I just finished researching and writing a piece for Gramophone about the new Melbourne Recital Centre. I say new, but it just turned 1. It’s not been an ideal first year. By all accounts it’s a stunning place, a stylish 1000-seater hall with a beautiful wooden interior, designed by Arup Acoustic consultants as a perfect setting for chamber music. Musicians, including Taikoz, Synergy, Musica Viva, the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and even Christopher Hogwood, have given it a big thumbs up: the building is all that it promised to be in terms of sound.
Unfortunately, a perfect acoustic is not enough for the wolverine public. Their listening pleasure has been marred by a number of unfortunate slights, adding up to a whole lot of trouble. Firstly, the liquor licence left the building with the catering company which catered the first month’s celebrations. A dry performance venue? Not good. Secondly, the marketing and branding has got off to a patchy start. And thirdly, the ambitious full speed ahead program announced in February 2009 has fallen over big time, with concerts cancelled and artists disappointed (and cranky). A year on and there have been angry words, a number of redundancies and resignations and some very difficult questions asked about exactly what this beautiful hall is expected to achieve.
My Gramophone piece was pretty punchy – I think it might still be in the Haymarket lawyers’ in tray waiting for vetting – but I’m now going to cross live to my better judgement to make some excuses for Melbourne’s newest venue.
Can I be so reasonable as to suggest it has been a victim of its own brilliance? The A$74.5 million project was delivered on time and on budget (and how often can builders say that?), and has gone on to win several architectural awards. It is head-turningly beautiful. (I haven’t been there, but the photos show a deliciously sculptural interior and Synergy’s manager and all round wise soul Anna Cerneaz, has said she was ‘electrified’ when she first saw it.) And, most importantly, it serves the music, and will continue to do so in the long term. In the short term, however, it has failed to make the transition from well conceived, designed, crafted and delivered public works project to working concert hall.
My modest proposal is that the skills needed to come up with a concept, a design and brilliantly executed build do not necessarily translate to the strange old world of operating a non-profit, only vaguely commercial, publicly funded performance space. The board — and by extension, the management who were appointed by the board — performed brilliantly throughout the build. And then, all of a sudden, the entire ball game changed but the board and management didn’t.
I’m going off to think some more about this. What do you think?