Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Soldier's Tale: The Amazing Baz

The Amazing Baz who composed the dance-mix for Track 4 of The Soldier's Tale opened his copy of the newest CD in the Maestro Classics' series. I think he is pleased....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best Christmas Gift Ever: The Soldier's Tale HAS ARRIVED!

Midst the gift wrapping, potato peeling, turkey stuffing preparations, THE SOLDIER'S TALE
The first copies arrived on Thursday at 7 PM. The artwork is gorgeous, a veritable storybook inside the program booklet, and the sound is stunning. The conductor, Stephen Simon, thinks that it may be the best in the entire Maestro Classics' Stories in Music series. It is certainly sophisticated - perfect for junior high school age, but also will be enjoyed by younger children who love to read and love music. 

The Amazing Baz's dance-mix is a real winner. Great fun and continues to bounce around in your head. 

There is no doubt when you listen to this that Stravinsky was the greatest composer of the 20th century.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Music Library No. 8: Great Christmas Carol CD

One of the great American choral conductors of all time was Robert Shaw (1916-1999). Robert was famous for his work with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony. Fortunately, his unique choral sound is still available on CD. His Songs of Angels CD continues to be one of my very favorite holiday CDs. I recommend listening to samples even if you do not decide to purchase, but I think that you will find at least one carol that you cannot resist downloading. My favorite is "The Holly and the Ivy."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

All Great Things Must Come to An End

The Grand Elevator at Claridge's Hotel
Sweet Potato Risotto with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
After the LPO concert at Festival Hall, we treated ourselves to a glass of champagne and dinner at Chez Girard, smiling one last time before we went back to the hotel to pack for the early morning flight.

What a week!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Royal Festival Hall - LPO Christmas Concert

Christmas Concert 2011 - Royal Festival Hall
with London Philharmonic Orchestra
the orchestra that with whom we record all the Maestro Classics CDs

Our last evening was a business trip to hear the London Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus at Royal Festival Hall. The new very hot pop opera singer, Russell Watson, was their star attraction for this benefit concert for The Prince's Trust, Prince Charles' Trust that is devoted to providing education and training for disadvantaged youth. A quick trip to Harrod's provided a comb with magnificent feathers that enabled me to attend this fancy event. This sell-out event with stage filled with orchestra, chorus, backup singers, Russell himself, plus flood lights, decorations, Christmas trees, and (to my astonishment) HUGE flame throwers to add a bit of drama (I could feel the heat of these 30-foot high shots of fire on my face in the 2nd row - I confess that I did check for the location of the emergency exits as they began), was quite a spectacle.


Mince pies and mulled wine seem to accompany every Christmas concert in London. A very nice touch provided by the ladies of the choral society. I love mince pie, so I had to try each of these adorable tartlettes. But then I found a complete turkey dinner in a tart and could not resist a photo.

Friday, December 16, 2011

More Music in London... and a Little Theater

Two More Evenings of Music

And a little theater... very amusing.
The Whitehall Choir pre-concert rehearsal

I love the theater in London (and in New York and in Washington, DC and...) and it would not be a trip to the UK if there were not at least one night at the theater. As I travel around London, I am always surprised when I realize that the rather plain, unattractive post-war buildings that are in the midst of these beautiful Victorian (and older) buildings were all constructed to fill the holes made by the bombs that fell on this beautiful city during WWII. And, when I go into London theaters where the stalls (i.e. orchestra seats) are 3 levels below street level, I always think about the fact that this was a place that was safe during the bombing. If you have not seen "Mrs. Henderson Presents," the 2005 movie with Judi Dench, I highly recommend it. (Probably not for children.)

Handel's Church: St. George's at Hannover Square, London

The newly installed organ at St. George's Hannover Square, London
The nave in noonday sun.
Back in London, we are again popping into churches. St. George's at Hannover Square in Mayfair has been under renovation for almost a year, with doors locked and covered with scaffolding. What a delight to pass by and discover that it was again open. We missed the noon concert, but that just means an excuse to return.

You can see a beautiful watercolor painting of the church in the My Name is Handel: The Story of Water Music CD by Maestro Classics, Number 8 in the Stories in Music series. No. 9, The Story of a Soldier (Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat) was due on Dec. 6. Still has not arrived at the office but its arrival will be the best Christmas gift ever!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Maestro Classics Continues to Enrich Our Lives

            I probably never would have come to Huddersfield were it not for the new CD project. I can now only wonder how many times we will return as we have met so many delightful, friendly people here. From dinner with the Lord Mayor to the thoughtful lady who knocked on our door slightly after midnight and returned the umbrella that we had left at the reception.  As with playing a video game with the doors that open to unexpected places, we have opened the door to Huddersfield and now it is a place that brings with it a host of mental pictures and the word Huddersfield will never be the same.

            York is coming up next. Better put away the computer and see whether we will be able to see the cathedral. I am tempted to jump off the train and catch the following train to London, but think that York may have to wait until the next trip. I am beginning to get my geography straight, I think.

           I understand that the York Cathedral has an up and coming boy choir. It will have to wait for the next trip, though now that I know that it is just two hours on the high speed train, there will be no excuse for not at least making a day trip out of it.

        Like the Huddersfield hat???

Monday, December 12, 2011

Capturing the Sunlight

            The English conservatory that we see advertisements for in Architectural Digest and such magazines, abound here, not just on the fancy houses, but also on the more modest ones. With their white supports and lovely shapes, one can understand why in a country with so much rain capturing every bit of sunlight when it appears is a priority for people. It makes me miss ours from our old house in Washington, DC. More lush green fields, horses, hedgerows, even in December there is green all about.

More Musical Surprises... Sloane Square

Stephen Simon can never pass a church without reading the music schedule and trying the door. With an hour before meeting a good friend at Peter Jones at Sloane Square we spotted the church. The door was open. Tables at the rear of the main were filled with cards from many, many charities, from cancer research to autism to animal rights. Beautiful cards! To add to the delight, however, the choral society was rehearsing for their evening concert. Or, so I thought, when the first thing that I heard was...

But, the surprises continued....

It was a bit incongruous, but the churches in Europe always have doubled as concert halls which means that music is everywhere.

Finally... Here They Are!

Oxford Street Brass Players

Music and More Music - Holiday Shopping on Oxford St.

       Oxford Street and Regent Streets were closed to vehicular traffic and throngs of pedestrians flooded the streets for blocks and blocks. Was there piped in music? No! Bands and caroler groups played at almost every cross street. London is a very good music city in so many ways. (Apologies: my video clip of the brass players on Oxford Street will not load. Nevertheless, the Christmas decorations are EVERYWHERE!)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oh…the Bookstores

         People of all ages are still reading widely here in the UK. I remember the years when our sons were 6 and 7 and looking for easy chapter books with pictures. We would return from London with a suitcase full of these books, as they were almost impossible to find in the USA. 
        Again, in ducking into Waterstone’s (the UK version of Barnes & Noble, I think), the vast array of books, classics interspersed with new fiction, shelves and shelves for young adults, extensive collections of graphic novels (current favorites with our now 20-something sons), all left our suitcases heavier than when we arrived in the north of England.
        I confess, I do buy on Amazon, but I love bookstores so much that I always make a point of buying something when I go in to browse. My current favorite, as I have owned every Mac since the Apple 2e.

Three Cheers for Train Travel

Transferring at York Train Station
            Just as I was astounded that the bullet trains in Japan ran every half hour, the high speed trains to London run every half hour. We are now going to York where we change for the train to Kings Cross London. The beautiful horses are out with their blankets and occasional rider. I think that we are in a tunnel going under the Pennines, but I will have to check my map. Meanwhile, I have taken out my iPhone to check our speed. I eagerly await the day when we have great trains again in the USA.
            The grass is so green and looks even greener against the red brick houses. The sheep who have made England famous for its wool dot the countryside.  We actually saw someone on the way in playing golf in the rain, but then the rain is the reason that the courses are so beautiful here.  And suddenly we are coming into Leeds; city that looks enormous after Huddersfield. New construction surrounds the old centers, with the sandstone buildings popping through the modern buildings in unexpected places. Just saw the Leeds Cathedral through a slit in the buildings.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Huddersfield Town Hall (with concert hall)

At last the sun came out and I could take a photo of this magnificent building. 

The Musical Tradition Lives On

A Little Christmas Music from Huddersfield Shopping Street

           The  musical tradition is strong here in Yorkshire and one can only hope that there will always be brass bands and choral groups that include both the very young and the very old. Last evening the conductor of the Black Dyke Band introduced their youngest member, a percussionist aged 14. “He is not here because he is 14; he is here because he is very, very good. He was a member of the national youth orchestra last year.” This year he will rehearse twice a week and perform in 50 concerts! The average distance that members of Black Dyke travel to rehearsals is 250 miles. (With gasoline at $6-7 a gallon, you know why all the cars are so small.) The Huddersfield Choral Society has a junior choir and is deeply committed to creating the next generation. 

If you play the clip above, you will hear four young musicians (I suspect from the university here) that were busking on this Saturday morning in front of the shops.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Concert at Huddersfield - Dinner with Lord Mayor

The Huddlesfield Choral Society and The Black Dyke Band - 2 of England's Finest!

Despite the signs that said "No Photographs" I could not resist pulling out my camera. I thought that perhaps I would not have another time before Christmas next year and if we are to do something with them for a new CD, I would be devastated if I did not have a picture of this magnificent sight. The Black Dyke Band, one of the 4 great brass bands in England, was founded in 1816! Huddersfield Choral Society was founded in 1830. The Town Hall, above, was built in the 1860s. 

The concert included carols that we don't know in the US, plus old favorites, some pieces just for the brass band (the two soloists on flugel horn and baritone horn were both females - the only ones in the band!), and some audience sing-alongs. The two and a half hour flew by and then we were sitting having dinner with the Lord Mayor with his massive medal on a ribbon around his neck. He could have come from Central Casting, but was appropriately charming.

This definitely is a place to return to in the summer months.

Wonderful Hall in Huddersfield, UK

Huddersfield Town Hall - built 1860

In the pouring rain, I discovered that the Town Hall was much closer to the hotel than I had thought.
Across the highway (being careful to look in BOTH directions - cars always coming from the "wrong" direction), past the Snooker Club (a game I have never understood), over the tiny canal bridge, then up the hill past the University where there is a spectacular costume designing shop with huge plate glass windows so that you can look in (I have always loved to sew historical costumes), up the stairs and there sat the sandstone huge Town Hall fully illuminated against the dark sky. 

If we thought that we would be unnoticed, we were wrong. Our English manager had called ahead and, as we sat listening to the rehearsal, the secretary, the treasurer, and many other choir officials stopped by to whisper their welcomes. Then at the end of the rehearsal the president stood up and announced "Maestro Stephen Simon and Bonnie Simon have come all the way from New York specifically to hear our Christmas Concert," and great applause broke out.  The sound of the chorus is this huge beautifully blended ensemble with the impeccable English choirboy pitch. The organist sitting at the console high above the choir was the arranger for some of the carols. The Black Dyke brass band is one of northern England's best in this area where there once were many coal mines and where there has always been a rich brass band tradition. The choir claimed that they were "marking" last night; if that is so, they will blow the roof off tonight.

We have been invited to the pre-concert cocktail party, drinks at intermission with the choir, and dinner afterwards. It should be a jolly affair!

Time for a nap so that jetlag does not catch up with me before the post-concert supper.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Arrived in Northern England...to Hurricane Force Winds!

The flight from New York to London, then the high speed train + local train north to Huddersfield went smoothly, but as stepped out of the station to tremendous winds and rain. Very dramatic. Have located the beautiful Town Hall with its concert hall and are on our way to the rehearsal of the famous Huddlesfield Choral Society this evening. It seems that there also will be a wind band called The Black Dyke... fitting as there is a canal with adorable canal boats moored just outside our hotel window. More to follow, but for now, back out into the wind and rain.

Colorado Parent – My Name is Handel Recommended Gift

    Great to get the word out to Colorado. I ski at Snowmass and always enjoy talking to folks on the lift about Maestro Classics. 
    Now it is great to have Colorado Parent magazine select My Name is Handel for their gift guide. I wonder if I will meet anyone who has seen us there...