Even the staunchest of classical music fans might admit a three-hour concert after work on a weekday can sometimes feel a little bit daunting. Anyone who likes an early night can rejoice, then, as the London Symphony Orchestra introduces a special series of one-hour concerts to allow audiences to fit in music and dinner before bed.
Sir Simon Rattle, who is to make his much-anticipated return to London this year as the LSO’s music director, will take the lead in the “Half Six Fix” series, aimed at commuters who want to get home in good time and older people who do not like to stay out too late. It will also target new audiences, with organisers hoping a one-hour-long informal session will be less daunting than a full-length concert.
The performances were announced as part of a new season for the LSO, which celebrates Sir Simon’s appointment with a ten-day musical celebration in September opening with a concert by all-British composers.
The LSO perform the world premiere of The Hogboon, a children's opera by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies at Barbican Centre in June 2016. It will include a “silent symphony” broadcasting music through headphones in the Barbican sculpture court, plans for all under-18s tickets to cost £5 and a performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s masterpiece, Gruppen, in the notoriously difficult acoustics of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.
Kathryn McDowell, managing director of LSO, said they had come up with the idea of the Half Six Fix after hearing from audience members who felt the traditional 7.30pm concert start made it difficult for them to get home in time. If an initial run of concerts led by Sir Simon, Gianandrea Noseda and Francois-Xavier Roth prove popular, she said, they would be extended to regular performances next season. Appearing at a press conference, Sir Simon also spoke proposals for a new “world class” London concert hall, previously championed by him but suffering from setbacks including the withdrawal of government funding for an initial feasibility study.
Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, which has hosted artists including Philippe Parreno. The conductor told an audience that the LSO’s current home of the Barbican was unsuitable for 20 per cent of the classical repertoire, with the stage too small for a choir or enough musicians for certain works. "There are pieces that we do play in the Barbican that we probably shouldn't for health and safety reasons,” he said.
"Obviously the stage was beautifully designed for a certain size of orchestra, but not for a very large orchestra and certainly it was made without a chorus in mind. Anything you want to do which is theatrical is a problem.” Citing health and safety issues, Sir Simon said there is a huge "amount of sound that comes out of a small space with an orchestra crammed too close to each other". He joked: "It might be fun to listen to the Alpine Symphony in the Barbican. But I don't think the RSPCA, if they were dealing with the orchestra, would allow it. And sometimes you need some space for sound to expand and develop."
Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO perform Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre at Barbican Centre, January 2017. His comments come after the City of London pledged up to £2.5 million in funding to complete a detailed business case for the music centre near London Wall, after the Government withdrew funding.
Sir Simon suggested that he was glad that the centre, originally projected to cost £278 million, would not be Government-funded. "There are wonderful arguments for this project and wonderful arguments against it as well, but the minute you feel this could be spent by the Government on something else, this is a very difficult area," he said. "Anybody with half a brain would agree with that, even a conductor. It's very important that we are now looking at other ways of funding it.”
Sir Simon, 61, is returning from Germany where he has been principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.