At last! I have been wanting to go to the this concert hall ever since it opened in April 1991 and on Wednesday of last week I actually got there, with the added advantage of hearing the City of Birmingham Orchestra on its home territory. It’s a huge building; the arsenal of fearsome organ pipes the focus at one end, and a precipitous gallery near to the roof at the other. The honey-coloured pine wood and orange/red seating give a harmonious unity to the whole auditorium, the acoustic and lighting canopy hovering above it like some friendly visitor from outer space. Planned on traditional lines – it reminded me strangely of the very different Concertgebouw in Amsterdam – it has a welcoming and modern feel to it (though there could be more generous provision of toilets on Level Four!).
If the design of the Hall was visually impressive on this my first visit, the sound of the music was sensational. I have never heard an orchestra with such clarity and with so perfect a balance between the instruments.
(Again Amsterdam comes to mind – another superb acoustic).The concert began with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and the opening mighty chords were for me like a declaration to prove that all the claims for exceptional acoustic brilliance were fully justified : orchestral music with a purity I have never heard before.
This was a matinee and the hall was full of retired people like me, in the interval refreshing themselves from little trays of cups and tea pots, the place buzzing with conversation. A real sense of a place and of mutual enjoyment. And the rest of the programme? Mozart’s 40th. Symphony, and Brahms 1st Piano concerto played by Elisabeth Leonskaja, in what I thought was a rather under-powered performance but one which delighted the large audience. The athletic conductor was Yannick Nezet Seguin, a Canadian with many musical responsibilities to his (unusual) name.
It was a good concert by my favourite orchestra, but the venue itself demands that I must take the journey to Birmingham again.
The following day I attended a concert in Bristol’s Colston Hall, the orchestra this time being London’s Philharmonia. I am sure they performed as well as the C.B.S.O. and Mahler’s 4th Symphony under the Australian conductor Alexander Briger – conducting at short notice – was sensitively and powerfully played. But the difference in the sound between the two concerts was unmistakable.