hair all bee-hived and lacquered into place. And with her was a tiny little youngish man, not looking at all as if went with her, so I kept my eye on them during the concert.
A Grosvenor gentleman stood up and announced the concert, welcomed us all, and said that tonight, for the first time ever, a new composition would be performed live, and that the composer, one Adrian Munsey, was in the audience to hear it (he was seated directly behind us). The girls were transfixed. Then out came the performers, and Jamie was thrilled to see that she was close enough to read the music on the stands, "St Paul's Suite," by Gustav Holst. "I could play some of that," she said, hushed. Then the first violinist came out and they began. I'm afraid I always cry a bit at live classical music. What is it? It's the combination of several notions running together: the lives the music has lived, the endurance through centuries of notes and arrangements created by some long-dead person, the individual griefs and joys of the people who must have heard it performed first. And then I looked at the little girls with me and thought, "Will this inspire them to play? To listen? Who will be listening to what they composed, two centuries from now?" Then I happened to look to my right and there was the fancy, well-upholstered lady, with tears running down her powdered cheeks. And once in awhile the tiny man beside her handed her another handkerchief. How much we do not know about the people across the aisle.
Finally the man behind us stood up and came to the aisle, visibly nervous. "They asked if I would like to conduct this piece, but the players assured me that no one ever pays attention to the conductor, so I declined. This piece is called "Requiem," but it is really in the spirit of a simple "Rest in Peace." And he sat down. The music began, thankfully (for me) nothing discordant or modern, but a beautifully traceable melody, with horns and woodwinds joining the strings. From the corner of my eye I saw the very beautiful wife of the composer reach under his suit jacket and grasp his hand, and he hung on for dear life. And that made me cry too. An English gentleman, having composed his peace to honor who knows what loss, "Rest in Peace," twenty years my senior, holding hands with his wife as he listened to his precious composition being performed for the first time.
It was glorious. The viola player danced! "He's nearly dancing!" Jamie whispered to me joyfully, and certainly he embodied his music. I looked at the wedding rings of the musicians and thought, "Are you married to another violinist? Or an investment banker? Or a great chef, or a novelist? Do you understand each other?" At the end the Grosvenor chap spoke about a scholarship to benefit "young aspiring musicians," and of course Avery and Jamie nudged one another in the ribs. What an evening.
From there we met John at a cute French cafe and had steak frites, and John took Jamie home in the crispy atumnal night air.
Sadly Avery awoke this morning with a nasty sore throat and slight fever (what the heck is 37.3 anyway?? well it turns out to be a bit over 99 degrees). Off to the doctor for a throat culture, and back home for a fortuitous pot of chicken noodle soup I had just happened to start the night before. So the proper nutritious, comforting lunch, an afternoon in bed with hot water bottles, and she's on the mend. No strep, so Ireland here we come in the morning! You shall hear not a word from me for a week, so enjoy your October break, and I'll be in touch soon about our leprechaun adventures!