Friday, March 14: After a more leisurely morning than the several previous, Marge, Grace and I set out to meet Suré at the agreed upon DLR (Docklands Light Rail) stop of Cutty Sark about 12:00 noon. The plan was for her to take us to Greg’s teaching digs at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in the heart of historic Greenwich. When we got to the station, turns out there was no sign of her, but instead a distinguished, white-haired, red-jacket gentleman was looking around every which way and, yes, it was Greg! Suré had been delayed, so the great man himself came to meet us. Thus began an afternoon exploring Greenwich, 5 miles east of London proper, and its environs.
Walking among the vast spaces and impressive buildings which for 200+ years had been ground-zero for all English naval operations and training — the English Baltimore, if you will — we were thrilled. The area called “Greenwich” is home to two large historic zones: the Old Royal Naval College, containing some 9 main buildings, right up against the Thames bank — plus more recently-added structures and attractions like the Cutty Sark sailing ship, the greatest tea clipper of her day, now on display in drydock — and Greenwich Park, some 4 or 5 times larger in area than the naval college, and containing most notably the Royal Observatory Greenwich, with its prime meridian at 0 hr 0′ 0″ longitude slicing the building in half.
As Suré joined us, Greg led a tour of his building at TLC – offices, studios, practice rooms, music library, etc., all of which were impressive. There are ca. 800 music students altogether at Trinity Laban, and one gets the feeling of a very active, high-level undertaking going on all round…students of every stripe and persuasion and performance medium hard at work.
After the TLC tour, we headed to lunch as guests of our host in a lovely, cafeteria-like campus restaurant, set in the original naval officers’ mess. Very historic.
From here Greg had to leave us for rehearsal, and Sure had her own personal fish to fry, so we said goodbye to them and planned our remaining time. We were told repeatedly NOT TO MISS the Painted Hall of the University of Greenwich in the next building — so we didn’t! It’s a hall with a spectacularly decorated ceiling, in (I would say), English baroque style. But the ceiling is so ornate and detailed that rolling carts with concave mirrors on them are provided so that the viewer can look DOWN to look UP! Very helpful and smart.
From here we headed to the National Maritime Museum, in the next building up the hill. It is packed with seafaring exhibits, all done in the modern, interactive method museums seem to prefer today. The most poignant exhibit in the place is the bullet-holed coat and blood-stained hose worn by Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, along with a 3.5 min. audio-visual loop representing Nelson’s last moments, just as news of the English victory reached him.
The NMM also was showing a special exhibit of — once again — the paintings of JMW Turner, including a painting of his Marge had been hoping to see for a long time: The Fighting Timeraire. So we sprang for the additional charge and went through the exhibit, which WAS very worthwhile.
Our last stop for the afternoon was the Royal Observatory Greenwich, internationally recognized as the home of time. Every place on earth is measured from there. Of course it was fun to straddle the prime meridian, the line between the eastern and western hemispheres, with one foot in the east and the other in the west!
Even more impressive than the prime meridian, however, was the amazing story of John Harrison and his four clocks — H1, H2, H3 and H4 — each one more accurate than the last, in an attempt to win the £20,000-prize for creating a clock accurate enough to navigate the world’s seas without error — and concomitant loss of ships, men and cargo in the bargain! This Harrison did do, with his H4 timepiece, and won the £££, but it took him 45 years, AND he died only 3 years afterwards. But his work played a HUGE roll in the worldwide maritime dominance and trade success England enjoyed as master of the seas for so many years.
After a leisurely stroll through the remainder of the park, and back to our hotel, we were set to head out for an evening composition competition at a place called the Cello Factory, close to the Waterloo station. Gregory Rose was conducting the finals of an in-house competition in the Trinity Laban composition department in which 5 pieces were to be presented and a winner chosen from them. The inspiration for the pieces was a pre-compositional set of World War I English war propaganda posters. It was quite an interesting hour, hearing the pieces and then trying to second-guess the judges. Turns out the winner was the only female in the group (both judges were also male), so no one could accuse them of bias. After the announcement there was a lovely little wine reception. Suré and Helen, Gregory’s wife, were also there. Really a lovely occasion, and great to see Greg conduct. He is a total natural, of course, meeting every challenge and rhythmic difficulty with ease and aplomb, never missing a cue or dropping a beat. I complimented him on that afterwards, and he said simply: “It’s what I do.” Truly.
Quickly thereafter we left the Cello Factory in the dust, since tomorrow (Saturday) was a BIG day, what with the trip and concert in Avebury village and then Phantom of the Opera that night back in London.