A sensation in Southwark

Today (Saturday, August 10) we were up and on the road fairly early to get to Southwark, a district of London just on the south side of the Thames at the foot of London Bridge.  Southwark Cathedral is a very ancient site, with parts of it dating back to the 12th century.  For the Millennium celebrations in 2000, a massive renovation was carried out, with some areas of the medieval church enclosed in modern additions, a spacious Millennium Courtyard, meetings rooms and a gift shop.  There’s a fascinating cutaway archaeological view showing the many layers that exist under the present cathedral, all the way back to Roman times.

The OCYSO students, already dressed in their concert attire, scattered about to warm up, and then Maestro Wachs led them through a rehearsal to hear how they sounded in the welcoming Gothic nave of Southwark Cathedral.  The rest of us wandered around to view the many interesting elements of this beautiful place of worship, which only became a cathedral (the seat of a bishop) in 1905.  Its treasures include the wooden effigy of a knight from the late 13th century, and a chapel dedicated to the memory of John Harvard, founder of Harvard University.  I find particularly poignant, in these old churches, the grave or memorial markers of people who would otherwise never be known to us — in so many cases, it’s a husband or wife dying young, and sometimes numerous children dying in infancy or at very young ages.

But these shadows flew away as the orchestra began its concert.  Although it was well advertised, the verger told us that often, at this cathedral, people outside hear the music through the open doors and are attracted to come inside and sit and listen.  Indeed that seemed to be the case — as soon as OCYSO struck up “Sheherazade,” more and more audience members started wandering through the doors, until the nave seating was pretty much filled and people were standing around the side aisles.   This was a noontime Saturday concert at the peak of tourist season, so we were definitely one of the big tourist attractions in Southwark today.

The concert earned a long and enthusiastic standing ovation — Maestro Wachs later told the students it was probably the best concert they’ve ever played, and they did sound completely spectacular!

Afterward, everyone was given free time to wander in the Borough Market next to the church — there’s been a market there since medieval times, and it’s still a fresh gourmet foods, meat, fish and produce market to reckon with.  I stood in line at the Kappacasein stand — a maker of cheese sandwiches and raclette (a Swiss dish of melted cheese over potatoes and pickles) and bought the tastiest grilled cheese sandwich ever! Another stand was selling French black truffles and inviting one and all to lift the lid and sniff the magic.   There were fish stands with fish and shellfish straight off Cornish dayboats, fresh Angus beef, every color of egg imaginable, and rows and rows of fresh produce stands.  One could spend half a day or more there, but our next stop was the Tate Modern, one of Britain’s great museums, and a bit of free time there to wander the museum or see other sights in the area.

Next was a proper fish-and-chips dinner at the Hispaniola restaurant, which is located on an old Thames excursion boat moored across from the London Eye. Then, after a brief trip back to the hotel, our guides took us all on a walk through nighttime central London.  We strolled en masse (through masses of London revelers out on a Saturday night) to magnificent Trafalgar Square, and then to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.  After a little exploring and souvenir shopping, we walked back to collapse at the hotel after a long and very good day.  Tomorrow is our Royal Albert Hall experience and meeting Britain’s National Youth Orchestra!

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