Betsy Cook Weber
The London Blitz, Part 3 — A Christmas Spectacular
The Royal Choral Society at the Royal Albert Hall
The recipe: Take one large, volunteer chorus celebrating its 150th anniversary. Invite a good orchestra, a baritone soloist, and an engaging actress to accompany them. Insert a huge, 9,999-pipe organ. Add a helping of The Band of the Coldstream guards with their bearskin hats and herald trumpets. Decorate with copious numbers of Christmas lights, garlands, trees, and special lighting. Stir.
Place all of these elements inside the intimate confines of the 5,272-seat Royal Albert Hall, one of the world's most famous, breathtakingly Victorian concert houses. Add restaurants and bars within and without the venue ready to serve you before, during the interval of, and after the concert. Include restrooms that are easily accessible. (Hear that, Jones Hall?) What do you get? Christmas With the Royal Choral Society.
We arrived early, having made pre-show dinner reservations at one of the Royal Albert's restaurants, and presented our negative Covid tests to the usher. A negative test was required of every attendee. The halls were festooned with candid photos of famous performers and notables who have performed or spoken at the Royal Albert. We saw the Beatles, Joshua Bell, and Albert Einstein to name three of thousands. After a lovely meal, we walked down some stairs to our box. It sounds fancy, and it is, but it is not expensive. The cost was less than half the price of a good ticket to any of Houston's big performing groups.
The Royal Choral Society, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, herald trumpets, and conductor, Richard Cooke, filed onstage, and with a flourish, everyone stood and sang "God Save the Queen." I was tempted to sing "My Country Tis of Thee" just to be ornery, but, honestly, I was feeling pretty British at that point, so I faked my way through the "real" lyrics.
Conductor, Richard Cooke began with a tirade, delivered in his elegant British accent, against The Telegraph. That morning, they had published a piece describing the RCS as "now defunct." (I think Mr. Cooke was justified in taking umbrage. The Choral Society is singing 16 concerts during the weeks before Christmas. Hardly defunct.) He then moved into some pretty funny patter, and we all put "defunct" out of our minds. The concert was beautifully conceived, consisting almost entirely of Christmas carol arrangements, one after another.
First half of the concert — beautiful carol after beautiful carol
The singing was not always refined, but it was always delivered with energy and joy. The orchestra played two Nutcracker movements, and actress Baroness Flotilla Benjamin delivered two Christmas poems. The highlight for me was the herald trumpets. Every time they filed up into the loft and and slowly and ceremoniously lifted their instruments, I got goosebumps. Rick Weber's favorite moments, however, were the sing-alongs, and he and the crowd sang with touching gusto. We choral folks forget that most of the world's population don't get to sing the way we do!
The Coldstream Guards herald trumpets
This Christmas recipe should be served every year until the end of time. Thank you, Royal Choral Society, for an absolutely splendid evening, and best wishes for another, un-defunct, 150 years of music-making!