London has a dozen concert halls,
acoustically the best and worst there are
although the science makes no difference at all
to their success as venues. Worst of all?
The Royal Albert Hall whose architect
was Major-Gen’ral Henry Darracott Scott
eighteen twenty two to eighty-three,
a colonel in the Royal Engineers.
His interest was only to build large,
to represent the empire in a hall
just as the Coliseum did for Rome.
Scott’s great rotunda is a wondrous sight.
It seats five thousand but the problem was
the echo when it first was opened by
the Prince of Wales in eighteen seventy one,
his mother Queen Victoria too sad
still to attend, because her husband, in
whose name the hall was built, was recently
deceased. The hall was culmination of
dear Albert's project 'Albertopolis'
to dedicate a London area
to science, arts and culture with museums,
university and concert hall,
bringing goods from round the empire for display.
The terra cotta frieze around the top
depicts the folk arriving with their bags
and is the crowning glory of the hall.
The Prince snipped through the ribbon and declared
the building open. Bishop Jackson said
a prayer to which the amen in response
reverberated for what seemed eternity
and it was clear no orchestra could play
in such a place. And yet this drafty hulk
is where the Proms are held, by far the most
successful concert series in the world.
Atmosphere accounts for it perhaps.
The Proms migrated here when their old home
was bombed and turned to rubble in the Blitz.
The cavernous acoustic was improved
by hanging saucers underneath the dome.
The promenaders pay five pounds and stand
before the orchestra where otherwise
the pricey stalls would be. They are the groundlings
at a Shakespeare play, unruly, keen
and intimate, and this relationship
between the music and the audience
no doubt is why the Proms are so admired.
Together with this most unlikely hall,
of course, which is as loved as an old-fashioned
overweight and slightly dotty aunt
could be. Her lousy sound is not an issue
with the amplified musicians who delight
in blasting rock into her velvet lined
upholstery and possibly the model
major-general was being more
contemporary than the world foresaw.