Brahms' German Requiem, British Museum, Don Giovanni, ENO, Hob Nobs, Ilona Domnitch, McVities, One Man, Oxford Street, Parliament Choir, Simon Over, Southbank Sinfonia, Two Guvnors, War Horse, Westminster Cathedral
London in November. The thought conjures up visions of grey, cold misery as one fights through the driving rain to get to one’s destination, be it school, work or home. Such are, in fact, my memories of my childhood and youth in the city, at a time when central heating was less prevalent and perhaps what one wore offered less protection from the elements.
But the ten days or so that Yigal and I spent in London this month belied that image. For a start, when one is in a hotel not too far from the British Museum and the centre you spend less time travelling and more time enjoying the wide range of cultural entertainment on offer. Second of all, the autumn colours of the trees in the park that could be seen from our hotel window offered a daily show of aesthetic delight that simply demanded to be photographed or even painted in their changing hues of gold, red and brown (see above). We even had some days of beautiful sunshine, and hardly any rain at all.
Spending a few days in London means that I indulge in a feast of theatre and music, and this trip was no exception. The highlight this time, and the main reason for our visit, was a performance of Brahms’ German Requiem at Westminster Cathedral in which the soprano solo was sung by a young artiste, Ilona Domnitch, whose career was originally fostered by my late father, among others. Ilona has managed to forge a path for herself in England, and now resides there on a permanent basis. The cavernous interior of Westminster Cathedral is not the best venue for a musical performance, as the acoustics are decidedly unfriendly, but the orchestra of young musicians who form the Southbank Sinfonia, together with two choirs, all of this conducted by Simon Over, managed to get the message across. One of the two choirs, the Parliament Choir, consists of people who work at the Palace of Westminster, peers and MPs, and it was a heartening sight to see and hear them all, young and old, viscounts, lords, ladies and commoners, as they raised their voices in Brahms’ great work.
We also went to see several plays, some of them moving (War Horse). others rib-ticklingly funny (One Man, Two Guvnors), as well as an opera (Don Giovanni)
at the ENO (English National Opera), which means that it was sung in English, in a clever and entertaining translation by Jeremy Sams and a refreshingly modern production directed by Rufus Norris, giving the eighteenth century piece a thoroughly contemporary feel.
And above all, visiting London means meeting old friends and catching up on news and views, finding out what everyone’s up to, what’s new with their families and lives, and assuring one another that ‘you haven’t changed a bit,’ or admiring one another’s new hairstyle. There is also an opportunity to do some important shopping, mainly for such delicacies as McVities digestive biscuits (but only with plain chocolate), Hob-Nobs (a more recent and very delicious addition to the McVities stable), but also to take a stroll along Oxford Street in order to see what’s on offer, remember the annual outings there with my mother and my two sisters and also to try and buy a little something for myself. This year I also managed to catch the Xmas lights and decorated shop-windows, which were as delightful as ever.
But the last few days of our visit were overshadowed by events on Israel’s southern border, and it was with no little trepidation that we read the newspaper each morning and evening (given away free outside the tube stations and generally containing a mountain of rubbish focused on TV celebs and Tweets culled from social networking sites). This is the nonsense which people read every day to pass the time as they travel to and from work, and it makes you wonder what it does to their minds. It is not a comfortable feeling to be away from Israel when you know that the situation is tense, and now that we are back in our home near Jerusalem we can begin to understand what the country has been going through this last week, with radio programmes being interrupted by announcements stating which areas are being targeted by rockets.