Concert Hall and Orchestra’s Shifting Reality

All my life, a concert has always been the most thrilling activity (either as performer or member of the audience) I could participate in.

Barring an actual performance, I have listened to recordings — whenever circumstances allowed — as often as possible. I started collecting at an early age, comparing different versions of the same compositions, delighting in some more than others for various reasons.

Concert horn steampunk messenger bag
Cornucopia, a French Horn
Steampunk Fantasy Courier Bags

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Sometime during the beginning of my music studies, one of the most revelatory disc I got my hands on featured the Concertgebouw Orchestra (not yet the Royal then) performing Handel’s Watermusic. The playing was so crisp and vivid, and the acoustic engineering so live and colorful — I had yet to experience the famed hall in person — that it spoiled me in a fashion. These days, my opinion of the interpretation may have changed concerning a tempo or two, but on the whole this rendition has held up, and certain characteristics remain astonishing, among them the heraldic brass and that altogether fabulous sound, the latter being largely a result of the venue itself.

The dream of a recording heard becomes the reality of a concert

Concert Invitation
Concert Invitation
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Little could I have dreamt that, some years on, I would be playing several concerts a season in that hallowed hall, participating in run-outs made by my orchestra from the South of the Netherlands. It is always, after lo these many years, an exciting event no matter what’s on the menu. The hall is stunning, yes, and brimming with history and all that, but it is primarily the unparalleled acoustics that make it so breathtaking — and that, I believe (aside from the stirring music itself, of course), was the magical element that came through on that old long-playing record, unequalled by any sound studio whose work my ears had sampled.

Beethoven was so moved after a concert of Handel’s Messiah that he wrote out some of the score later, the better to remember it.

Concert handels messiah written in beethovens hand
Handel’s “Messiah” in
Beethoven’s hand Posters

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Musicians are wont to go off on a busman’s holiday as frequently as their schedules permit. I am typical in that way, so when I can attend an extraordinary concert or recital in the Concertgebouw, I do, and that is as uplifting as being onstage there. I can’t do that as often as I might like, but I have now discovered an oddly compelling (odd because silent; compelling I am not sure why) virtual tour of that selfsame place. Despite having come to know it so well, I still can’t refrain from sneaking back now and again to swoop and glide through all the entrances, exits, balconies, and mezzanines. Sometimes I feel as if I am hearing the last thing I heard there.

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2 Comments

  1. I had the pleasure to attend a concert in the Concertgebouw when I was on a trip to Amsterdam. It really is a special feeling, acoustically and visually. Don’t miss it if you are in Amsterdam!

    1. Quite agree with your recommendation, as there is nothing quite like that hall. Do try the panoramic tour for a fix between visits to Amsterdam.

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