My last full day in London was to be filled with other meetings, all of them pleasurable and/or surprising. First stop was to see our friends at Music Sales on Berners Street, the publishing group, and where several of us enjoyed a nice coffee and conversation.
Next stop was to meet violinist Philippa Mo, one half of the Retorica Duo who have released a fine disc of works on the NMC label. I think we got somewhere in putting together a commission for me to compose a work for the group, and I was able to pass on some other works for the violin and also for her clarinet playing husband, who I was to hear and meet after the LSO concert that night at the Barbican. The group is eager to perform in the States and I shared a few contacts in New York.
Next stop was a terrific lunch with Chandos Records’ head Ralph Couzens, one of my favorite folks. We can spend a lot of time laughing and discussing music.
A quick dash back to my room to put on a tie and then out into the sun again. Gail, who wasn’t far from Holborn where I happened to be, picked me up in a cab and we went to Sadie and Lana’s school, where Mark was collecting them. Directly behind the Barbican, their park and playground would be the envy of many a Brooklyn parent, and I’m no exception. I really miss my family.
Ralph and Paul Westcott showed up and we walked east to meet the legendary music critic Edward Greenfield in his home in Spitalfields. Ted has written for the Guardian and Gramophone for some sixty years and regaled us with stories of being in Aldeburgh when Snape Maltings burned down, meeting Britten and Bernstein, the atmosphere of the Kremlin in the 1960s, and more. Paul kept the champagne flowing and gave me a tour of the historic flat, five floors of it. Ted surely has the largest collection of recordings I’ve ever seen and that may exist in the world, spread out among three floors. The thousands of LPs are catalogued by label and item number; CDs are in boxes sorted by composer, artist and compilation. Ted, in his easy chair, was easily surrounded by about a thousand CDs stacked up on tables, the floor, the piano and elsewhere. Several pointilistic portraits – of Walton, Sibelius, Brahms – stared down at us and decades of musical clutter.
The extremely kind Becky Lees hooked me up in a big way: tonight I would see Sir John Eliot Gardner lead the LSO in Stravinsky at the Barbican and in one of the great works of the 20th century’s first half: Oedipus Rex. Semi-staged and in semi-darkness, it was unbelievably powerful, stark and granitic, a musical object of great proportion and originality. Nice to discover a New York friend in the crowd, producer and record label owner Jeffrey Kaufman, in town with his wife on a big European holiday. A quick pint afterward.
I could conclude my tale by stating that I began to very slightly tire of cask-conditioned ales, and that I could barely finish my last one with Becky. But after saying goodbye I found myself starving in London at midnight. There is so little open at that hour and I was miles from my room with the Tube closed for the night. Fortunately, I found a little curry spot in Exmouth Market and got it to go.
Walking back just outside Tavistock Square I heard a loud shout coming from my left in the narrow bike lane there. I could turn just quick enough to see a dude on a bike crash into me, sending both of us flying. He was pretty scraped up; I felt I had perhaps sprained my finger and wrist if not both, and tore up my knees on the pavement. The juice I had went flying over both of us, but – and this is important – I didn’t spill a drop of curry. I hobbled back, ate and collapsed for two hours.
Early morning flights out of any London airport are a drag since the trains don’t run so I had to bite the bullet and hail a cab at 4:30AM. In the two hours since I went to sleep, London turned cold and rainy, which I suppose is how most people know it as did I. But this was an exceptionally successful trip, full of great music, weather, friendship and surprises. I’m grateful first to Klara for programming my work on her recital. I was very glad to take it and look forward to whatever happens next for me here.
— Sean Hickey