Last month, Charles, Jen and I traveled to London to celebrate Chandos‘ 30th Anniversary (our record label). Originally, we didn’t think we could make the trip, but due to some very generous board members and patrons, we were able to go on the cheap. I wanted to share highlights of our trip and here you can see some of the sites we visited.
TUESDAY – Jen and I traveled separately from Charles who was flying in from Kansas City, MO. Our flight left late, and we arrived in London four hours after Charles’ flight. Jen and I made our way to baggage claim, where we were supposed to meet up with him, and while waiting for our luggage, searched high and low for Charles, but didn’t find him. After getting our bags, we looked for Charles again but after a while figured he’d made his way through the main exit. We arrived at the main concourse and by then it had been nearly five hours since his flight arrived. We paged him several times, and after waiting another hour, figured he must have headed to the apartment.
We bought our Tube tickets and made our way to MinC City Reach Apartments. These wonderful “self-catering” apartments were perfect for our needs with a spacious full kitchen and very close proximity to the Tube and all of London. (Special thanks to John and Millie Wesley for the great digs!!!)
About an hour after our arrival at the apartment, there was a knock at the door. We knew that room service was not offered, so it could only mean one thing… Charles. He had indeed waited for us at baggage claim but because our flight was late, he curled up in a corner of the baggage claim area and caught up on some sleep. He must have needed it, as he slept through the pages! Needless to say, we were thrilled to be reunited.
After freshening up, we made our way to our first meeting of the trip. This meeting was set to discuss the recent success of our Spotless Rose disc and to talk about continued and new marketing efforts. We met at Kings Place with Becky Lees, Chandos’ Sales and Marketing Manager, Paul Westcott, Chandos’ Public Relations Manager, and Katie Hackett, our Account Marketing Manager at Naxos North America.
Our Chandos friends had planned to take the 8:30 p.m. train back to Colchester, Chandos’ home about 45 minutes away, but instead took a later train as we were having such productive (and fun) talks. We moved the meeting to Dirty Dicks, an old English pub and spent the rest of the evening catching up over a few pints of ale.
WEDNESDAY – We boarded the barge at Temple Pier for the official Chandos 30th Anniversary party. For the next three or so hours we floated along the Thames River surrounded by Chandos artists, representatives, managers, distributors and other VIPs in the classical music industry across Europe. It was a great way to meet Chandos’ treasured friends and family and see some of the sites of London.
Special guests included the family of the late conductor, Richard Hickox, who passed away recently. Mr. Hickox recorded more than 280 discs over the last 20 years for Chandos. It was an honor to share in the celebrations with them and to meet Chandos founder Brian Couzens. We met Simon Perry, the head of record label Hyperion, whose recording of the Frank Martin Double Choir Mass (performed by the Westminster Cathedral Choir and led by James O’Donnell), won a Gramophone Award some years ago. I had heard from Ralph Couzens, Managing Director of Chandos that Simon really liked our recording of the same work (on our Eternal Rest disc) and had personally contacted Ralph to get a copy upon its release. Simon took the opportunity to congratulate us in person and raved about the recording!
We continued the celebration at another pub, The Coal Hole. It seemed everyone at the party got the word, as many were at the pub including the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet who recently released an album on Chandos, The Spirit of Brazil. I had long conversations with an on-air personality from ClassicFM in London (the largest commercial radio station in the UK) who raved about our Spotless Rose disc and mentioned his love of American orchestras. Charles, Jen, Katie and I finished off the night with a late dinner at Café Spice Namaste, a wonderful Indian restaurant near the Tower of London.
THURSDAY – We caught up on a little sleep before beginning to explore the city. Charles has been to London a number of times and I had gone a few years back to meet with Chandos, but this was Jen’s first trip out of North America. Regardless of how frequently or recently one has been there, it is such a great city to explore via the Tube and on foot. We had seen a number of tourist sights from the Thames at the party, and we set out to see them up close. We took the Tube to Westminster and after “minding the gap,” walked up the steps to be met with one of the best sights in all of London – Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye.
The last time Charles and I were in London, we met James O’Donnell, Choirmaster for the Abbey, and decided to leave a note asking Mr. O’Donnell if he would please reserve seats for us in the Choir for Evensong the next evening. After spending time admiring the Abbey, we made our way up to Westminster Cathedral but could not go in as they were installing the new Archbishop of Westminster (the Catholic Archdiocese), so we continued on to Buckingham Palace, to Trafalgar Square, and to the historic St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church.
Inside the church, we stumbled upon a recording session by the BBC Daily Service Singers and St. Martin’s Choir, accompanied by the Will Todd Ensemble, directed by Stephen Jackson. They were recording Will Todd’s Mass in Blue for Chamber choir and jazz orchestra, to air later that evening for the church’s Ascension Day service.
As we left the church, we noticed the Holst Singers were performing there the next night. Led by popular British conductor Stephen Layton, they were performing a concert of all–Russian repertoire. Mr. Layton also conducts Polyphony, his professional choir. Naturally, we bought our tickets to return the next evening.
We made our way back to the apartment to freshen up. Our plan for the evening was to dine at the home of composer Cecilia McDowall. She lives west of the City near Chiswick Park, so we boarded the Tube for a 45 minute trip. Since first performing and then recording her “Three Latin Motets” in 2005, we have become friends with Cecilia, and it was great to have the opportunity to catch up with her, her husband Andrew (a judge) and her Mum Elizabeth who just celebrated her 80th birthday.
We were treated to a delightful multi-course dinner prepared by Cecilia and enjoyed wonderful conversation in her lovely home. We learned that Cecilia has had a very successful year. In addition to being included on our Grammy-winning Spotless Rose album, she was commissioned by the Musicians Benevolent Fund to compose a piece for its annual Festival of St. Cecilia. This is quite an honor, and Cecilia is only the third female composer commissioned for this festival – and the first named Cecilia. Her new piece will be performed in St Paul’s Cathedral later in November. On a side note: we are planning to perform some of Cecilia’s works in December, and hope to introduce her to our local audiences in the near future. She is truly a delightful person and a very talented composer. We are glad to call her friend.
FRIDAY – We revisited some of the sites near Buckingham Palace including the Royal Stables. Charles especially enjoyed this – as you may know, one of Charles’ favorite hobbies when not conducting is riding horses. Much of the day was spent enjoying the city and the beautiful weather. Friday marked the hottest day of the year, topping off at a balmy 72 degrees.
Having heard back from Mr. O’Donnell’s office, we headed to Westminster Abbey for Evensong, where we were treated to the voices of the Lay Vicars (the Abbey Choir led the Ascension Day services the day before). Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous burial sights in London and composers Handel, Vaughan Williams and Purcell are buried there. We were escorted to our seats in the Choir, directly behind the singers. Jen had never heard male sopranos before, and fought off a giggle as the service began. They performed William Byrd’s Psallite Domino and O Rex gloriae. We agreed the Abbey has to be one of the most visually and acoustically beautiful spaces on earth.
Later, we headed to St. Martin-in-the-Fields for the Holst Singers’ concert of Russian Choral music. The Holst Singers are a 50-voice amateur choir based in London, led by Stephen Layton. They have made a number of quality recordings for Hyperion, and renowned countertenor James Bowman is the choir’s president. It turned out our seats had an obstructed view and we requested to be seated elsewhere. The only other unobstructed seats on the floor were in the very front row, and so we took them.
During intermission, we passed by the stage door just as Mr. Layton was walking through and I took the opportunity to introduce myself and Charles. Mr. Layton had not met Charles but knew of him and had many glowing things to say about the Phoenix Chorale, our recent successes and told us he was honored we were there. Although considered an amateur choir, the Holst Singers would be considered an elite choir if they were on this side of the pond, and their program was a fine presentation. We enjoyed the rest of the concert from the balcony, and finished off the night with a jaunt through Piccadilly Circus.
SATURDAY – We tried to fit as much as possible in our final day and started with a trip to the historic Tower of London and checked out an exhibit featuring King Henry XIII’s armor. We strolled along the south bank of the Thames, saw the Old Globe Theatre, ate lunch at the Old Thameside Inn, walked by the Tate Modern gallery, and strolled across the Millennium Bridge that ends at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Charles wanted to do a little shopping on Portobello Road, so Jen and I proceeded to the Cathedral. There was a fee to see the Cathedral but we decided to wait and attend Evensong (and see it for free). Less than an hour later, we were treated to our second Evensong in as many days and again were seated in the Choir. The St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir of men and boys led the service in this incredible space (the sound carries for at least six seconds!).
We met up with Charles and for dinner, we headed to Silk, a restaurant housed in the Courthouse Hotel, an old Grade II Listed Magistrates Court near Oxford Circus. The restaurant was converted from the old Number One court and is covered by a vaulted glass ceiling framed by original English Oak paneling. The judges bench, dock and witness stand have been kept in their original setting. The menu is derived from the historical “Silk Road,” creating a unique pan-Asian/fusion style. After dinner, we headed back to the start of our adventure to Dirty Dicks for a going away toast with a pint of ale.
A side note: the Taste London card is a good way to save a few pounds – on the price at least! The exchange rate was favorable to us, but with the Taste London card, we saved a significant amount on dining.
Choral music has played such a tremendous role in the community of the U.K. and it’s a tradition that has shaped choral music around the world. Although we are surrounded by choral music in our business, it was refreshing and enlightening to hear four different choirs perform in our five days there. While gratifying to hear congratulations, accolades and to see firsthand the reputation we have achieved across the pond, it was humbling to realize we have added to that tradition, and we are being recognized for our artistry.
Looking back on it all, it was great to see the wonders of London, see old friends and make many new ones.
– Joel Rinsema, Executive Director
*All photos by Jen Rogers.