You could be sour about the music industry if you wanted to be. Sadly, few orchestras now broadcast nationally. But the musicians’ union has a lot to answer for. It may have helped to make its members more prosperous, but it has been self-defeating in other ways.
When orchestras rack their brains to discover the ways that they are relevant to their communities, they invariably come up with a wide range of replies that almost never includes their concert hall. Yet there is little else that could appear on that list that is as permanent and concrete as the daily encounter of a community with its concert hall.
We have become used to concert halls that make big bold statements: the looming sculptural forms of the Philharmonie in Paris, the metallic sails of Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the giant glass barrel vault of the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts in Philadelphia. The Kleinhans is curiously elusive.
The Opéra Bastille is obviously intended to be a modern rethinking of the traditional opera house, but in turning away from la grande cuisine bourgeoise of the Palais Garnier, Carlos Ott has eschewed nouvelle cuisine and instead has provided the Parisian public with the architectural equivalent of bread and water.
With the exception of Ruskin and Morris most thinkers of the industrial era turned out to be “industrial” thinkers. Refusing to consider industrialism as a mere ideology, they posited it as an irreversible fact of history and progress, as unquestionable as the laws of nature, as irrevocably useful as the discovery of the wheel.
It’s starting to sound like a self-evident truth: there is, indeed, something very wrong with the state of higher music education in this country – that it’s not sufficient anymore for music schools to turn out graduates who are merely good or even exceptional classical musicians. That, we are assured, is not enough for an aspiring musician to get by on in the modern world.
Both the LSO and London itself need and deserve a new concert hall – one that is fitting for the future of the city’s prestigious musical life and one that makes sense for the sake of its own success. It should be a beautiful and harmonious part of the face and community of London, and not a thumb in its eye and a middle finger to everyone else.
Modernism in architecture and music is very much like the artificial invention of a language, like Esperanto. Esperanto was used by tradesmen and by a very small number of people. But imagine that a very powerful political group took over not just a province or a country, or even a continent, but over the world and imposed Esperanto as a single language, forbidding all other languages and declaring them as purely historical – no longer valid, no longer legitimate for use today. That is what has happened to architecture and even to music.