Music venues can become powerful symbols

Martin CullingfordMon 26th January 2015

How do venues - like Paris's new hall - build bonds with audiences?

Paris has a new concert hall. Architect Jean Nouvel’s creation rises out of the north-east corner of the city, a thrilling new landmark alongside the ring road. (You can read more about it in a special feature in the February issue of Gramophone, available now). It hasn’t been an uncontroversial project, but the people behind it are bold about their stated aim of reaching out to the audiences of the future, both figuratively and (thanks to its location in a less expensive part of the city) literally. At this tragic moment in Paris’s history, something so passionately seeking to draw increasing and diverse numbers of its inhabitants into the universal and life-enhancing world of music could prove a powerful beacon of hope. 

Venues often become symbols, sometimes only emerging as such over time. To visit Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonie now, sitting in the middle of a rejuvenated and united capital, it’s easy to forget that this hall, which so radically rethought the very nature of an auditorium along democratic ideals, was for many years in an isolated area metres from one of the most destructive symbols of separation of the 20th century. 

London’s Royal Festival Hall dates from the Festival of Britain, a celebration of a more prosperous and peaceful society after the devastation of the Second World War. Even so, its place in the affections of a generation of young Londoners has been significantly enhanced since its redevelopment last decade.  

Whether the Sage Gateshead, or LA’s Walt Disney Hall or many others, the combination of inspiring architecture, welcoming public areas, unexpected locations and innovative programming can attract new people to an art form. This is equally true of many museums and galleries. Visiting venues such as these can become not merely the end of a journey, but the beginning of one. Furthermore, that some of the most thrilling pieces of contemporary architecture are the preserve of public projects might not always come cheaply, but does speak well of an age.  

What’s fascinating, too, is when a recording venue earns such a status. Think of Abbey Road – it would be hard to make too strong a case for the brick building bolted behind a Georgian townhouse, but has any other studio an equal emotional tug? Many a suburban church, or municipal hall such as that in Walthamstow, or the much-missed Kingsway Hall, has found a powerful place in the collector’s consciousness. 

That these venues have also become symbols is primarily down to the brilliance of the music made within them. But beyond that, it is also because recording has allowed music lovers, wherever they live, to ‘step into them’. Radio has done likewise to a certain extent, but the ability of the internet to allow venues to offer real audiences a virtual front-of-house seat has transformed this. Online streaming by the 

Berlin Philharmonic, the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne and others has brought halls alive for music lovers throughout the world more vividly than reputation or radio alone could ever do. That the Philharmonie de Paris will live-stream substantial numbers of its concerts, for free, and then offer them in an archive, will further enhance its mission of outreach, and could potentially build a bond with audiences who may, or even may not, set foot in the hall.

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is the Editor and Publisher of Gramophone.

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