Corde pulsum tangite

Last night, I worked late, stayed in my flat and attempted to fix a code bug while watching Euro 2012. This would probably have been less galling had I actually fixed the bug, but despite a late-night-shower inspiration, I failed in my attempt. I went to bed feeling wasted, and woke too early to head back into the office.

I vowed not to repeat the mistake tonight. It’s actually a hard one not to repeat, since my customers and colleagues are just revving up for the day when I need to boot down. The nice part about UK work is that you have this lovely, uninterrupted morning to do things that require concentration. The down side is that it is hard to tear oneself away at 5.

But tonight! I would not do so! I confess that part of my ill-choice was that it is intimidating to venture into London alone, and not appealing to return to the flat. My planned collegial outing is for Thursday. So what to do with myself? Today I scoured teh intarwebs for appealing events in walking distance: compline services, plays, concerts, bands. Whateva.

I found that in the Barbican, not a block from the flat, a concert was planned. Sold. I rushed some tickets (you can get really good tickets when you’re one person by yourself), grabbed an excellent dinner expedited for me by a local restaurant and presented myself literally front-row-center.

The Barbican is a very interesting place. One expects age, marble and crystal for the home of the London Symphony Orchestra, and a cultural center of a cultural center. But the Barbican is a carpted, paneled, non-linear space with curves and corners and carpet that needs replacing. The concert hall looked more at home in Scandinavia than London. It was small – it can’t seat more than 300. It was dedicated – there was really no room for staging or a curtain or a pit orchestra. It is clearly intended for the symphony and only the symphony. There was a complete dearth of gilding or chandeliers. The back-panels were all carved wood, the floor the butt end of 2x4s, and the upholstery in mixed colors.

The crowd, for a symphony in London, was similarly un-hoighty-toighty. I mean, I watched a man in full evening dress walk by as I ate my dinner. You would expect that man’s destination might be the symphony. But I saw children, jeans and t-shirts in abundance, and not a single monocle. Even the musicians were a touch underdressed – one of the key soloists would not have been out of place in any pub in London.

But ah! The music! The evening started with a world premier, Galgenhumoresque by Martyn Harry. It was extremely rhythmically complicated – the kind of piece where you’re never actually sure if the orchestra is playing it correctly because it’s written so it doesn’t sound quite “on”, which is actually devilishly difficult to perform. I enjoyed it. The composer took a bow during the applause, which is always fun.

The next piece was Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A. I’m very familiar with the first movement. I had a CD with it when I was a young girl, and I vividly remember listening to that particular concerto while writing letters to the concert master of our orchestra from my front porch. (What can I say? He’s now a successful musician in California, and I often think fondly of our correspondence.) You will understand when I say “not a swank crowd” when I tell you that they applauded after the first movement. I mean, Seattle definitely knows better. (Seattle, I think, feels as though it has a lot more to prove.) Anyway, the soloist was about 12 years old (ok, maybe 22 but I still felt old). It was a tremendous performance, and a joy to listen to. A guy in a suit gave him an award afterwards, there was much applause, and he gave us a lovely encore.

After intermission was Carmina Burana. All the classical music cred I just earned for being penpals with our concertmaster will disappear when I tell you I’ve never heard Carmina Burana before. It is a piece perfect for a 21st century audience. Although it takes a while to perform, each piece is very snappy and interesting, but yet simple enough that you can immediately understand what you’re listening to. I promise that you, dear reader, no matter how classical-music-averse, have heard at least some of Carmina Burana, probably O Fortuna. Carmina Burana requires a huge set of performers. There’s the full symphony orchestra, two grand pianos, extended percussion, a huge choir, a children’s choir, and three soloists. (Pity the poor contratenor who has to sit up front the entire time and only sings one short song!) I’m pretty sure there was about a 2 to 1 ratio of audience to performers tonight. (Foley – have you ever sung it?)

I also found Carmina Burana a lovely combination of mysterious and funny. On the mysterious front, in the middle of a song, the language switches abruptly from Latin to German – the German repeating the refrain originally started in the Latin. Then without warning we switch back again a few songs later. The children’s choir, meanwhile, only sings things that are completely inappropriate to children. They are present doing the wooing section, and sing a lovely bit during the winning section, “Oh! Oh! Oh! I am bursting out all over! I am bursting all over with first love! (iam amore virginali). New, new love is what I am dying of!” And of course, they were serious-faced British children. It was great. You hope no one explained the words to them. The baritone also did an excellent drunken abbott impression, giving you the feeling that he has done some opera.

Anyway, I was pretty much in tears by the time it was over. It was awesome.

Tomorrow night? I’m not sure. Maybe a long linger in a pub? Perhaps an after-work walk of the Thames? Guess we’ll find out! I can feel the pull back to the states – I will not linger much longer here.