New Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp opens

Antwerp’s new concert hall boasts a lavish interior and superior acoustics, all for 60 million Euro. But its opening season lacks ambition.

The Royal Flemish Philharmonic’s brand-new concert venue Queen Elisabeth Hall opened its doors to the public for the first time last night.

The £60 million Euro (£50 million) venture sited next to Antwerp Train Station took four years to build, has a seating capacity for 2,500 who will, its hoped, revel in the concert hall’s superior acoustic qualities.

The stage area has capacity for a full scale symphony orchestra, boasting twelve lifts and enviable views from all over the auditorium. Twelve adjustable acoustic panels also make it a versatile venue. I particularly like the balcony seating stretching all the way toward the back of the auditorium affording fantastic views of the orchestra on stage.

deFilharmonie_KEZ 211103HR_credit Jesse Willems deFilharmonie

The promotional material shared with journalists yesterday is impressively unapologetic about the grandeur of the space. There is talk of luxury. Tradition is warmly embraced too. Magic will be created as a result, we are told.

It is an impressive sight. Designed by Manchester based architects  Simpson, Haugh & Partners, there are echoes of Kings Place in London and MUPA in Budapest. The cathedral-like interior will no doubt make for attentive listening: a lavish treat for audiences and musicians.

deFilharmonie_KEZ 121023HR_credit Jesse Willems deFilharmonie

The real test will no doubt be when the Emerson String Quartet visit for their concert on 12 March 2017, and a guest spot for the New York Philharmonic on 23 March next year. Until then the resident orchestra – the Royal Flemish Philharmonic – works its way through a cautious series of concerts featuring familiar classical and romantic repertoire. It’s worth noting that the current season is a legacy programme. The new artistic director Henk Swinnen’s (formerly Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva) programming will come into effect from 2018-19 season onwards.

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The opening of the hall is accompanied by a re-branding opportunity. For the most part it works. The posters are striking. Composers, emotions and aspirations intertwine to project the Queen Elisabeth Hall as a quality destination where transformational experiences can be had.

Interestingly, the Royal Flemish Philharmonic have also seen the opportunity to articulate their vision for the organisation, most notably redefining the orchestra as a cultural institution which seeks to partner-up with other organisations in Antwerp and beyond.

deFilharmonie_KEZ 121015HR_credit Jesse Willems deFilharmonie

The growing trend to label concerts with emotion appears to have made its way to Belgium. We’re seeing it a lot more in promotional print in the UK – a way of appealing to the uninitiated with a pithy phrase that sums-up the experience they’re likely to have in the concert. For example, a concert at Queen Elisabeth Hall featuring Mahler 5 is woefully under-titled with the word “Spectacular”. Similarly, Leila Josefowicz’s performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto is billed as ‘playing on the emotions’. Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto is nauseatingly titled: “The Aching Beauty of Rachmaninov”.

deFilharmonie_KEZ 21148HR_credit Jesse Willems deFilharmonie

I’m not entirely convinced this has the effect the marketeers necessarily think it does, drawing on the clickbait tendencies seen in the digital space and running a high risk of appearing like you’re dumbing-down a work of art. But, on the flip-side I see concerts in the programme repeated which, although perhaps not an innovative idea, seems like a simple and potentially effective way of increasing audience reach.

Plan in advance and you can secure an hour-long return flight from London to Antwerp for £80. A connecting service to central station (next to which is the Queen Elisabeth Hall) makes this quicker to get to than Cardiff or Manchester. Stay overnight and its effectively a weekend break with a concert. Not a bad idea for what appears like quite a lavish interior.

A full list of concerts at the Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp is available on Royal Flemish Philharmonic website

 

 

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