The Sunday Section: Travel and Music - A Voyage Through Space at The Royal Albert Hall

Yesterday, the boys and I went up to London for the day, for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, the first time for all of us.  The concert, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, was entitled ‘Space Spectacular’.

On the way, we stopped to have lunch (our own) in the grounds of the Natural History Museum; the hall is about a 10minute walk from the museum.  The queue to get into the museum was horrendous, which made me glad we hadn’t planned on visiting.  And there was security personnel everywhere.  We ended up having a discuss about how ridiculous the levels of security were at most places these days.  I know safety is important, and London has been targeted by terrorists, but, in my opinion, the whole issue of public safety has been taken to daft proportions.  It’s as if the authorities have assumed the mantle of ‘protective parent’, except they’re over-obsessing; like the parent who hovers over his/her child in case the child falls over.  On the one hand, it seems as if they, the authorities, believe we, the public, are no longer capable of deciding our own safety; conversely, it’s as if they view us all as guilty of potentially causing harm.  To prove my point – security at the Natural History Museum had queues at both entrances, yet, just around the corner, people were strolling into the Science Museum with not one security person in sight.  And … and, there was no security check at the Royal Albert Hall either.  Even though their website states that there might be, and apologises for any delay it might cause.  Also, I did not spot one police officer at the Albert Memorial.

We walked down the side of the Natural History Museum, past the Science Museum where Liam spotted this church. We crossed over to have a closer look at the Christ statue, it looked almost Grecian.  It was a bit confusing crossing the road, as it did not look like a road, more like a glorified pedestrianised area – it wasn’t immediately obvious where the ‘road’ ended and the pedestrians’ area began.

We went past the Imperial College of Science and Technology …

And approached the Hall from the side.  It’s a redundant statement, but I have to say it – the Royal Albert Hall is gorgeous.  Even the side of it is stunning.

The Hall was, in a way, the brainchild of Prince Albert.  After the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851, he proposed the creation of permanent facilities which would benefit the public.  Unfortunately, progress was so slow that he died before any part of it was completed.  A memorial to the prince was proposed, to be placed in Hyde Park, with a hall opposite.  The foundation stone to the hall was laid by Queen Victoria in 1867, 6 years after his death.  The hall’s original name was ‘The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences’, but the Queen changed it to ‘The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences’.  The Albert Memorial is opposite the hall, with the statue of the prince facing the hall.

The Hall was officially opened on 29 March 1871, with a welcoming speech given by Edward, the Prince of Wales; the Queen was too overcome to speak.  The concert that followed made it immediately apparent that there was a problem with the acoustics.  A canvas awning was suspended below the dome but did not solve the problem.  It used to be joked that the Hall was “the only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice”.

The canvas awning was finally removed in 1949 and replaced with fluted aluminium panels.  But it was only in 1969, with the installation of a series of large fibreglass acoustic diffusing discs, was the acoustic problem properly tackled.  The discs are commonly referred to as ‘mushrooms’ or ‘flying saucers’.

A mosaic frieze, ‘The Triumph of Arts and Sciences’, decorates the outside of the building, and above it is an inscription in terracotta letters that combines fact and Biblical quotations:

This hall was erected for the advancement of the arts and sciences and works of industry of all nations in fulfilment of the intention of Albert Prince Consort. The site was purchased with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of the year MDCCCLI. The first stone of the Hall was laid by Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the twentieth day of May MDCCCLXVII and it was opened by Her Majesty the Twenty Ninth of March in the year MDCCCLXXI. Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine. The wise and their works are in the hand of God. Glory be to God on high and on earth peace

There are separate doors around the side of the building, which you enter depending on where your seat is.  So we went to ‘Door 1’ as our seats were in the ‘stalls’ section – basically the floor right in front of the stage.  It was a little daunting walking into the building, it’s that beautiful.  When we went through the doors and up the stairs to the stalls, we slowed right down and stared.  Like peasants.  Liam said he felt quite humbled.

The following pictures are from the programme:

The concert was music from classic space films and was, by turns, moving and rousing.  The conductor, Anthony Inglis, was the best host.  Described in the press as “one of Britain’s most popular conductors”, it did not take long to realise why.  He is pure fun; he even managed to work in audience participation, which I was not expecting at a classical concert.  The music was enhanced by a splendid light show and pyrotechnics.

The programme started with the apt ‘Sunrise’ from Richard Strauss’ ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, the music that was used in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.  This was swiftly followed by the main theme from ‘Star Wars’ by John Williams.  Williams featured heavily in the programme, with more from ‘Star Wars’; also ‘E.T’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’.  You cannot have a concert of space-themed music and not include Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ – we had ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Mars’.  We were treated to 2 encores – the music that played during the end credits of ‘Star Wars’, and ‘Superman’.

After the concert, we walked around to the front and across to the Albert Memorial.  We didn’t walk around it as we had other plans before heading home …

It really was an exhilarating experience, and I’m so glad we went.  What a brilliant introduction to the Royal Albert Hall, and, for the boys, live classical music.