Trombonist Lyman McBride checks in with a report from Curtis on Tour’s stop in London
What’s it like riding in a London cab? Three of us enter the back seat, two in the regular seats you would expect to see in the back of a car, and me in a chair that pulls down like the handicapped chairs on the “L” in Philly. We shout to the driver, “take us to Cadogan Hall!” The driver apparently has no idea where it is, but in London, when people get in your cab, you drive. We’re immediately moving. We keep trying to explain where the hall is, and he heads generally in the right direction. At each stop he asks other cab drivers about it. At a certain point the cab carrying the other half of our load-in crew pulls up on the side. “Hey, have you figured out where this Cadogan Hall is?” barks our cab driver. The response just as quick: “Yeah I’m just lookin’ it up right now. It looks like it’s at the bottom of Sloane Square.” The light turns green and we are off again. We reach our destination in no time, we exit the cab and pay, and we are at the hall for the rehearsal.
What’s it like entering a museum in London? I can’t speak for the British Museum, or any of the other famous museums. I can’t even speak for the Victoria and Albert Museum on any day other than the Friday of our concert. The museum stays open late on Fridays and apparently has a strong following. I only have 20 minutes before I must return to Cadogan Hall for our concert. I dodge people perched on the steps and enter the doors, finding myself immediately engulfed in sound. In front of me is a string of people handing out maps and pamphlets and checking bags. Patrons pointing, and figuring out where to go. And on top of it all jazz-rock music blares over the loudspeakers. I enter and turn left. As I pass a few exhibits rather quickly, a sign, “Raphael,” catches my eye. I enter and a high ceiling towers above me. Gigantic paintings on the wall stare down from 20 feet up. To my right are 30 people on yoga mats with an instructor at the head leading a class. I smile and slowly look around. The room is a collection of cartoons—preliminary paintings—that Raphael used to design tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. The content is the Biblical book of the Acts of the Apostles, which my wife and I are currently studying. Later, when we talk online, I realize that Raphael’s vision of these familiar scenes has changed my own.
This experience feels positive to me. I have often thought about the presentation of classical music to modern audiences. Do you think the Victoria and Albert Museum would be nearly so well frequented if you had to show up exactly at 8 p.m. for a two-hour tour of a single exhibit? During the tour you are not allowed to talk, take pictures, eat anything, drink anything, move loudly, or laugh. So much as coughing will draw scornful faces. You are expected to look at the pictures and read your program which has some information about them, and like it. I have often thought of a concert hall as a museum for these classic and great musical artworks. But our presentation is far too stuffy. We need to continue moving in the direction of more yoga nights, more movie nights, more accessible lectures before and after, more talking during performances, more eating and drinking. People should enjoy the experience 21st-century style, not have to step back into a 150-year-old experience.
Trombonist Lyman McBride entered Curtis in 2016 and holds the Susan and Frank Mechura Annual Fellowship.