Gramophone's Editor introduces the April issue of the magazine
Great public architecture generally expresses eloquently the society which builds it. For much of modern history, it was about the glorification of God. In more recent centuries, politics and power became the stronger focus: think of the mercantile grandeur of the Low Countries, the triumphant classical confidence of Paris, or, in Victorian Britain, of the extraordinary expressions of civic pride that are the industrial powerhouses of Manchester and Birmingham. In the post-war period, a more egalitarian ethos led to cultural complexes coming to express a city’s sense of self. This was the age of the Royal Festival Hall, Lincoln Center and Finlandia Hall. But more recently, at a time when classical music feels forced to fight its corner for coverage, it seems remarkable – though gratifying – that the concert hall continues to occupy the pinnacle of public architectural ambition.
This year’s Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, last year’s Philharmonie de Paris, and, prior to that, countless examples from Singapore to Gateshead – new concert halls are among the most creative, compelling and prominent public buildings being produced today. Most are now built with excellent acoustics. Openness to new audiences is invariably a key consideration. And with the growth in live-streaming, concert venues throughout the world are playing an ever-increasing role in how all of us experience music-making, wherever we are. They serve as bold beacons, both for music and for a world which values art and wants to ensure that the past is part of the present, and that the future is nurtured with confidence.
But there’s another kind of building that excites me even more, because its faith in the future is even more explicit: that of educational institutions. This month I visited Birmingham for a hard-hat tour of the new Conservatoire building. Sited in a district full of new academic buildings, the £57m facility will feature a 500-seat concert hall, two smaller venues, 100 practice and rehearsal rooms, an organ studio and – to cheer every Gramophone reader – seven recording studios. It may not loom as large over the skyline as the epic Elbphilharmonie, but – as with all education institutions – its legacy, in terms of the seeds it sows, may potentially outlive anything bricks can build. Under Principal Julian Lloyd Webber’s leadership, the new Birmingham Conservatoire promises a fantastic future for the 131-year old institution and, more importantly, for the students destined to first cross its threshold in September. We wish it well.
And, speaking of fantastic futures, perhaps you’ll allow me to reflect on our own recent success. According to official figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation, Gramophone increased its circulation by 10 per cent in 2016, driven largely by a massive increase in subscriptions to our digital edition. In fact, our digital edition is now the highest-selling UK digital music magazine, of any musical genre. New concert halls, a new conservatoire and a growing Gramophone circulation – it all stems from the same thirst for classical music. So may I thank you all for your committed support – of Gramophone, yes, but most importantly, of this extraordinary art form of ours.
Gramophone's April 2017 issue is now available: find out more