I saw Les Miserables again this weekend, in its 25th annivesary touring edition.
And once again I was enthralled and moved and amazed.
My first experience with Les Miz was on its first national tour. That red flag came out at the end of Act One, and I cried through intermission. And I kept tearing up during Act Two, with the ending just walloping me into full-out sobs. I didn’t talk all the way home in the ride with friends. And I didn’t say much the rest of the day.
Les Miz has never had that impact again, but yesterday, seeing it for the first time since London in 2005, I was moved and delighted. This new edition features some revised orchestrations, and a full orchestra. Hurrah and wow! And the vocal score has been revised a bit too, making for fuller sound and more chills. The big anthems filled the Fox, and then some. Goosebumps piled on goosebumps, and I felt that wonderful racing-heart that tells me I am in the thrall of something powerful.
Cambridge and Oxford are both formed of a group of colleges with powerful historical identities and constituencies, all working together to make a larger university. (American universities are often modeled on a similar structure, but with much stronger central administration, the divisions being set up for administration reasons, the reverse of the Oxbridge tradition.)
One of the few places one can see a Cambridge college without paying several pounds to enter is Trinity College, the college that schooled Isaac Newton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, A. E. Housman, and the Prince of Wales, to name a few illustrious alumni. I spent about 30 minutes in the antechapel on Thursday, looking at the tributes and plaques. Truth be told, I was really looking for William Wilberforce’s grave, one that I did not find. (Wilberforce, an early 19th-century British prime minister, is known for abolishing slavery in the British Isles.)
Had I not been returning to London for the LSO concert, I would have stayed in Cambridge much later and attended Evensong at King’s, then dashed down Trinity Street to St. John’s for a Eucharist for the Feast of St. Luke. I could also have attended Eucharist at Trinity, Evensong at Clare College, and at least three other services that day in Cambridge.
[Written on the flight back home, over the Atlantic.]
No one will argue that the UK has a richer history than the US. This is self-evident from the age of the two countries.
As I look back on my week in England, I’m suddenly aware of how much English choral history I touched this week, in various ways and at various places.
Let’s see if I can go in order.
Every day this week I walked over the graves of Orlando Gibbons, John Blow, William Croft, Henry Purcell and other chief musicians of Westminster Abbey. I heard on Monday an anthem by Purcell, his grave just a few yards from the Quire. Yesterday I heard the evening canticles by Gibbons, again just yards from where he is entombed.
The visit to the Foundling Museum yesterday found me walking up the same steps that Handel would have walked. And then I was inches away from being able to touch several of his manuscripts on display for all to see. And he’s buried at the Abbey too; I walked by his grave on Monday and Friday.
At Gloucester Cathedral, I sat in the Choir where several important British musicians have labored, including Herbert Brewer, Howells, Samuel S. Wesley, and Sumsion. The memorial windows in the Lady Chapel are lovely. Howells sat on the organ bench there for a time before striking out to London for study at the Royal College of Music.
I was at Ivor Gurney’s grave on Wednesday in the Twigworth churchyard.
But the best story about the Gloucester visit is this: Adrian took me to his home for our chat about Howells. On the way in he made certain I noticed the plaque on the outer wall, stating the Samuel S. Wesley had lived in that home. Then he had me look in the window of the drawing room in the front of the house. Seconds later I was in the house, looking at the same place where Wesley’s bed had been in his dying days, standing on the spot where he died. Then followed a story about Wesley’s ghost knocking from the wall a painting of the very Catholic The Dream of Gerontius, a story I fully believe.
Elgar figured prominently on Thursday with the LSO’s concert. Also on Thursday I walked the pavement that Ralph Vaughan William walked in his days at Cambridge in the late 1800s.
Of course I marked Howells’ 120th birthday on Wednesday with a quiet prayer at his grave at the Abbey, and I greeted him every day, just as I did RVW, as I walked by their graves in the Musician’s Aisle.