While I do not attend so many classical music concerts lately, I had enjoyed my visits to some of the world’s most famous concert halls. These would include: Royal Albert Hall in London, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, Wiener Musikverein in Vienna, the Bolshoi in Moscow, the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, Carnegie Hall in NYC, Sydney Opera House, and the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest.
In no particular order, here are a few of my thoughts and experiences.
My first real concert, other than the old San Francisco Opera House (before Davies Hall) was at Royal Albert Hall in London. We had to queue around the building for hours ahead of the concert. So, I found some friendly Aussies with beer and a deck of cards! The performance, which was both long and tedious was the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Symphony. And since we had the “cheap” seats in the center of the Hall, we had to stand for the entire concert, except for intermission, when we sat on the floor! Royal Albert (opened in 1871) is also where the Beatles first performed in London (1963), once they became famous. Unknown to many, Muhammad Ali fought here three times, Sir Winston Churchill spoke here sixteen times, Albert Einstein campaigned for world peace in 1933, and opened by Queen Victoria in 1871 in memory of Prince Albert.
The Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg (opened in 1860) was a most curious event, since it featured a trombone solo. Making this event even worse? I attended a concert in Ann Arbor, MI by the University of Michigan band, also featuring a trombone solo, just a month before. What are the odds? And yes, trombone solos are ODD!
Nothing could be more eclectic than the concert by the “Lost and Found Band” at the famous Sydney Opera House (opened 1973). Lost and found means they made musical instruments out of items found in the trash bins of Sydney. But I think just being in the famous Opera House overshadowed the rather eclectic offerings of this true “garage” band. Notable guests include: Nelson Mandela, Michael Buble, Paul Robeson, and of course, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
In Budapest, free concerts are offered on a regular basis. Just collect a ticket for Liszt or Bartok during the day, and show up at 7pm that night. Simple, right? Not really, since most places in the central district don’t start serving dinner until 7 or 8pm. After a delicious roast duck dinner, I walked into the State Opera House as an encore was being played! What did we do? Just headed to the nearest bar, and enjoyed ourselves.
Growing up as a kid, we always heard about Carnegie Hall. It was and still is, the dream of aspiring musicians around the world to appear at Carnegie. Just my luck it was being renovated on my last trip there. What did I do? I went instead to the famous Carnegie Deli and had a huge, corned beef sandwich! Performances include: Simon and Garfunkel, Dave Brubeck, Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys.
But the most curious of all concert halls is the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA. I have been in several other Gehry designs, like the Seattle Music Experience Project (EMP), now called MoPop. Most interior portions are very traditional, but the exteriors are always strange. He even designed the Brain Center near downtown Las Vegas. I think it looks like someone’s brain, after being scrambled in a concussion!
Left off of this list, for some reason, is the famous and probably most acoustically perfect concert hall in the world, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam (opened in 1888). There is not a bad seat, at least acoustically, in the entire hall, whether on the main floor or upstairs. Free concerts are given every day at 1pm. The place is simply perfect! It is home to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
But no matter where you go, the bottom line for me in the performance itself. I don’t choose the performers based on the concert hall. After all, why sit through TWO trombone solos when many better choices exit? But once in a while, the concert hall becomes an obsession.