Richard Mor­ri­son

To re­vi­talise clas­si­cal mu­sic, build fine venues

BBC Music Magazine - - CONTENTS - Richard Mor­ri­son is chief mu­sic critic and a colum­nist of The Times

If I had a hun­dred quid for each time some­one in the past 100 years had pro­claimed the death of live mu­sic, I could pay for a new con­cert hall my­self. And claim the nam­ing rights! Mmm, the Mor­ri­son Hall has a nice ring to it – at least in my ears. Whether mu­si­cians would en­joy play­ing in a venue named af­ter a critic is another mat­ter.

But enough of im­prob­a­ble whimsy and back to the main point. When the gramo­phone first be­came pop­u­lar, just over a cen­tury ago, gloomy mu­si­cians said it would kill live mu­sic mak­ing. Sim­i­lar je­re­mi­ads were is­sued a few years later when the BBC started broad­cast­ing mu­sic: why would peo­ple pay money to go to con­cert halls when they could crouch round the wire­less and hear or­ches­tras for free?

The same fears were voiced with each sub­se­quent tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance – stereo, in-car cas­sette play­ers, CDS, ipods and, more re­cently, stream­ing ser­vices and ‘dig­i­tal con­cert halls’. Now we have the whole of mu­sic avail­able on­line, we are warned, con­cert halls will in­evitably empty and au­di­ences grow more and more ‘grey’ un­til they dis­ap­pear.

Which, I’m glad to say, is com­plete hor­licks. It’s the peo­ple staying home watch­ing telly who are get­ting greyer. The av­er­age age of a BBC TV viewer, we were told last month, is 61. Mean­while, new con­cert halls are springing up ev­ery­where. In the past cou­ple of years I have re­ported on the open­ing of two in Paris, the fab­u­lous (if also fab­u­lously over-bud­get) Elbphil­har­monie in Ham­burg, the beau­ti­fully re­built hall in An­twerp and the spec­tac­u­lar, all-pur­pose new Opera House in down­town Dubai (which has just hosted a cut­down ver­sion of the BBC Proms).

Paris’s Phil­har­monie and Ham­burg’s Elbphil­har­monie were old-style ‘grands pro­jets’, funded by enor­mous state sub­si­dies. By con­trast, the £250m cost of the Dubai Opera was met en­tirely by one pri­vate de­vel­oper, Emaar, in re­turn for be­ing al­lowed to build huge res­i­den­tial tow­ers and ho­tels in the same district. The point is not so much where the money comes from. It’s that gov­ern­ments and pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions alike are will­ing to fi­nance new clas­si­cal mu­sic venues be­cause they be­lieve pun­ters will flock to them. And they are right. The Elbphil­har­monie is sold out for the next 12 months. It’s eas­ier to book a ta­ble on a Fri­day night at London’s Ivy restau­rant.

And now, it seems, even Mu­nich has de­cided to build a new hall. ‘Even Mu­nich?’ I hear you ask. A lit­tle con­text is needed to ex­plain that sen­tence. Mu­nich is home not just to a fine Phil­har­monic and an ex­cel­lent opera orches­tra, but also to the band con­sid­ered by many to be one of Europe’s finest: the Bavar­ian Ra­dio Sym­phony Orches­tra, which has reached new heights un­der Mariss Jan­sons. Un­for­tu­nately, how­ever, the city has no con­cert hall wor­thy of these mu­si­cians. And de­spite a dogged 15-year cam­paign by Jan­sons, the politi­cians seemed im­pla­ca­bly op­posed to build­ing a new one.

All that changed last year when an of­fer came from a most un­likely quar­ter. A food­stuffs mag­nate called Werner Eckart – scion of the mighty Pfanni dumplings dy­nasty – of­fered the gift of a site for a new con­cert hall in the east of the city. The fam­ily’s potato pro­cess­ing plant was re­lo­cated in East Ger­many in the 1990s, and since then Eckart has re­vealed a hith­erto la­tent tal­ent as a cul­tural im­pre­sario by turn­ing the va­cated Mu­nich site, re­plete with its si­los and ware­houses, into an un­of­fi­cial cam­pus for artists and club­bers. Now he is re­de­vel­op­ing it again, as a hip new in­ner-city quar­ter of artists’ stu­dios, chil­dren’s climb­ing walls, apart­ments, restau­rants, rock clubs and ho­tels. As­ton­ish­ingly, he wants a con­cert-hall com­plex – with three dif­fer­ent sized au­di­to­ri­ums – to com­plete the mix.

De­spite com­plaints from Mu­nich’s stuffier mu­sic lovers, who moan that Eckart’s site is on the wrong side of town (ie, the work­ing-class side), the of­fer has been joy­fully ac­cepted by the city au­thor­i­ties. There’s to be an ar­chi­tec­ture com­pe­ti­tion later this year, and in­sid­ers ten­ta­tively sug­gest that the hall will open in 2024. Don’t hold your breath on that – take a look at how long af­ter its in­tended com­ple­tion date the Elbphil­har­monie ac­tu­ally started wel­com­ing vis­i­tors – but at least Jan­sons’s won­der­ful orches­tra will fi­nally get the home it de­serves.

All of which raises the ques­tion of what is hap­pen­ing in another city with many top-rate or­ches­tras but no great hall. I mean London, of course. On the neg­a­tive side, the UK gov­ern­ment has other things on its col­lec­tive mind right now, and quite a lot of com­men­ta­tors seem to have writ­ten off the Bar­bican/lso pro­posal for a new hall as a ‘Si­mon Rat­tle van­ity project’, which I don’t think it is. On the other hand, the City of London has a site ready and waiting, with the Mu­seum of London va­cat­ing its old premises in the south-west cor­ner of the Bar­bican – and that site will be re­de­vel­oped any­way. Rais­ing the money for a new hall shouldn’t be an in­su­per­a­ble prob­lem in the world’s big­gest fi­nan­cial cen­tre. I just wish they would get on and build it. Ev­ery­body else is.

Gov­ern­ments and pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions alike are will­ing to fi­nance new venues

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