Going to but not necessarily participating in proceedings

When you take a journalling approach to blogging the frequency can taper off. And it has done here.

I’ve focussed a lot of attention on audio just recently whether that means actual editing, thinking about work, or imagining content. In fact, in recent weeks it feels like the audio stuff has gone into overdrive. No surprise then that the copy has taken a back seat.

On the one hand, the lack of actual writing about classical music might at first seem like evidence of a lack of committment to the art form. The reality (at least in my minds eye is entirely different).

Being part of the classical music world

That podcasting work – Donohoe, Cottis and Howard last week, plus a recording in front of an audience last night at the Barbican – has rooted me back in the classical music world like I was back in 1997. Gratifyingly, I don’t feel like an observer looking in. At least, not all the time.

Part of that is down to self-confidence. And that’s partly fuelled by having to constantly listen back to yourself and what others are saying. The process is more immediate when you’re listening back to audio (or video), compared to reading over copy.

But it’s also down to buildings.

Here’s the unexpected joy I’ve managed to identify just these past seven days. The thing we overlook. The thing marketers forget.

It is possible to imagine you’re experience a classical music or operatic experience without actually sitting in the auditorium and watching or listening.

This statement maybe anathema to the purists – that’s assuming that it makes sense. But I’ve found it reassuring these past few weeks. In the midst of a surprisingly busy day-to-day existence, I see how the classical music experience competes with my other everyday concerns, like establishing a business or paying the mortgage.

This isn’t a poor me story. It’s not a rant. But the reality is: I can’t get to as many concerts as a supposed classical music buff would like to. Other things get in the way. Budgets demand alternative closer-to-home activities.

Take this past Saturday.

Going but not participating

After a long walk from Lewisham to Canary Wharf me and an old University friend (University Music Society President ’97) meet up with other Music Society peers (and friends) Abigail and Sophie at the Royal Opera House fifth floor bar. The sun was low and the tourists scuttling around Covent Garden below us.

We drank rosé. We reminisced. We talked about concerts we’d played in. We talked about concerts other people had played. We talked about how good other people were at university. I thought about opera. I thought about how nice it might be to actually go to an opera instead of just interview people about them.

Basically, we just sat there in the Royal Opera House, sort-of-adjacent to the auditorium and enjoyed each others company. You know, like people who go to pubs where there’s a theatre on the top floor do. Going to but not necessarily participating in proceedings. There’s no shame in that, is there?

It’s quite nice really

I don’t see what the carping about the Royal Opera House’s strategy opening up of its social spaces is about other than a thinly veiled attacked on perceived elitism. People want to have a dig. Complaining about the price of a cup of tea seemed like an easy win.

What I saw was something different – opera-goers, shoppers and tourists converged on the top floor bar to natter, read and look over the London skyline. True, I didn’t buy the wine at our table. But the opportunity to ‘drop in’ on a venue in this way does much to make a cultural space feel like its for you, regardless of whether you’re there with a ticket or not.

The National Theatre has long made its public spaces open to the public during the day, so too the Royal Festival Hall (a condition, I understood, of receiving Arts Council Funding). Before I went self-employed, these buildings were only places I went to with a ticket. Now I go there to meet people. I like that.

Barbican 19/20

And yesterday, I recognised the same about the Barbican. By day it’s home to an army of freelancers, and by night a wide range of cultural visitors.

These venues – the Barbican, the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre, and even St Johns Smiths Square – are my present-day cathedrals.

Last night, at the Barbican Members Event, Alison Balsom said a similar thing about her relationship with the City of London estate.

She and I had already competed on stage (I was presenting the 19/20 season launch event) about our earliest Barbican experience – mine 30 years when I saw the National Youth Orchestra with Edward Downes, hers 3 years before that when she saw Hakan Hardenberger.

Since then Alison has studied at the next door Guildhall School, performed on the Barbican stage and the recently opened Milton Court on Silk Street.

The Barbican differs from all of those other venues I mentioned because of its grandiose space. The joy of such public venues is their cavenous spaces – a building that triggers the imagination as a result of being present in it.

The reality is that I can’t, unlike the man I met yesterday who I learned spent the equivalent of my monthly outgoings on an extensive range of concerts in the Southbank’s 19/20 season, spend a great deal of money on tickets.

As urgent as the live experience is, sometimes just being present in a venue’s public space’s is all I can spare.

And that’s OK. From time to time I will venture into to its beating heart. I promise. At all other times, I’ll happily spend a few quid (or allow others to) in its retail outlets in order to spend quality time with friends. It, and everything that goes on in and around it, is that important to me.

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