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Posts Tagged 'royal academy of arts'

Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull of once, part VII

Monday was our last day in England. We had an early flight out of Heathrow on Tuesday, so we had to make the day count as much as possible.

First order of business was food and real coffee. (Did I say that I don’t understand this Nescafé nonsense?) Megan wanted to try a full English breakfast, so off we went. Several restaurants within a few blocks of our hotel advertised a full English breakfast, but upon closer inspection of menus all were missing a vital ingredient — that being, of course, black pudding. In fact, black pudding seemed to be nowhere to be found anywhere, with it being replaced wholesale by tomatoes. That being the case, we finally settled on a café in Leicester Square called Fiori Corner. It was good food despite a lack of blood sausage, and I can recommend it, but do be aware that they are cash only, and they will charge for coffee refills.

Following breakfast, we headed for the British Museum. Let me tell you, if you’ve never seen it before, the British Museum is huge — so huge that if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might very well assume that what you’re looking at isn’t the British Museum, because no museum would ever be that big. (By the way, the British Museum is right across from a thoroughfare called Coptic Street, and about the history of which I would be fascinated to learn more.) Oh, and by the way, while the entrance is free, everything else is not. You’ll pay, I think, £6 or so for a reasonably basic guidebook and map, and more depending on how detailed and complete you want it.

Hey -- eyes up here, pal.

Hey -- eyes up here, pal.

The British Museum is also so big that there’s just no way you’re going to see everything in a day, or even in a week, maybe. You really have to pick a specific area of interest and spend time there. We decided on Anglo-Saxon England and Medieval Europe, while quickly walking through some other areas on our way to find the Rosetta Stone. Among other things, we saw the Sutton Hoo exhibit, which while having a rather high percentage of replicas and reconstructions is still fascinating — particularly since I took a class a few years ago where the professor had worked on the site in her grad school days and incorporate the material into her lectures.

Following the British Museum, we went to the Royal Academy of Arts for their Byzantium exhibit with a stop at a place called Rendezvous in Leicester Square for gelato. It was good and hit the spot, but it was definitely expensive. I’ll also point out that the sign they had posted to let people know they can’t sleep in doorways is a bit odd. It looks like the caption should be, “No sensual reclining in doorways.”

From Leicester Square, it’s maybe a ten minute walk tops to RAA; it looks a lot farther on the map than it actually is. Piccadilly Circus, by the way, is somewhat Blade Runner-esque; if I had been there at night it would have seemed even moreso.

RAA, unlike the British Museum, is not free; bring a student ID if you have one — it’ll save you a few pounds on the entrance fee. You also pay for a specific exhibit, not general admission to the museum. Also, unlike the British Museum, there is no photography allowed.

The Byzantium exhibit is stunning; the examples of iconography are really breathtaking  and leave you wanting to venerate them, even though there are ropes that quite handily keep you from doing so. There was also a 13th-century Syriac Gospel lectionary on display; that was pretty darn cool. Something that rankled a bit was the caption on the wall about church life that talked about how the iconostasis was to keep the unholy masses from even being able to see the altar and how the chanting was done by all-male voices, words that seemed specifically chosen to play up how backwards these Byzantines with their alien form of Christianity were, but I suppose the real question is, what should I have expected?

A humorous moment was at an icon depicting St. Thomas with the Risen Christ; while looking at it, I heard a woman’s voice say, “There’s Thomas, doubting away.” I glanced at the person who said this, and it was a woman who looked to be of Indian descent, prompting me to think, “Hey, he’s your patron saint, lady.”

One of the big takeaways for me from the Byzantium exhibit was how Orthodox Christianity didn’t engage Byzantine culture; it was the culture, in a way that I don’t know Christianity can ever be again, anywhere. I’m not sure what that means in the long run; that may be a blog post for another time.

A leisurely walk from RAA to Westminster Cathedral for Sung Mass took us through Green Park and past Buckingham Palace. We bought some tea and some other gifts from one of the many Buckingham Palace gift shops; Megan hoped to find a tea cozy, but those turned out to be as hard to find as black pudding, for some reason. Finally we had coffee at the Costa across the street from the Cathedral, and then it was time for Mass.

The boys, alas, were not in residence, and neither was Martin Baker, so it was just the lay clerks serving as the choir. Nonetheless, it was quite beautiful, as beautiful as I’ve ever seen a Mass in the Ordinary Form. Very much worthwhile.

We walked back to the hotel afterwards, with me pausing to be amused by a sign from the Considerate Builders Scheme, and started packing things up. We decided to go to the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Restaurant for dinner; please let me caution you against making the same mistake. It is a tourist trap with a capital T, capital TR. The food is expensive and not good enough to merit the price (although now I know what “Toad in the Hole” is, and it would be curious to try it again someplace better), and overall it is just not worth it at all.

The next morning, breakfast was at one of the Starbucks locations in Heathrow; seemed like it was time to start re-acclimating to the American world. At long last, around 10:30pm, reluctant to wake from the dream, we stumbled across the threshhold of our little house in Bloomington, with our once-in-a-lifetime long Valentine’s Day weekend adventure completed, and the real world now calling us back.

Having the story to tell, and the memories we have of there with each other, is worth it.

Pictures can be found here.

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Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull off once, part I

So, late last summer, my friend Emily Hindrichs told me she would be singing the Queen of the Night in English National Opera‘s winter production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I checked airfares to London; they were prohibitive, to say the least.

Around the same time, I got bumped on a flight back from Seattle (to first class on a direct flight which got back to Indianapolis earlier — really tough break), and got a Northwest Airlines travel voucher in return.

In October, I became aware of the Royal Academy of Arts’ Byzantium exhibit. This plus Flute prompted me to check airfares again. They had come down quite a bit, and with the voucher, it was going to be significantly more doable. Valentine’s Day in London looked like a really nice plan. Better yet, I decided to make it a surprise. With all the unpleasantness surrounding the health of Megan’s father, it seemed like it would be fitting to do something big and crazy.

I booked the plane tickets and got opera tickets for Valentine’s Day. The snag was lodging; my friend with whom I had stayed before and who had extended a more-or-less open invitation wasn’t able to commit to being in town that weekend, and made it clear it would be better for me to make other arrangements. Inexpensive hotels in London were nowhere I particularly wanted to be and all sounded disgusting. Still, when I accepted that it was going to be more expensive than I had hoped, it got a lot easier. I found a hotel just off Trafalgar Square that wasn’t cheap, to say the least, but with a particular discount to which I had access, it was only an arm and some toes rather than the full-on leg. Next time we go, hopefully Egeria Orthodox Home Exchange will be up and running, but the Grand was within walking distance of ENO’s theatre and a Tube station, so I can’t complain too much.

Then it was just waiting to spring everything.

Last Wednesday (one week ago today, as it happens), Megan got a dozen roses delivered with a card that said, “You and Richard pack a carry-on suitcase each and be ready to leave at 9am Thursday morning. You’ll want:  – Walking clothes/shoes – Smth. nice to wear – Smth. for church – Reading material & laptop – iPod – Toiletries.  Be ready.” (I deliberately left off “passport” so as to give her as little information as possible.) My original plan had been to pack her suitcase suitcase myself and tell her maybe fifteen minutes before we were being picked up, but I decided at the last minute that I wasn’t brave enough to try to pack for five days for a woman. This was probably a very wise decision on my part.

Maintaining the subterfuge once the cards had been delivered was obviously highly superficial on my part, but it was very entertaining nonetheless. It was a lot of fun to watch my wife flit and fret about the house nervously saying, “Now, whoever sent those flowers didn’t say whether I’d need a parka or a bikini. Can you help at all there?” I could only smile and say, “Sorry, I’m just as in the dark as you are.” She would then groan and flit and fret some more; I quietly slipped both of our passports and UK power adapters into my shoulder bag.

At 8am the next morning, she asked, “So, what do you suppose we’re looking for at 9 o’clock, anyway?” I professed ignorance. “I really don’t know,” I said. “Could be a limousine, could be a helicopter, could be a flock of lambs.”

As it worked out, it was none of these, and our friend Laura Willms arrived at 8:50am. She helpfully said that “Guido” had told her she couldn’t tell us anything, that we just needed to get in the car. She dropped us off at the Indy airport an hour later, and told us that Guido said we were to check in at the Northwest ticket counter.

When the ticket kiosk showed “London/Heathrow” as our destination, I said, “Oh. Well, I guess it’s a good thing that I brought these,” and pulled out our passports. The look on her face was priceless.

More to come.

Coming soon: Cappella Romana’s Greatest Hits, Vol. I (330-1453)

Well, sort of. Mark Powell tells me that to some extent, Music of Byzantium was the first “greatest hits” collection, but to me that’s the live album with some bonus tracks. This is a compilation of selections from their studio recordings of the late antique/medieval Byzantine repertoire, released as a companion to the Byzantium: 330-1453 exhibit now running at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. I don’t know that this is the kind of thing that will really scream for a full-on review since it’s all previously-released material, but we’ll see. It certainly looks like a disc that will be a terrific introduction to medieval Byzantine chant as well as to Cappella Romana, and worth recommending on that basis at least. This will only be available in the UK for a bit yet, but it will eventually be out here, I’m told. You can order it online here, but shipping from the UK will double the cost. I’d just wait for the US release (or, if you’re going to the exhibit anyway, buy it from the gift shop in person).

Here’s the press release. I have taken the liberty of linking the recording titles to the pages where they may be purchased. I have them all and can recommend them all; I will say that The Fall of Constantinople and Byzantium in Rome tend to have higher production values than the other two in my opinion, and Music of Byzantium contains live versions of much of the same repertoire as The Fall of Constantinople, sometimes with interesting differences (and sometimes with a door slamming right in the middle of a number — ah, live music). Don’t let the price for Epiphany scare you; it’s out of print at the moment, but Mark says that it will be re-released at some point.

CAPPELLA ROMANA
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Mark Powell, mobile 503-927-9027; msg line 503.236.8202; E-mail mark@cappellaromana.org

London’s Royal Academy of Arts
Releases New CD Recording by Cappella Romana
for its Mega-Exhibition “Byzantium 330-1453”

25 October 2008 — PORTLAND, Ore, USA; London, United Kingdom — Cappella Romana announces the release of its 11th recording, the official companion CD commissioned for the exhibition, BYZANTIUM: 330-1452, at London’s Royal Academy of Arts (25 October ’08 to 22 March ’08. http://www.royalacademy.org.uk)

The Royal Academy calls this new CD “A glorious collection of choral music which traces the rise and fall of the Byzantine Empire, all sung by the world’s leading performers of Byzantine chant, Cappella Romana.” The ensemble’s first museum exhibition CD, Music of Byzantium, commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2004, sold 12,000 copies.

The new CD, Cappella Romana’s third release in 2008, is a compilation of earlier recordings. It features tracks from Epiphany, Cappella Romana’s first full-length recording of Medieval Byzantine chant, as well as from the CD titles The Fall of Constantinople, Byzantium in Rome, and Music of Byzantium.

The disc will initially be available in the UK and Europe exclusively through the Royal Academy. Beginning in November 2008, the title will be distributed and sold in North America through Cappella Romana (www.cappellaromana.org) by special arrangement with the Royal Academy.

The Royal Academy of Arts in London is the fourth major world museum to have engaged Cappella Romana for its expertise in Medieval Byzantine Chant, joining these three institutions:

* The Metropolitan Museum in New York (Byzantium: Faith and Power, 2004; with CD selling 12,000 copies)
* The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (Byzantium and the West, 2004 and Icons from Sinai, 2006)
* The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (In the Beginning: Bibles before the Year 1000, 2006)

The first evening lecture of “Byzantium: 300-1453” will be given by Dr. Alexander Lingas, Cappella Romana’s founder and artistic director, on 7 November. Titled “The Heavenly Liturgy: Byzantine Psalmody to 1453, ” it will be enhanced by sung demonstrations by Dr. Lingas, Cappella singer John Michael Boyer, and three cantors from Hagia Sophia Cathedral, London.

The Royal Academy’s exhibition has received major press coverage in the UK and throughout the world, including a review and photo essay in Time magazine (Fri., 24 Oct. 2008).


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