The queue snaked around the barriers, spilling on to the pavements leading up to the Printworks. The cavernous South London building, once the printing plant that produced newspapers including the Daily Mail and Evening Standard, was converted into an events space in 2017.
Tonight’s punters weren’t waiting for Fabio & Grooverider or Tall Paul – some of the artists who recently appeared at Printworks as part of Clockwork Orange – they were preparing to hear music more commonly associated with a concert hall than a nightclub.
Aurora Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Seventh – famously used in The King’s Speech – vibrated through the press halls in one of the most absorbing renditions heard in recent years.
The success lay in the ensemble’s approach to the vast scale of the building. Rather than stand on a stage huddled together in the traditional format, Aurora musicians were elevated on small platforms that were positioned among the crowd.
The audience was free to roam throughout the performance, experiencing Beethoven’s epic masterpiece from beside the brass or standing next to the strings.
Of course, the balance wasn’t perfect and the acoustics didn’t always flatter – but we felt as though we were inside the orchestra; nurtured by every note. To further remove any barriers to engagement, Aurora performed the entire piece from memory – something they have pioneered since 2014 when they became the first ensemble to play complete symphonies off by heart.
The result has reignited interest in the classical club night concert. Invitations to the BBC Proms launch landed in inboxes last week – in past years the press briefing location is often linked to key proms of the year. This year’s venue? Printworks…
Classical club nights first emerged in the early 2000s, inspired by the likes of Yellow Lounge in Berlin, created by Deutsche Grammophon to attract new listeners to the genre.
The informal layout – initiated at a time when most concert halls didn’t allow drinks in the theatre and still had unwritten dress codes – promoted new artists and styles.
In the UK, Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of Sergei) runs Nonclassical, a record label and club night “at which contemporary classical and experimental music is presented as if it were rock or electronic music: bands play through the pub’s PA, everyone has a pint in their hand and there are DJs playing throughout the night.”
Clearly hoping to tap into the classical nightclub revival, London Handel Festival (until April 18) has expanded its venue line-up, which includes the handsome recital room at St George’s in Hanover Square, venturing to the subterranean Village Underground in Shoreditch.
Unlike Aurora and other orchestras that play in the round in such spaces, 12 Ensemble assembled themselves on stage with music stands and presented the concert as though it was any other traditional hall.
The programme, so promising on the page, felt underpowered. Missy Mazzoli’s A Thousand Tongues – a compact and intense piece featuring pre-recorded electronics and amplified strings, with a soundscape tailor-made for the Village Underground archways, appeared to be performed without electronics. So close – and yet so far.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, arts organisations were among those who were quick to denounce Putin’s violence – with the notable exception of Valery Gergiev, internationally renowned conductor and public ally to the warmongering president. As it became clear that Gergiev would not budge on his position, the great and the good of the music world severed their ties with the Russian maestro. The Edinburgh International Festival, based in a city that is twinned with Kyiv, asked for and accepted the resignation of Gergiev as its honorary president. The Royal Opera House, which has been lit in the yellow and blue colours of the Ukrainian flag since last month, is hosting a fundraising concert on April 15 to raise money for the humanitarian appeal. Tickets are now sold out but check back for returns.
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