London As A Musical Destination
“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”… Berthold Auerbach’s words became more meaningful during my short break in London when I “used” this big city purely as a means of shaking the dust of everyday life off my soul. Weird but true: in the middle of the maddening crowds, I found a way of listening to myself so closely… through the healing effect of classical music. London had so much to offer and I happily embraced the opportunities this big city generously provided me with… Well, this is just the beginning of the article but let me directly tell you what I am planning to say at the end: The refuge I found in London’s classical music scene filled me with energy and peace I sometimes feel I am about to lose in the routine of everyday life.
Below you can find my musical stops in London.
Musical Stop 1: The Wigmore Hall
During my four-day stay in London, I attended six classical music concerts. The first stop was at the Wigmore Hall, celebrating its 110th anniversary this year. I was there to attend a recital by the Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvilli who had given a concert earlier in İstanbul.
Compared to venues such as Royal Albert Hall and the Barbican, the Wigmore Hall is smaller (800 seats) but has a “warm” atmosphere. According to the website of the Hall, approximately 400 events take place here every season with approximately 165,000 tickets sold each year. The Hall does not just host concerts but also offers lots of community and educational projects.
The Wigmore Hall has an award-winning record label called “Wigmore Hall Live”, which makes the live recordings of Wigmore Hall concerts timeless and memorable. You can buy these CDs in the lobby of the Hall or in good music shops within a reasonable price range.
In addition, many of the BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts are held here and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 between 1 pm and 2 pm on weekdays (local time) – just like the Khatia Buniatishvilli concert I attended on November 1st, 2010. It was nice to know that as an audience I was part of a classical music concert that was broadcast nationwide on BBC Radio 3.
I am not in a position to comment on Khatia Buniatishvilli’s performance but I can confidently say that there was passion and warmth in her playing of the works by Schumann, Liszt and Stravinsky. (I later read some reviews in the British media and was pleased to find out that Khatia is regarded as an artist soon expected to be a big name in the classical music circles.)
While listening to Khatia and looking at the recording equipment in the left-hand corner of the concert hall (which probably belonged to BBC Radio 3), I could not help but think about the situation in Turkey; would any Turkish radio or TV stations dare broadcast such classical music concerts live? In the past, there was TRT 2 that regularly showed classical music concerts but since it was turned into a news channel, there has been no opportunity for watching a classical music concert on TV in Turkey. My readers would simply ask “What about TRT Radio 3?” But I am sure they all know that for years, TRT Radio 3’s signal has never been strengthened despite the fact that it is the only radio station in Turkey that has regularly played classical music for years and despite the fact that its audience has always complained about its poor reception.
Musical Stop 2: The Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall is my favorite venue in London. According to the Hall’s official website, it was built “to fulfill the vision of Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s consort) of a ‘Central Hall’ that would be used to promote understanding and appreciation of the Arts and Sciences and would stand at the heart of the South Kensington estate, surrounded by museums and places of learning”.
The Royal Albert Hall has been in continuous use since it was opened in March 1871 and is the venue for all the main orchestral Proms. There are concerts and events in this magnificent venue throughout the year. If you happen to visit London between the second half of July and the second half of September, I suggest you attend one of the BBC Proms concerts here. It is an experience worth all the money you can pay. You may also like to take part in the tour of the Hall for approximately an hour to find out more about the history of the building.
I attended three concerts in the Hall in the first week of this month. On November 1st , the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ivor Setterfield and Barts Choir came together for Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem. The concert made me realize once again how intoxicating human sound could be.
The second concert I attended at the Royal Albert Hall was a real treat for me. Accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the British violinist Tasmin Little played one of Mendelssohn’s most popular works, Violin Concerto in E minor. Tasmin Little is an important violinist whose “The Naked Violin” project is regarded as revolutionary in Britain. Through this project Tasmin Little offered a free downloadable recital of works for solo violin and an ongoing series of workshops and concerts around the country; within days of the launch of the project, there were over 6000 international websites linked to Tasmin Little’s website. Tasmin Little’s project promoted the value of music to all corners of society and received the 2008 Classic FM Gramophone Award for Audience Innovation.
The second part of the concert on November 2nd included the performance of Dvorak’s masterpiece Symphony 9 known as “From the New World”. Like all other people in the Royal Albert Hall, I was left breathless by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of the symphony. The atmosphere of the Royal Albert Hall strengthened the power of Dvorak’s music. While going back to my hotel by bus after the concert, I could not help listening to the symphony again, this time on my iPod. It was definitely a timeless masterpiece!
The third concert was on November 3rd and it unfortunately coincided with the Tube strike in London. When I left the hotel, the whole city looked so chaotic to me. Reaching the concert hall would be a nightmare but I was sure that it would be worth the effort. Nigel Kennedy, whose first landmark recording “The Four Seasons” earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records by selling over 2 million copies, was about to play Vivaldi live on stage. I was very excited. Before Kennedy and his Orchestra of Life appeared on the stage, the lady sitting next to me said it was her birthday and that the ticket for this concert was a gift from her husband.
And soon Nigel Kennedy, Yehudi Menuhin’s protégé, was on the stage with his orchestra. He was a virtuoso who enjoyed breaking the rules of classical music and the rituals of concert halls. During the three-hour concert, he just threw protocol out of the window. He welcomed one of the concert latecomers with a kiss, stole the drink of a female audience sitting in the front, made jokes, used F-words in a funny manner, used “Yeah”s and “Oi”s at key moments and danced tapping his feet. He even encouraged his audience to applaud between the movements of the concertos he and his Orchestra played. I never remember laughing at a classical music concert but one could expect anything to happen in a Nigel Kennedy concert. Apart from all this, Nigel Kennedy was a real virtuoso for sure. When I got on the bus, I had my iPod and eyes closed and listened to Nigel Kennedy playing Elgar’s The Lark Ascending.
Musical Stop 3: St Luke’s
On my last day of the visit, the Tube strike was over and it was easy to reach the Barbican to attend another BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert – this time by the Pavel Haas Quartet. The concert was held in the LSO St Luke’s. Since I arrived at the Barbican a bit early, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Whitecross Street Market very close to the concert venue. The street was closed to traffic and there were lots of stalls where you could see and taste so many different kinds of home-made food. It was a slightly cold and windy but also sunny autumn day. The wind was helping the seductive smell of the food travel along the street. I even saw a Turkish restaurant called “İskele” there. Two elderly British men were sitting outside the restaurant, chatting and having their Turkish coffee. I walked along the street, looked at the stalls and had some coffee before the concert started.
And this was the information I was reading on my iPod before I got into the concert venue: “LSO St Luke’s is an 18th-century church, restored to become the home of the London Symphony Orchestra’s community and music education program LSO Discovery. As well as LSO rehearsals it plays host to a diverse selection of concerts and has seen artists and groups perform from across the spectrum: from Elton John, Sting and Bruce Springsteen to the London Sinfonietta.”
The concert was in Jerwood Hall, which had two levels, stalls and a balcony. You could sit anywhere you liked. I chose the second level and found a seat in the middle. It was a plain but lovely hall. The windows in the Hall made it possible for the audience to watch the then yellow autumn leaves outside in their undefeatable glory. It was like looking at the paintings in a pictue gallery. When I listened to Pavel Haas Quartet playing Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor and Ravel’s String quartet in F major, I could not help watching the autumn outside. The music and the autumn leaves danced so well with each other!
Pavel Haas Quartet included four musicians. They were all very young but so good. I had no doubt that they would have a bright future awaiting them. When I later checked the Internet for some reviews about the Quartet, I realized that I was right.
Musical Stop 4: Royal Festival Hall, Southbank
Sir Charles Mackerras Memorial Concert on the 4th of November was my sixth and last concert in London. Mackerras was going to make an appearance with the Philharmonia Orchestra in this concert. However, since he died in July 2010, the concert was changed into a memorial.
There was a lovely breeze outside the Royal Festival Hall so I spent some time watching the River Thames and the city behind it before the concert started. The crowds looked so far out from here. I felt so peaceful when the lovely breeze hit my face. I could have stayed outside longer but the music by Handel, Mozart, Janaceck and Dvorak was calling me in the Hall.
The concert venue overlooked the River Thames and was located in the Southbank Center complex, which also includes Hayward Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcel Room and Poetry Library. Buzzing with activity, the building has several places to eat and drink and a nice gift shop as well. When I looked at the complex from a distance, I just got the feeling that the whole of London was there dining and wining, waiting for the concert.
Back in Istanbul
I am back in Istanbul now. All my musical stops in London and the memories there keep calling me back… and telling me that I have “rebooted” myself. They are right. I have done so.
Let me see what’s next in Istanbul.