Friday, July 31, 2009

Brighton I and II

Recently, I found myself in Brighton twice within a short span of time.

The first time was near the end of June; the Ionian Singers were giving a concert at a church there, and Teriann and I thought we'd take the rest of the day to have a look around the popular seaside town.

We started with the Royal Pavilion, a Chinese-inspired summer home for one the many royals with more money than they knew what to do with. The outside was kitschy and mostly under scaffolding,

but the inside was spectacular. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but the dining room was probably one of the most dramatic rooms I've ever seen: tall, deep red, and beneath a chandelier held in the claws of a massive and surprisingly lifelike dragon.

The main attraction in Brighton, though, is without a doubt its beach and the colorful Brighton Pier.

Brighton is a zany place: haunted houses and carnival rides are mixed in with tarot consultants on the pier; the beach is made up not of sand, but of smooth, cobblestone-size stones that are surprisingly comfortable to lay on; there's a large gay and alternative community in the town that is served by the kind of record shops that have different sections for 'Soul', 'Diva Soul', and 'Funky Soul' and have all but gone extinct elsewhere; it's a California hippie town where Kerouac would be right at home... but it happens to be on the South coast of England.

So when Adam was here, I suggested we take a day trip down there, and two weeks after my first trip, I was back in the ocean.

Adam found the water quite chilly!

One last bit about Brighton: anyone's visit there wouldn't be complete unless they were ATTACKED BY THE INCREDIBLY VICIOUS SEAGULLS! When Teriann and I were there, we got hamburgers on the pier for lunch, and not 10 seconds passed before a seagull swooped from behind me and stole the top of my bun! Sure enough, two weeks later, Adam was ambushed by an aggressive gull for the cup of cockles he was holding (cockles are small, tasty mollusks). Even the most wary visitors invariably let their guard down momentarily, and when they do —swoop! You see tourists pelted by the big white birds all day.

Adam Comes to Visit

At the end of June, we moved out of our room of ten months and directly upstairs to a new room. Same home, same housemates (mostly), but a different and cheaper room.

We were quite happy about this, but it was slightly disorienting when Adam arrived the next day. Fortunately we didn't spend too much time among the stacks and boxes and suitcases; instead, we got straight out to the world's original and best tennis tournament: Wimbledon.

I've never even been that into tennis, but I still watched Wimbledon over the summer as a kid. And Adam played tennis for several years in high school, so it certainly meant more to him. Here we are at Centre Court.

We took a few wrong turns on the way there, but we were well equipped with food, drink, and sunscreen. Britain was deep in the throes of Murray Mania, so even though Andy Murray was the guy we really wanted to see, we counted ourselves lucky to watch Roger Federer warm up. He had already won five Wimbledon titles and, two days after our visit, won this year's tournament as well.

We also took in a juniors' semi-final match courtside.

This guy ended up winning the men's junior title.

Between the courtside beers and our very classy matching hats (more on that later), it was a great day out. The grounds were crammed to capacity, and I can only imagine how crazy it would have gotten had Murray won; unfortunately, Roddick beat him, so it was an uninspired trudge off the grounds that afternoon.

Fourth of July weekend was the first in what was to become a long string of great weekends. We decorated our house in American flags, Adam brought red cups for a genuine, long-overdue, and extremely popular tournament of beer pong, and a night of merry-making was had by all. Allison, our English flatmate, contributed with an impressive assortment of fireworks... we even threw a frisbee around down at the local park — it felt like a real Fourth of July!

While we mostly lounged around the house and the local park over the weekend, the next week was more eventful. It kicked off with Fellows' Night at the RCM, where the outstanding Ossian Ensemble premiered a short piece I wrote for them to celebrate the anniversaries of Haydn, Mendelssohn, and Purcell. After the concert, I was lucky enough to meet Graeme Napier, a Minor Canon at Westminster Abbey and a truly extraordinary person. The next night I had already been invited to a kind of delayed Fourth of July party at his home on the grounds of the Abbey. Most of the guests were Americans of some sort, and all were interesting in some way — a human rights lawyer who spends most of her time in war zones, priests who make fun of praying in Latin, a sculptor, a few people from the American embassy. Of course I'm not doing any of them justice in this short setting, but trust me: it was the most eclectic conversation I've ever had. After dessert (accompanied, as were all the courses, by its own wine), Graeme proved that none of us knew the words to our own anthem. We all assured him that we did, but when the time came, sure enough... we cracked.

O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? ...(awkward silence)...

Here's a nighttime picture of the Abbey I snapped on the way out.

What a Month! / Meeting John Joubert

July has truly been an extraordinary time.

It started with Adam coming to visit, to which we added five more visitors and a two-week trek across some of the most incredible places in Europe. And it ended with an interesting day yesterday in which I met John Joubert and starting reading Herman Hesse's final work, The Glass Bead Game.

More on all this later; I'd like to be as thorough with this month as I have been with our previous travels, so please excuse me if it takes a bit more time than usual.

As a general overview, we went to Paris for Bastille Day, then flew down to Rome; from there we went up through Italy, seeing Florence, Vernazza, and Pisa before coming home.

About yesterday, however: I went up to Birmingham (a dreary industrial city if ever there was one) to meet with a very accomplished and, in my opinion, underrated composer, John Joubert. I first came across his work while singing in the Ionian Singers — we did a piece of his called Lines from the Youth of Man that is probably one of my favorite pieces of choral music ever. Thereafter, I conducted his Octet on a chamber concert and gave a small presentation about his music for an assignment at the College. He has an impressive (both in quantity and quality) output and to me his music sounds like a happy mix of Britten and Hindemith (although he'd say Shostakovich) with just enough attention to major chords and sweet sounds to really make all the quartal harmonies mean something.

I played some of my pieces for him (which I gather he neither loved nor hated) but mostly we just chatted for an afternoon. He's a very kind man — when he discovered that I'd booked a specific train home to London (which is much cheaper than 'open return' tickets), he drove me to the station so I wouldn't miss it by taking the bus.

Something in particular that he said got me thinking; he was talking about how he constantly revises his works — sometimes even after they're published. Maybe that's another flaw in my own work, as I rarely do any substantial revision. More than just the immediate (and obvious) effect it would have on my music, it suggests a level of rigor and self-examination that I would like to be able to achieve.

And this is no doubt connected to the book I recently began: Hesse's Glass Bead Game. It is every bit as brilliant and nourishing as I had hoped. It's one of those books that I'm disappointed no one told me about when I was younger, and that, like Ishmael, holds the wisdom that I always hoped the Bible would when I was a child. I'm sure that before long I'll bore you with some of the points it raises — already there are things that I love and things with which I disagree — but that's for later. For now, I'll get to work on recounting my July expeditions :)