Alternative performing venues, part 1

The following article made me think about a couple of forthcoming concerts that I will be taking part in.

Classical Music magazine – Southbank granted time to rethink controversial Festival Wing plans

I think this is a bid to use unclaimed space under the Festival Hall for restaurants and shops but is at present used by skateboarders and BMX riders.  It is probably necessary as a means of funding the large concert halls above.

This set me thinking about the use of public spaces and the appropriateness of concert halls for certain events. For the guitar, at any rate, a smaller venue seems totally appropriate. Many concerts already happen in churches and small halls (UK Arts Centres are often re-purposed buildings – Greenham Arts is an Officers’ Mess, and there are old Fire Stations used as Arts Centres everywhere).

Added to this list are museums, and I shall be playing in two of them in the near future.
The first is in the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in Reading, where the Mandolinquents will be holding workshops and a concert this Sunday (7th July 2013).
It was established in 1951 and grew out of the University’s long tradition of academic excellence in agriculture. It pioneered a new field of museum activity and rapidly accumulated material relating to the great social and technological changes taking place in the countryside at the time, represented above all by the switch from horse power to the tractor.
The Museum operates as a national centre for the history of food, farming and the countryside.
The Museum flourishes as both a public facility with an active programme of activities and events, and a university body with a role in teaching and research. See more
For us, it is a reasonably sized venue provided you don’t mind playing amongst wagons, ploughs and other agricultural machines, many of which are suspended from the ceiling!


Richard Collins wonders if this will hold during the gig

The other concert is a guitar duo with Alison Bendy on 19th July 2013 (12.00pm) in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which is a grander place by comparison, and rather than farm implements, the performers are surrounded by Greek statues.
The museum has been used on and off for public recitals and can even accommodate a small orchestra (John Lubbock frequently conducts the Orchestra of St John’s, Smith Square there).

The present Ashmolean was created in 1908 by combining two ancient Oxford institutions: the University Art Collection and the original Ashmolean Museum. The older partner in this merger, the University Art Collection, was based for many years in what is now the Upper Reading Room in the Bodleian Library. The collection began modestly in the 1620s with a handful of portraits and curiosities displayed in a small room on the upper floor. In 1636 and 1657, Archbishop Laud and Ralph Freke added notable collections of coins and medals, later installed in a strong room of their own and now incorporated into the Ashmolean coin collection. The objects of curiosity included Guy Fawkes’ lantern and a sword said to have been given by the pope to Henry VIII, both now in the Ashmolean, as well as a number of more exotic items, including Jacob’s Coat of Many Colours, long since lost. However, as there was a museum for curiosities of this kind in the University Anatomy Theatre, objects like this tended to go there or to the Ashmolean, after it opened in 1683, leaving the Bodleian gallery to develop as a museum of art. More

We shall be playing in the Headley Lecture Theatre, a rather large empty space with no Greek or Roman sculptures, but the audience will have walked through the Hill instrument collection and the Oriental galleries to get to us. This all adds to the atmosphere of a performance.


The Ashmolean Atrium

 There are other (noisier) public places I can think of  – when returning from the GFA in America last week, I noticed a grand piano playing on its own. The keys were moving as if touched by invisible hands. It was to advertise the piano of course, but live musicians could just as easily play in this space, and even busk alongside the huge queues for security! There are also railway stations, bus stations, shopping malls…

I often wonder why public buildings are not used more for music in a semi formal way.
Covent Garden in London is a fine example of a covered space coveted by buskers (I used to busk there in the 80s with the Wobbleboards, an eclectic group comprising accordion, clarinet/sax, cello and guitar. Regular fans included Tom Conti and Paco Pe?a). You had to undergo an audition to play there – you were granted a license, but didn’t need to pay anything to the market manager. I think the same applies to buskers in the street, but the concerts in MERL and the Ashmolean are not busking….

So, what do you think? Should we be asking to use these spaces more? Do people enjoy going to concert halls to listen to the guitar (or quiet instruments like the harp and clavichord) even though it needs to be amplified to sound like a guitar?

2 thoughts on “Alternative performing venues, part 1

  1. I did a classical guitar concert in Tomintoul in a fascinating arch roofed old firestation. The hall contained lots of early fire station memorabilia. The sound was absolutely wonderful. The town is one of the highest altitude communities in Britain. I was the highest performer in Britain that evening …

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