Activity: Attending an event › Conference organisation or participation
Beacons of Sound - Exposing the past in high Fidelity
The concert hall in modern Western societies is historically characterized by its dual status as both cultural institution and mediator of cultural goods. It acts both as a marker of a particular cultural discourse, the concert hall as a special space entirely devoted to the worship of music, its composers and performers, and it also functions as a facilitator of musical works, old and new. Both elements refer simultaneously to the traditions of the use of particular forms of practice and to the persistent repetition of a core repertoire, which mainly in the past was supplemented with music from the present times. The same goes for theatre, museum, school and similar cultural institutions, but where these latter seem alive and continuously updated – also with regard to their 'core goods' – the renewal of the concert hall’s repertoire is not exactly flourishing.
This is especially obvious regarding the classical tradition and one may ask how the massive investment in new concert halls has been and is justified. Has the content of the halls and, especially their practices, with reference to current trends, cultural, ideological and social needs, been rethought and reformulated in such a way, that this, in one sense historic, relic has been revitalized and updated?
In recent years there have been built a number of new concert halls in Scandinavia that are, if not entirely, mainly devoted to the performance of music that belongs to the broadly speaking classical musical genre. In Denmark alone, five new concert halls have been built within ten years. It is quite characteristic that they are all primarily created for the purpose of – classical – symphonic music and especially the music that is between 100 and 250 years old, framing a tradition that is dominated by well-known German composers.
Another maybe even more interesting factor is the preoccupation with acoustics, which seems to have gripped the stakeholders behind the construction of the new concert hall. The cost of calculating the optimum acoustic conditions is substantial and leads to a huge cost in the design and construction of the halls. This preoccupation could appear to be approaching a kind of sound fetishism, begging answers to the questions where does the objective that is pursued come from? and how do we know when it is reached? Is it a musical goal or is it a purely acoustic ideal? Or is it perhaps more technologically determined, where especially the reproduction ideals, the notion of high fidelity, which characterize the production of phonograms in the late 20th century, play a vital role?
Taking Harpa, the great Icelandic concert hall in Reykjavìk, which opened in 2011, as an exemplar, this paper discusses, through the optics of Luhmann, Fairclough and more, how it is possible for the modern concert hall to maintain or perhaps even extend its relevance in the beginning of the 21th Century.