Maxim Boon on the spirit of community, as part of Melbourne Recital Centre's 10 years of great music celebration.
Since first opening its doors in February of 2009, the Melbourne Recital Centre has become a lightning rod for virtuoso performers and ensembles, both homegrown and from overseas.
In part, this is thanks to the quality and integrity of the hall’s carefully engineered acoustics, as Ian McDougall, Founding Director of ARM Architecture, explains. “We gradually developed an idea about the hall, that it would not be modified. It’s a hall that has an acoustic that the musicians play to – so there’s no reflector over the stage. The hall is the hall and the musicians then play to that. And interestingly, the musicians prefer that, and they love it for that,” he says. “Mary Vallentine AO [former CEO of the Melbourne Recital Centre] told me that she was getting requests from European musicians saying, ‘We’re going to be in your area next year, can we come in and play in the hall?’ And Mary would say, ‘Oh yes, where will you be?’ ‘Oh, we’re going to be in Japan.’ So that really shows you… the reputation this hall has.”
But beyond the sophistication of its performance spaces, the Melbourne Recital Centre has also earned a reputation for its equally sophisticated concert-goers. “One of the key things that was envisaged when the Centre opened, was that it boost the whole local musical community, which is to say both performers and audiences, in a way that would bring them together and allow them to grow and develop together. And I think, quite clearly, that’s been absolutely achieved,” says Marshall McGuire, the Centre’s Director of Programming. “We’ve seen not only a dramatic increase in the number of local groups but also an incredible development of audiences for those groups. And I hear this from nearly every artist who comes to the Centre, whether they’re of a local, national or global stature, that they’re so impressed by the quality of our audiences, by the way they listen, their attentiveness and enthusiasm. There’s something very special that happens in this space; we have an audience that artists really want to come back to, or indeed, come to for the first time.”
Perhaps one the most remarkable facets of this deep-level audience engagement is the shared confidence it has built between patrons and programmers, allowing bold, diverse, and uncompromising repertoire to feature regularly on the concert platforms of both the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall and the Centre’s chamber venue, The Primrose Potter Salon. “When you’re building those long term trust-based relationships with audiences, who are increasingly loyal and active, that means you’re able to take a much longer view in terms of their relationship with art,” says pioneering recorder player and the Centre’s 2018 Artist In Residence, Genevieve Lacey. “And that’s an amazing thing as a performer, to know that you’re not just going to play a concert, but that this is part of a much longer conversation with that community of people. Really central to that are relationships and partnerships. The more we think, not separately, but in conversation and collaboration with other people – whether they’re chamber music partners or presenters or our audience – the more strongly it instils the sense of generosity and willingness that so many artists feel [at the Centre].”
Lacey, like so many of the musicians who have shared their talents at the Centre, has formed a profoundly emotional connection to this venue; a relationship cemented over the past decade that will continue to resonate for years to come. “The Recital Centre is optimism, it’s hope, and it’s confidence, all made tangible. The fact that a place, a community, a society have said, ‘We are, in the most fundamental sense, investing in building, visualising, making material, your life’s work,’ it is just so humbling and inspiring,” Lacey shares. “It is, literally, a touchstone. I walk past it, or pass it on the tram and think, ‘Yeah, that’s our place.’ This city actually believes in the importance of our art form, and what that’s done in terms of cultural confidence within this community, is just extraordinary.”
Maxim Boon is a British writer and composer based in Melbourne and the Chief Classical Music Critic for The Age. Formerly the Senior Editor of The Music and Online Editor of Limelight Magazine, he is also a regular contributor to The Guardian, Time Out, Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Review and Arts Hub.