How to Build a Great Venue

As I prepare to perform Bela Bartók’s Concerto for two pianos and percussion with my esteemed colleagues Janet Fulton, Noriko Ogawa and Philip Smith I am reminded of the time when I performed this piece with Sir Georg Solti.

This video clip is a documentary of a very early performance of the Bartók with Sir Georg, older video’s like this always set my staff off in fits of giggles when they hear my younger, girlie voice! I can remember how deeply embarrassed I felt when I arrived late to the session! A lesson I have never forgotten!

In Manchester we are about to perform this piece at the beautifully crafted Bridgewater Hall and I was interested to read about the history of the Hall and in particular how it was constructed. I was unaware for example that the Hall is ‘neither concrete nor steel-framed, but is mostly formed from solid, reinforced concrete, moulded and cast like a vast sculpture’. I like this idea of moulding and casting a building it feels holistic is some way and wholesome. Apparently this provides the hall with an acoustic ideal of enormous density and mass.

The roof is also quite unique in that it hovers above the building, weightless and the entire structure floats free of the ground on almost ‘three hundred, earthquake-proof isolation bearings or giant springs’ – now that invokes the most amazing mental image! The article also states the Hall is built this way to ensure the ‘Hall’s carefully designed acoustic is protected from all outside noise and vibration’.

Well of course vibration is key to my ability to feel sound. I am intrigued by the way this building is ‘crafted’ to keep outside noise from entering in and inside noise from venturing out. My own sound world is heavily dependant on my body acting as a resonating chamber. Over the years I have developed a high degree of sensitivity to vibration enabling my body to identify felt sounds. I often describe my body as one huge ear.

Have you tried ‘feeling’ sound? Have you visited environments where you have been able to connect with the acoustics through vibration. I would be very interested in your experiences and welcome your thoughts.

Image: Huzhead (licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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