A Cunning Blog

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Ten Years on the critical beat II: Small is beautiful


Walk down a little alleyway, past office blocks towering on every side and you’ll find one of Sydney’s best concert halls, City Recital Hall. It has just turned ten. With 1238 seats, a classic ‘shoebox’ layout and well-designed acoustics, it was the answer to the burgeoning small ensemble / chamber music / chamber orchestra scene. Given that smaller ensembles naturally tend to be creative powerhouses for innovation in all sorts of relevant fields – presentation, repertoire, marketing – the new hall has played a major role in artistic and audience development in its first ten years.

For example, released from the risk-laden tyranny of the 2400-seater Concert Hall, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Musica Viva and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra have been able to play more daring programs to full (albeit smaller) houses. The ABO now performs up to six performances of each program which, as Arts Admin 101 will tell you, is a fabulous return on its investment in bringing the band together from all over the country. They can also play and be heard without amplification. (Did you know that the ACO uses discreet amplification at the Opera House?)

Without the City Recital Hall, it is hard to imagine Pinchgut Opera, that ‘virtual’ opera company, born of enthusiasm, expertise and sheer talent. Their first production, Semele, in 2002, showed just what could be done with basic stage and a good acoustic. Their latest production, L’Ormindo, shows them going from strength to strength. How they do it, I don’t know, but I’m glad they do!

Likewise, the chamber groups – the Australian String Quartet, the Grainger Quartet, Selby and Friends / TriOz now had an elegant venue around which to build an audience.

And towards the end of the decade City Recital Hall even began hosting more broadranging events, from drummers Taikoz to new music’s Ensemble Offspring to the Song Company. These groups had previously been largely confined to the ghettos of university auditoria and more or less suitable church and school venues. And like it or not, a convenient, comfortable, not-to-mention elegant venue with good bar facilities and icecream, is a big factor in audience development, even for new music. Who could have imagined Steve Reich’s Tehillim playing in a state of the art concert hall to a nearly full house ten years ago?

Happy Tenth Birthday City Recital Hall.


  1. The Lunch Hour Series, also directed by Kathy Selby deserves mention. Starting small it used to be held in the foyer. Then, some eighteen months or so ago they moved to the main auditorium. With wonderful management flexibility, you can actually take your sandwiches in and eat. Now the stalls often go close to selling out. Cheap tickets are one reason. The audience is mostly grey hairs with hardly a suit to be seen. It’s sad that the pressures on all those bankers and office trolls are so great they can’t take an hour off in the city for some excellent music. If they did, management may have to open the top tiers.

  2. But isn’t it great that the audience for that concert is growing! And I know they’re not all grey-haired because only yesterday a young lawyer I know was talking about going. (She may be the only one, but I doubt it.)

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