London News

Visit to the Opera – 12 April 2013

6 members went to see the Bizet’s Opera Carmen at the Epsom Playhouse, produced by the Riverside Opera Company in which John Watkins has performed for many years. This year he was in the chorus as a soldier, smuggler and in the crowd, adoring the matadors. Sung in English, it was a powerful production, not only because of Bizet’s stirring music, well played by the London Productions Orchestra and excellent singing of the principals and chorus but also because of the acting and stage direction. There were some innovations such as the use of children during the overture and playing soldiers in Act 1 and the crowd adoring the matadors singing in the aisles of the auditorium in the beginning of Act 4. We all enjoyed the evening.

Contributed by Rolf Holstein

 

A Spring Concert at the Royal Festival Hall

On Sunday 3rd March a group of us assembled for another of Don Moore’s excellent concert choices. The Philharmonia Orchestra was conducted by Andris Nelsons, with Arabella Steinbacher as solo violin.

“Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche” (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, his surname meaning Owlglass) by Richard Strauss (1864-1949) came first. Till was an actual character from the 14th century, an inveterate practical joker, such as by overturning merchants’ stalls by riding at full speed through them, and getting away with it. But eventually he was sentenced to death by hanging. Immediately his soul escaping is heard as a short high pitched passage.

Alban Berg’s (1895-1935) violin concerto followed. Berg developed his own more lyrical form of the twelve-tone system invented by Schoenberg. The work is heavily influenced by the death at 19 from polio of Manon Gropius, a beautiful lady known as Mutzi. A family friend, she was loved by everyone. The work is dedicated “to the memory of an angel”.

After the interval the “Pastoral” Symphony of Beethoven (1770-1827), 23inspired by his love of the countryside, consists of five movements, being the first major symphonic work of a programmatic nature. The first movement reflects his delight in being in the country. In the second, beside a brook, we hear representations of birdsong – nightingale, quail and cuckoo, and a while earlier an arpeggio in the guise of a yellowhammer.

The third movement begins by portraying a local band with one player persistently a beat out of time, but everyone scatters when a violent thunderstorm ensues – the fourth movement. But all is peace in the lyrical finale.

The first movement omitted the customary repeat of the exposition. Nevertheless this was a very fine and satisfying concert.

Contributed by John Smith 

 

The Ripieno Choir

An absolutely wonderful evening of early music, performed by The Ripieno Choir of Esher, was enjoyed by a small group of Branch members in March. Composers featured that evening were Gregorio Allegri, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and the rarely-heard John Browne.

Conductor David Hansell neatly (and historically correctly) split the main choir in two for Allegri’s Misere mei Deus, placing the larger section in the chancel and the smaller close to the west door of the thoroughly modern All Saint’s Church. The choirs, of course alternated the odd-numbered verses, to ecstatic effect, especially the regular top E from a soprano in the smaller group.

The first part of the performance concluded with Stabat mater dolorosa by John Browne. This work comes from the Eton Choir Book, which contained 15 of his works. A facsimile of which (somewhat smaller than the original) Hansell had for illustration and explanation, and later perusal by interested members of the audience.

After the interval, we heard Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices, the sections of which were interspersed by various pieces of Tallis, including O nata lux de lumine, which preceded Byrd’s gentle, concluding Agnus Dei.

No Ripieno review can end without a tribute to our own Ann Burger, an alto in the main choir.

The group’s next public performance is on 16 June, another of Ripieno’s Supper Parties which will feature soprano Jenny Hansell and lutenist Lynda Sayce. There will be tributes to John Downland on the 450th anniversary of his birth and to Benjamin Briten on his centenary. And a lot more.

For more information, go to www.ripienochoir.org.uk.

Contributed by Bernie Sluman

 

AGM

Snow had caused the postponement of our Branch AGM, which was held on 2 March, once again at “The Adelaide” in Teddington. This, however, did not help to swell the numbers which have remained disappointingly low in recent years.

Graham Firth, in his first year as Chairman, has not had the support of a Vice-Chairman, despite various efforts to recruit one, but Fran Sluman had been nominated recently and her election was confirmed at the meeting. Otherwise no changes on the Committee. In addition to his Chairman’s duties Graham, ably assisted by Pam, has also – for the benefit of all Branches – became Editor of Branch Lines.

A list was drawn up of definite and possible events for the year, and there was no shortage of ideas – difficult to fit everything in and avoid “clashes” ! Don and Sheila Cawthron have very kindly offered to host another lunch at their home in Weybridge in order to raise funds for the Sports Scholarship.

The meeting over, we were well looked after by Dermot, who will be retiring in a few months’ time after 46 years as a pub landlord ! For the “entertainment” we were asked to bring three photos or pictures (not necessarily taken or created by us) which were linked in some way.

Bryan Tabor produced some beautiful, professional-standard photos that he had taken of the wildlife gardens, flourishing but hidden away at the edge of the Natural History Museum in bustling South Kensington and of which most visitors are not even aware !

A little-known gallery, Two Temple Place, was revealed as the setting of a current exhibition of Cornish painters, “Amongst Heroes: the artist in working Cornwall”. Copies of three works by these celebrated but often under-appreciated artists were presented by Ann Paddon: “The Pilot” by William Wainwright, “A Fish Sale on a Cornish Harbour” by Stanhope A. Forbes and “In the Whiting Grounds” by Harold Harvey, all of them from the period 1880 to 1920.

Three small amateur snapshots aimed to illustrate the link as “Playing” (and also “Not what you might expect !”) There was an early music group featuring in particular a serpent, some adults performing on toy drum, penny whistle, etc. in the Toy Symphony, attributed to Haydn, and a busking jazz quartet on a back street in Paris. 

Contributed by Ann Burger

 

EUC visit to ASCOT FESTIVAL OF FOOD AND WINE RACEDAY

on Saturday 8th September

Seven EUC members attended the visit to Ascot organised by Graham and Pam Firth on Saturday 8th September, and the weather was glorious! It was the Ascot Festival of Food and Wine Raceday, and the feature race was the Ladebroke’s Mobile Handicap covering a distance of over a mile and a half which, with prize money of £150,000, is Britain’s most valuable 3 year handicap of the season. Our Premier Admission tickets put us on the fourth level of the Grand- stand with the best view over the course and access to all the best facilities throughout. This included the central arena where the horses were displayed before each race, not to mention the Ground Floor with all its appetising food and drink stalls which included bread, cakes, cheeses, chocolates, game, pies and a variety of preserves.

Reading-based pie shop, Sweeney Todd had a wide range of meat, seafood and vegetarian pies on offer – all made the traditional way. Isle of Wight company Food Ado was an unexpected surprise with its unique assortment of biltong safari snacks. Zimbabwean Nick and his British wife Sarah make these products from smoked strips of the best quality Isle of Wight beef that are then macerated in their own original spice blends. (Coriander & Worcestershire Sauce won a Great Taste Gold Two Star award for 2011/12). Another eye-catching (if not lip-smacking) display was provided by a stand entitled Scrumptious Fudge with its exotic fudge blends all available at £3 per 150g. These included Banana Chocolate, Chilli Chocolate, Chocolate Cara- mel, Chocolate & Mint, Chocolate & Orange, Ginger, Liquorice, Toffee and Turkish Delight.

After meeting up briefly on arrival our group had dispersed and gone their own separate ways for the most part. Afterwards four of us went on to dine at the charming Italian restaurant Don Beni in the quaint village of Winkfield Row. The mild, sunny weather continued enabling us to enjoy our meal seated outside for several hours. 

 

LONDON BRANCH DINNER

Highlight of this year’s dinner was, of course, the splendidly anecdotal address by our guest speaker, Alasdair Paterson. University Librarian 1994-2006, this typically wry Scots intellectual and poet, took us on a light-hearted tour of his academic life which included work in the universities of Liverpool, Cork, Sheffield and, finally, Exeter.

Alastair was full of praise for our current Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Steve Smith, “a visionary and hard-headed leader” who had transformed the University, bringing it up to 7th in the Sunday Times Guide league table; 153rd in the world, and latest winner for the second time of the Sunday Times University of the Year trophy.

Among Alastair’s own achievements are to be included the building up of the library’s Special Collections, not least through acquisition of many papers of poet John Betjeman, historian A L Rowse and author Daphne Dumaurier. He had retired well before the donation to the Special Collections of recent records and papers of the late-lamented Exeter University Convocation and its various committees.

We were reminded that the University now boasts a student population of about18,500, including a considerable number of international students, many of them from China. There are of course three campuses: Streatham, St Luke’s and Tremough (“yet to offer a degree in surfing”).

Thanks must go to our Branch Chairman, Graham Firth, for enticing such an engaging guest speaker to the event which was attended by a small, but perfectly formed, group of members, including Exeter University Club’s new President, Ann Paddon.

Bernie Sluman

 

ROTHERHYTHE

The English have a genius for magnificent failures. By the early nineteenth century London had grown to such an extent that new docks were opened down river to augment those between London Bridge and the Tower. The traffic congestion across the river was insupportable but, in order to clear the masts of ships going to the old docks, another bridge was impossible (Tower Bridge was not built until 1894). Previous attempts at a tunnel had failed but in 1818 the émigré engineer Marc Brunel had patented a tunnelling shield for soft ground, and trial borings had found a continuous band of lovely impervious clay just below the riverbed. This combination of technology and geology led to the confident prediction that a shallow tunnel could be completed within three years and at very reasonable cost. This would have two roadways and vehicles would reach it by spiral ramps at each end. Money was raised and work started in 1825. Eighteen years later, and many times over budget, it opened, as a foot tunnel, as there was no hope of raising the money for the spiral ramps. There was little money to be made out of this and so space was rented out for retail and entertainment sites. An engineering triumph had become a shopping arcade. There is a happy ending, in 1865 it was purchased by the East London Railway became part of the Underground and now an essential part of the Overground.

On a lovely September day we met our guide from the Museum for a fascinating walk along the south bank. Few of us knew this area or had realised either what a colourful history it had or what a pleasant place it had become. An opening of Tower Bridge was even laid on for our, somewhat distant, delectation. The Museum itself houses very clear descriptions and models of the tunnel and its construction together with many of the souvenir artefacts sold in its retailing days. The high spot, however, was the, newly opened, shaft, which was used in its construction and then housed the stairs down to it. Only with the sealing of the roof of the tunnel as part of the refurbishment of Rotherhythe station has entry been possible. It is still not easy as it involves feats of gymnastics through very small holes and then the descent of forty feet of scaffolding steps. The ghost of former elegance remains and will eventually be restored but the gain in convenience will be paid for by some loss of atmosphere. I want to see it finished but I am glad I have also seen it now. As with any EUC event, tea followed in the, rather good, museum café, and then we took the only possible route home, on the train through the tunnel.