The Observer have a full-page spread on the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykhavik (pictured below). There are a handful of pictures. That’s enough for me to set my heart pumping faster.
Reading Rowan Moore’s review, I’m reminded of one of the present-day contradictions in the classical music performance world. On the one hand – evidenced by my involvement in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s intimate pub gig on 8 September in the Star of Kings, Kings Cross, London – classical music bands, festivals and venues are looking for new ways to hook new, younger audiences in. The thinking is that we meet them on their terms, staging events in surroundings they feel more at home in. Or, if it’s not a venue, then it’s relaxing the etiquette so that things are quite so stiff and starchy. Everyone needs to feel welcome. Let’s all loosen up a bit.
I totally go along with that. My personal mission is to share the thing I love with those around me, just like my University friend Pete did when he introduced his massive record collection with me soon after we first became friends.
But at the same time as that, there’s another aspect to classical music performance which is as appealing to me as a concert goer as the music itself. It’s the venue.
The very thing which we think might possibly be offputting to new audiences – the venue – is the very thing which makes my heart race. And it’s not just the interior of the concert hall which widens the eyes, but the approach to the building, it’s surroundings and the areas outside the concert hall which add to the whole experience.
My personal favourite – and most resonating example – is the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank. I fell in love with the concrete chique and seductive austerity glamour the first time I attended a concert there. And, every time I go back there it’s not long before the generous public spaces both inside and outside the building lull me into believing that yes, I really am hip and groovy even if the clothes I wear suggest otherwise.
The Festival Hall is home. Any band could play hideously out of tune, or perform woefully under-rehearsed and it wouldn’t make any difference. The walk over Hungerford Bridge from Embankment tube to the Royal Festival Hall has already got me hyped up. There’s the Skylon restaurant – the location chosen for two of my birthday celebrations – to dream and reminisce about. Book stalls to browse. The National Theatre to consider visiting. And the promise of a concert to hear.
Even if I haven’t got a ticket, I know it’s somewhere I can go to tap into free wifi. I can relax or focus, whichever is necessary. It’s at the Festival Hall I can just ‘be’.
You’d think classical music would be all about the music. The venue should be incidental to the music. It’s not. The venue – and it’s surrounding area – plays an integral part in my mental preparation (or rather, excitement) before the live music event which has been my touchstone for the past twenty-five years.
No surprise then, that seeing pictures of the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik gets me excited. It looks stunning. The interior of the concert hall is rich and luxurious. Pictures I’ve seen on the web make me think of the cocoon like qualities of the Barbican Concert Hall in London when the doors are closed. Soft seats. Polished parque floors. It’s enough to make me want to book my flights to Iceland this minute.
The public spaces outside the hall enticingly grand. This is a location I want to go to and somewhere where I assume the acoustic qualities will be just as indulgently satisfying.
I don’t deny anyone classical music. There is no etiquette. There are no rules. But, for me the music is – as ridiculous as this might seem – enhanced by the venue. And that extends to more than just the interior of the hall. And the thrill I experience every time I go to a concert in the same thing I want other people to experience too.