Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Often Think It's Comical...

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from South Bank promenade along the Thames       ©2011 Steve Ember

As I write this, my studio monitors across the room are reproducing the robust London/Decca sound of the New Symphony Orchestra of London, being conducted by Sir Isidore Godfrey, in the majestic music of Sir Arthur Sullivan that opens Act Two of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe,” one of my top faves among the G&S comic operas.

The setting is the Houses of Parliament, at night, and in a moment the imposing baritone Kenneth Sandford of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, as Private Willis, will sing “When all night long, a chap remains on sentry go to face monotony,” in which the self described “intellectual chap” will muse upon matters of British politics. W.S. Gilbert took some deliciously pithy playful jabs at the Hereditary Peerage in “Iolanthe,” one of my favorites being Private Willis’ commentary, containing the lines

When in that house MPs divide,
If they’ve a brain and cerebellum too,
They’ve got to leave that brain outside,
And vote just as their leaders tell ‘em too…

Just imagine the fun Sullivan would have had writing about present day U.S. politics…

If you’ve read any of my own musings about music and photography, you’ll not be surprised that, on this magical first night in London earlier this month, this particular music was on that “gray matter gramophone” that often plays behind my eyes and between my ears when I’m out with a camera in some inspiring location.

Actually, on this particular night, the senses were so engaged that the GMG would have had to be (apologies to fellow audiophiles!) a multi-record changer. For vying for attention were numerous themes by Elgar…Pomp and Circumstance (and not just No.1)…the stirring final movement of the Enigma Variations…the opening strains of the Second Symphony…and, of course, the Triumphal March from “Caractacus!”

Oh yes, and a lush instrumental from the early stereo era called “In London, In Love.”

So what were you expecting from ol’ Thunderflakes, Lady Gaga?

You see, while this was not my first visit to London, it was a very special visit, in terms of what occasioned the trip, but also to find – on my very first night – such inviting conditions for photography.  Hard not to be inspired by such a scene at any time of the day, but on a night with dampened pavement and just enough moisture in the air, oh, my goodness…I’m living right!

And while not my first visit to London, it was the first involving night shooting…and falling in love with the city, both for its vibrancy and the friendliness I found in the people I met there.

I would not call this visit extensively planned, as the decision to go was made literally days before the trip, but I was intent on making it very special, in terms of music and theater.

Surrounded by applause...Charles Dutoit and the RPO
So, for the first night – knowing I’d somehow rise above the jet lag – I’d reserved a seat at the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre for the Royal Philhamonic concert. Irresistible program for my first time attending a concert by this wonderful orchestra, including my first time seeing Charles Dutoit conduct…and my first time for a live performance anywhere of Samuel Barber’s ineffably beautiful Violin Concerto, superbly played on this occasion by Canadian violinist James Ehnes.  And when a concert opens with Berlioz’ “Le Corsaire” Overture and devotes its second half to Tchaikovsky’s powerful Symphony No.5, well, guess you could say this concertgoer was in a state of sheer delight.

And what a lovely modern concert hall. Oh yes, and the bar provides panoramic views across the Thames, so even the interval was enjoyable.

On left-handed applauding…

The things one learns from being observed…After the concert, a very nice lady who was sitting next to me asked me if I knew I applauded “left-handed.”  Must say, I’ve done a lot of applauding in my time, but never gave much thought about whether I was doing it left-handed or right-handed.  I mean, don’t you just slap both hands together and make noise? Apparently not. At least, not in my case.

Margaret pointed out that I was definitely attacking my right palm with my left hand!  Perhaps not a surprise, as I’m left handed, although I’m told I do everything – except write – like a right-hander.  Anyhow, she said she noticed because she is left handed as well.  Well, y’know what they say about us “creative” people ;-)

Always nice to learn something new and unexpected, but especially so to have a friendly conversation struck up by a stranger on what will be remembered as a truly magical first night in London.

On rehearsing the “Schub”…

 Found myself smiling at a sculpture of the great conductor Sir John Barbirolli just outside the concert hall.   

Story goes, Barbirolli was rehearsing one of his English orchestras for a concert that included symphonies by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert, when the concertmaster, a violinist with a very thick Italian accent, asked “Eh, Maestro, we gonna rehearsa da Moz’?"

Barbirolli, without missing a beat, said, “No, my friend, we gonna worka next on-a da Schub.’

After the concert, more magic…

 The London Eye looks across the Thames to the Houses of Parliament                                                     ©2011 Steve Ember

I had taken along a small tripod that would fit in one of the deep pockets of my trench coat when I checked it before the concert, in the event conditions proved conducive for some night photography after the concert, and was happy that I had done so as I reached the promenade that runs along the south bank of the Thames. Some intermittent drizzle had dampened the pavement, creating great foreground interest, and there was just enough moisture in the air to make the view across the river to the Houses of Parliament quite evocative. 

By now, I’m guessing I’d been up for perhaps 32 hours, adjusting for the time change and a two hour cat-nap I grabbed at the hotel before setting out for Southbank Centre. But I was so energized by the concert and the opportunity to do my first London-by-night shooting in such great conditions, sleep was definitely the last thing on my mind.

Golden Jubilee Bridge                                 ©2011 Steve Ember
A good thing, too. As I went up on the Golden Jubilee Bridge to check out the sight lines for more photos, I met two lively lassies from Scotland, and we decided to spend some time together. The intent was to find a quiet spot to chat, enjoy a drink and perhaps a late supper. So, off across the pedestrian bridge over the Thames to the Embankment and on past Charing Cross, in search of that quiet place. Well, the sought after quiet proved elusive, but we did wind up at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho. I’d known of this establishment for years and there was once again magic on this first night in London in discovering it…even more so enjoying it with new friends. 

Guess I finally got back to my hotel around 3 AM on Wednesday morning, and must say it felt good to tumble into bed.  Let’s see, started Monday morning at around eight East Coast time and hit the sack at 3 AM London time Wednesday.  So, adjusting for the five hour time-zone difference and deducting two hours nap time…how many hours awake was that?  Who’s counting!

As Noel Coward once told us in song, “London is a Little Bit of All Right!”

Photos and text ©2011 Steve Ember
I'll be making several of my London by Night and other images of London available as custom printed Photo Note Cards in time for the Holidays, as well as in archival gallery prints. For more details, please contact me at and to see higher definition versions, please use this link to my Foto-Community pages. Once there, just peruse the London folder for images as they are added.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home