Remembering why I like England

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized


nbsp; This evening, I was at East Ham Park in London for an outdoor classical music concert featuring the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. This was the fourth and final night of an annual event, sponsored by the Newham Council, entitled Under The Stars, which given the weather of the past couple weeks, that’s wishful thinking a lot of the time. There probably were some stars eventually peeking through as this night progressed, but mostly it was so ridiculously cold that I really needed the music to distract me. Except for a few lulls, it did.

                        The concert takes no chances, playing mostly “The Hits.” They opened with “William Tell Overture,” not even bothering with the other movements, but going straight to the “Lone Ranger” section. And since they weren’t at Albert Hall or any comparable venue, there were going to be glitches here and there. Like crackling speakers, and for most of that opener, only the french horns were actually going through the sound system. It’s what often happens in community theatre, and happily, everyone just persevered, and Rossini’s masterpiece was performed admirably, surmounting the technical problems.

                          Sound problems would work more against the singers in the operatic selections, of which there were way too many. They had one ace in the hole in that their resident tenor was Wynne Evans, whose name won’t ring a bell, but as the silly operatic character known as Gio Compario in a series of ads for a search engine called, his voice is unmistakable. His mike seemed to work whenever he was soloing, but not so for the resident soprano, whose name I’ve already forgotten, damn me. Suffice to say that, except for “Nessun Dorma,” which Evans pulled off quite well, considering the bulwark that is the Pavarotti version to which every other rendition is compared, the arias were largely boring.

                         What could have been equally boring was the pseudo medley of John Williams film music, and themes from “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” and “Superman” played back to back. What I rediscovered from those three, especially when played in succession, is how Williams loved those two notes, middle C to the G above that, and managed to use them as the basis for each of his themes. Well, if he’s going to plagiarize, who better to steal from than himself? The orchestra did their best with it, but it was during that section that I found the cold wind distracting enough that I needed to go to the loo and the bar.

                          They saved their best for last, with Offenbach’s “Can Can” pulled off almost as quirkily as Bad Manners’ early 80s ska version. That was followed by the aforementioned “Nessun Dorma” and a sea songs medley. They didn’t play “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man,” but “Hornpipe” which was also associated with Popeye cartoons, was done like “Hava Nagila,” where the tempo keeps accelerating. I’m sure this is nothing new, but as I was watching them play it slow to start, I was temporarily worried that they were going to keep it adagio (look at me remembering my musical terminology!) throughout. It did well enough that they were able to reprise it to get everyone standing and dancing. 

                           Their finale reminded me of why I’m not quite ready to leave England yet. There’s a tradition at shows like this one, and I experienced the same thing a couple of years ago playing a cruise ship when it was setting off. The festivities around it were very similar. There’s a triad of England Pride anthems, beginning with “Rule Britannia,” followed by “Jerusalem” and “Pomp And Circumstance,” and when the three are played together, something magical happens. I can’t pinpoint what it is, but somehow waving a flag and getting teary over your allegiance to your country doesn’t seem so phony and misplaced. Maybe it’s just that the tunes have more heart, more passion,  than “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” Britain’s tunes make me well up with tears where America’s tunes make me ill up with vomit. To me, all that “God Bless America” says is “love it or leave it.”

                            Which is not WHY I left it, but there is the fact that during this simple, unaffected show of pride in country, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin led a right-wing rally (though they would claim it was for ALL people) at the Washington Mall, and that on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Glenn Beck spoke from that same spot on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King delivered his historic address. OK, maybe that growing conservative movement is not why I left America, but it’s why in spite of things not going as well for me as they once did here, this country has shown itself to be a much more United kingdom than those supposedly United states are. I’m a lot more comfortable with that.  Plus I’ve got health care!     




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