To the Tower! (And St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey and a London Musical…)i


Group photo (with Chapman University pennants) on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral.


The iconic dome of St. Paul’s, architect Christopher Wren’s masterpiece (constructed from 1675-1708) and a symbol of London.


A pose and smiles before entering the Tower of London.


Maestro Wachs and another London symbol: Tower Bridge (completed in 1894).


The White Tower, in the Tower of London complex, dates back to 1097. when it was the tallest building in all of London (90 ft.).


Renzo Piano’s futuristic skyscraper “The Shard” offers a striking contrast to medieval buildings within the Tower of London fortress.


Lining up to see the Crown Jewels.


Show us your fish and chips!


Detail of angel carving outside Westminster Abbey (no photos allowed inside the Abbey….)



That fish and chips lunch was yummy!



The Cloisters of Westminster Abbey.  The tower in the background, from which the Union Jack flies, is the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament.

Wednesday was an extremely active and busy day for OCYSO, and it’s just about midnight and we all need to be up at 5:30 a.m. to get on the road to Bristol (where the orchestra’s first concert takes place tomorrow), So I will just do a brief recap and hopefully get a few photos up. Today was a sightseeing day — following our first breakfast at the hotel (big breakfast buffet with everything from buns and cereal to hot eggs and that good British bacon) we boarded our buses for a drive to iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral. Well, following one quick detour by the Bernstein bus back to the hotel when it was discovered that one student (who shall remain nameless here) had overslept and missed the bus. (A roll call system is now in place…)

We paid a quick visit to St. Paul’s, Christopher Wren’s famed masterwork whose dome stood so inspiringly throughout the worst of the German bombings during WWII. Then it was on to the Tower of London, where we had a fine tour by our guides and then free time to explore — most of us got into the line to see the Crown Jewels, which were, of course, an extraordinary sight (no photos allowed, of course, but who can ever forget seeing the Cuillenen II diamond, as big as a lemon, set into the Queen Mother’s crown, or the astonishing array of rubies, emeralds, sapphires and pearls set into the Imperial Crown of State?

Down on the Thames riverbank outside the Tower is one of the engineering “jewels” of the late Victorian era, Tower Bridge, which has become of the best-known symbols of London.  Also very visible on the skyline across the river: architect Renzo Piano’s very futuristic-looking skyscraper, “The Shard,”now the tallest building in London,  and London’s quirky City Hall, rounded and slightly off-center.  It all makes for a very interesting skyline indeed, with these modern buildings soaring into the same photos as the medieval portions of The City and the Tower of London.

We gathered everyone onto the buses again for the drive to Westminster for a guided tour of another London icon, Westminster Abbey, which took everyone’s breath away with its lofty nave and amazing range of architectural styles.  Many of the students remembered it as the wedding cathedral of William and Kate, but were very impressed to see the who’s who of people in British history either interred or memorialized there, from Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots to Dickens, Darwin, Kipling, Austen, Handel, Shakespeare (memorial only) and so many more.  Of course the Abbey was extremely crowded with sightseers — it’s August and high tourist season, so we really don’t have any sights to ourselves.  Well, except for those of us who dashed across the street from the Abbey to the huge early-1900s Methodist Central Hall, where, in the basement, there’s a lovely, light and airy cafe, with great coffee — the perfect place to rest our feet for a few minutes.  One of the best-kept secrets in London!

Our buses then took us to our evening restaurant, Belgo Centraal, a Belgian eatery where we had a filling meal of bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes; with a pasta option for the vegetarians).   Then it was on to our London theater experience — a rousing and very fun performance of the musical “Matilda,” based on Roald Dahl’s beloved and sassy book, which has to be a shoo-in for the Best Musical Tony Award coming up.  From the theater, it was but a short walk back to our hotel, where I’m now blogging and downloading today’s photos while everyone else is in bed.  Which I must do, too!  See you tomorrow with a report on our Bristol Cathedral concert (about a 2-hour drive west of London –our longest road trip) and our visit to Stonehenge…!

Here we are in beautiful London


On the bus in London!


The famous statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus.


The graceful curve of Regent Street.


Maestro Wachs on Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery and church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields behind him.


A lovely day to hang out in Trafalgar Square.


Snoozing as the bus passes Big Ben.  (It was a LONG jet-laggy day!)


New Scotland Yard from the bus.


Group ph0to in front of Buckingham Palace.


Buckingham Palace, home of the Queen in London.


Beautiful view from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall to Westminster Palace (the Houses of Parliament).


Taking selfies in front of Buckingham Palace.


Big Ben through the London Eye!

Our Air New Zealand LAX-London Heathrow direct flight seemed to take a shorter than usual time (about 9 hours — enough for some to grab a snooze and others to watch several movies). Before we knew it, we were touching down in London, wending our long way through passport control, picking up our luggage and instruments, meeting our great KI Concerts guides, and clambering aboard our two buses (nicknamed “Rimsky” and “Bernstein” for, well, repertory reasons!) for the drive into the city. Today’s weather was fantastic — last week it apparently was sweltering hot (in the 90s!), but today it was simply a lovely August day, in the 70s with a slight breeze and a few clouds, perfect for walking around. The idea was to keep the slightly jet-lagged group moving and seeing interesting things so no one would fall asleep and perpetuate the jet lag. And, for the most part, the plan worked.

We drove into the center of London — through really the poshest sections of town (Kensington, Mayfair, Soho, etc.) and dropped everyone off in Piccadilly Circus for two hours to get lunch on their own and to walk around, see some sights and acclimate. Little groups of students set off together to explore and eat. Maestro Wachs and I set off walking and took in a wide circuit that included Regent Street, Savile Row, Carnaby Street, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, St. James Place and on back — with a lovely stop for coffee and cake at pretty little Cafe Concerto — whose logo, appropriately enough, is a conductor waving a baton. We rendevouzed with the entire group back in Piccadilly Circus, and boarded the buses to head to Buckingham Palace, passing such sights as No. 10 Downing Street (home of the prime minister; well gated), the Horse Guards, the somber Cenotaph to British war dead, and on to the Palace.

The Queen was not in residence (she’s up at Balmoral), but famed Buckingham Palace looks just as it does in all the footage of royal weddings and other events, and many of the students agreed it was a little surreal to be standing in front of it in real life. We took a quick group photo in front of it, then walked up to the elaborate iron gates to peer in at the military guards in their red coats and bearskin hats. Then it was back on the buses for a splendid drive with magnificent views of Parliament and Big Ben (although we were reminded that Big Ben is actually one of the bells inside, not the tower…) and the great observation wheel, the London Eye. We’ll be back to see more of those in a couple of days.

Finally, it was a very tired but happy ensemble that checked into the St. Giles Hotel in Bloomsbury and had our first dinner together in the Il Grasso Restaurant inside the hotel. As I type this, bed check and lights-out are happening, and I doubt there’ll be any dissenters. We’re all exhausted, but here we are in LONDON, and tomorrow is another big day (Tower of London and Westminster Abbey). More then, and hopefully we can dragoon some students into blogging their thoughts, too!

The takeoff!

The OCYSO brigade assembled at LAX on Monday afternoon for the first leg of the journey — the mass cattle call that’s always the case when a large group needs t0 check in and get all their luggage taken care of  (with the extra added joy of musical instruments to get onto the plane).  Air New Zealand handled it all with aplomb, though, and soon we were all on our Boeing 777 and in the air.  Here are a few pix from LAX. ocyso_02 ocyso_03 ocyso_04 ocyso_05 ocyso_06

We’re off to London!

IMG_1221In just a few hours, the students and staff of OCYSO will be taking off from LAX — next stop: Trafalgar Square, Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus!   We’ll be blogging the trip as we go, so follow us here and get ready for lots of amazing news about the music we play, the people we meet and the sights we see.   We’ll be having the students post their thoughts, too, so look for some enthusiastic guest bloggers as we go!

Here are some photos from the intensive rehearsals the orchestra held over the past few days.  Are we ready for London?  WE ARE!!  See you there!!OCYSO_1 ocyso_2 ocyso_3 ocyso_4 ocyso_5

Tour Info

Click here to download Tour Booklet (PDF)
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UK2August 8, 2013
Concert at Bristol Cathedral, Bristol

August 9, 2013
Concert with the South London Jazz Orchestra at All Saint’s Church West Dulwich, London

August 10, 2013
Concert at Southwark Cathedral, London


UKAugust 7, 2013
London tour passing St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Bank of England, and Tower Bridge with entrance to the Tower of London to view the Crown Jewels then a guided tour of Westminster Abbey and in the evening, attend the West End show, Matilda

August 8, 2013
Explore Stonehenge en route to Bristol

August 9, 2013
Enjoy a scenic cruise along the River Thames and ride on the London Eye for panoramic city views

August 10, 2013
Time to explore London’s famous marketplace, Covent Garden

August 11, 2013
Attend educational outreach program by the National Youth Orchestra of GB/Royal Philharmonic Society and in the evening attend Proms 2013 – World Premiere performance by the National Youth Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall

August 12, 2013
Explore the Royal Borough of Windsor and Oxford guided walking tour including Exeter College, Radcliffe Square, Trinity College, New College, High Street with entrance to Christ Church