London Calling (and G Choir Answering), Jan 17-18

Posted on January 18th, 2015 by

Victoria and Albert Museum (1 of 1)

Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)

Greetings from London! The Gustavus contingency arrived entirely safe, mostly sound, and unanimously exhausted yesterday morning (Jan 17). We met our lovely tour guides, Tom and Anita, at Heathrow and hit a few recognizable sites. These included the Albert Memorial, the Royal Albert Hall, Herrod’s Department Store, St. James’ Palace (residence of Henry VIII), Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London. It seems surreal to see such a wild smattering of significant landmarks in writing, but that seems to be the fantastically enlightening pace we will be on for the next 16 days! After checking into the Edwardian Vanderbilt Radisson Blu Hotel, our group dispersed to explore the city (read: nap).

I was part of a more adventurous group which visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (see photo), located a stone’s throw away from our 4-night home. We were taken aback by the unbelievable variety of the exhibits– from the works of High Renaissance master Raphael, to the ornate Retable of Saint George (c. 1400) featuring dragon-slayings and crucifixions, to wedding dresses from 1775-2014. Afterwards, we grabbed fish and chips at a nearby pub before calling it an early night.

Camden Market

Camden Market

Today (Jan 18) marked a full of independent exploration of London. Choir members visited national and global cultural hubs, including the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, Museum of Natural History, British Museum, British Library, and more. The companion tour group was lucky to see a fabulous production of The Lion King at the Lyceum Theater. Our group began our day with a trip to Camden Market (see photo), a multicultural hodgepodge of out- and indoor shops, food carts, and cafes. Camden was a stirring embodiment of London’s global pull, with both shoppers and merchants consisting of a blend of every imaginable nationality.

After Camden, we ventured to the British Library, home to some of the most vital treasures of global civilization, including the Codex Simaiticus, one of the earliest and most complete transcriptions of the Old and New Testaments.  The Library featured historical, sacred, musical, and literary texts, including letters from Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to Cardinal Wolsey, the original manuscript of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the original manuscripts of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Handel’s Messiah, the earliest surviving printings of Shakespeare’s works, and artistic illuminations of the Islamic Qur’an, Buddhist Sutras, and the Christian Bible. The Biblical illuminations were particularly striking. One such work was the Lindisfarne Gospels, intricately written, bejeweled, and gilded by Celtic Christians on the island of Lindisfarne in the 8th century. The Lindisfarne Gospels are the oldest extant English edition of the gospel due to the work of one Aldred, who included a fine Old English script translation in the 10th century.

Viewing these works, and the Christian texts in particular, accentuated the fantastic complexity of human history. How did these animal hides covered in Ancient Greek text develop into the opulent illuminations such as the Lindisfarne, which became Gutenberg Bibles, and eventually, the thin-papered Bibles in the pews of Christ Chapel? How did that 12th century monophonic chant music lead to Ola Gjeilo’s chilling modern piece, “The Spheres,” which the choir will soon be performing in churches across the country?

Dr. A and Julie view the Elgin Marbles, which once sat atop the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.

Dr. A and Julie view the Elgin Marbles, which once sat atop the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.

Our worldviews were not simplified by a visit to the British Museum, which includes a numbing range of global historical marvels, from the Rosetta Stone (see photo), to the Parthenon’s Elgin Marbles (see photo), to an Easter Island head, to larger-than-life ceramic Buddhist wise men. The genius of these works and the brilliance of their civilizations is made even more perplexing by their presence here in London. While our music pales in comparison to the enduring splendor of Grecian sculpture, Islamic ceramics, and East Asian religious art, we are blessed to join in London’s long-held global cultural eminence.

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

Over the next two days in London, as we mingle traditional Anglican Evensong in St. Paul’s Cathedral (see photo) with Scottish, Swedish, Latin, and American music in Grosvenor Chapel, the choir and companions will continue to marvel at the splendor of our surroundings. Our 30-some hours of rehearsal this month brought our ensemble ever closer and closer together. The opportunity to present that work to new audiences multiple times in some of the most historical and beautiful locations in the world over the coming weeks is enough to keep us up at night. Or maybe that’s the jet lag….

p.s. this post’s title is a reference to The Clash’s “London Calling,” a hauntingly anxious punk classic about the modern city.

St. Paul's Cathedral, where the choir will sing Evensong tomorrow. Taken from London Bridge.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the choir will sing Evensong tomorrow. Taken from London Bridge.

 

Sam Panzer, Allison Schmidt, Karen Holt, and Taylor Wasvick on London Bridge with Tower Bridge visible in the background.

Sam Panzer, Allison Schmidt, Karen Holt, and Taylor Wasvick on London Bridge with Tower Bridge visible in the background.

 


5 Comments

  1. Mig says:

    Wonderful blog looking forward to the next one. Love uou

  2. Pat Britt says:

    Wow, Sam! Wonderful entry!

  3. Al B. says:

    Well done, Sam. Looking forward to hearing more over the days and weeks ahead. Have a great concert tonight. My greetings to everyone in the choir.

  4. J. Kessler says:

    Thanks for the great update. So glad to hear of all the adventures.

  5. Jen T says:

    Thank you for your descriptive blog, what a lovely read. Looking forward to reading more adventures! Enjoy!