Music in London

London is a wonderful city, an I can certainly imagine moving there if I suddenly happen to become a Russian oligarch. One thing that is absolutely fantastic is the classical music scene, which is surely the best in the world. On my recent visit, I happened to be visiting the Courtauld gallery when I saw a flier indicating a concert in the museum at 4:30. The attendant didn’t appear to know anything about it, despite the fact that the sign was less than three feet from his desk. (During a brief conversation, I casually suggested the performance might consist of music inspired by the work of Cezanne; I later heard him definitively telling other patrons the same story.)

Now a “free classical music concert” with no other details could encompass a wide range of possibilities. Original compositions, perhaps? First year students playing Vivaldi in order to get in some performance practice? A rumour that the music involved a guitar and a flute was not inspiring. But inspiring it turned out to be. The flautist turned out to be Adam Walker, who, amongst other achievements, has been (since 2009) a principal flute of the LSO. Walker gave a wonderful rendition of Debussy’s “Syrinx,” which for your benefit I link to here:

As if that music was too mainstream for a random Sunday afternoon collection of patrons at an art gallery, the next performer dialed it up a notch with a performance of Henri Dutilleux’s “trois strophs sur le nom de Sacher.” This piece comes from a collection of 12 Cello works commissioned by Rostopovich for the 70th birthday of Paul Sacher. This performance (irritatingly, I can no longer recall the name of the performer) was absolutely riveting, although I have to confess this is music outside my usual comfort zone (to quote from this essay: “The only piece in this set to make use of a scordatura, a deliberate mis-tuning of strings, is Henri Dutilleux’s TROIS STROPHES SURLE NOM DE SACHER. In this piece the ‘cello’s G string is tuned down a halfstep to F sharp, and the C string is tuned down a whole step to B flat.”)
Still, this was exactly live music at it’s best — a chance to discover new music.

It turned out that the actual concerts that I attended the rest of the week (Mendelssohn’s Octet on one occasion and some Bach Violin concertos on the other) didn’t quite live up to the standard of this unexpected but wonderful recital.

Other random (non-math) observations from London: the only drinkable coffee in London is served by Australians working in Australian cafes; Soho turns out to be slightly tricky to navigate if there happens to be 50,000 people there for a pride rally; if you’re going to ride a rental bike from Soho to Kensington, there are possibly better routes than Oxford street; One day I need to schedule my trips to London to coincide with a test match at Lord’s; the HOTTEST JULY DAY IN LONDON EVER was not actually that hot.

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2 Responses to Music in London

  1. Laurens Gunnarsen says:

    Tokyo, too, is a wonderful city, and a strong rival to London when it comes to classical music (e.g., it is home to more professional symphonic ensembles, and to more professional music conservatories.) If you can arrange to be there at the year end, you will have your choice of more than a dozen first-rate performances of Beethoven’s ninth, all within about two weeks of each other — a marvelous and uniquely Japanese celebratory tradition. But throughout the year the city’s many superb concert venues play host to all the world’s most celebrated performers, so that attempting to sample everything on offer there is very much like attempting to drink from a fire hose. And it is crucial to note that Tokyo is without question the world’s best place to find obscure, all-but-forgotten recordings by great past masters. At Disc Union, a vast used CD emporium with multiple locations throughout Tokyo (including a sort of classical mega-store in Ochanomizu), I have again and again found rare and marvelous things beyond the wildest imaginings of even the most resourceful London-based collectors — and often at startlingly reasonable prices, too. Moreover, the Japanese passion for classification and order ensures all these rare and marvelous things are quick and easy to find — assuming, of course, that you can read Japanese. For any real lover of classical music, London is simply not the end of the story. It’s impressive, yes. But until you’ve get to know the Tokyo scene, you’re a long way from done.

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on Paris | Persiflage

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