At the end of my first year exams at uni I treated myself to a ticket to see Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto at Birmingham Symphony Hall (the treat was the time, not the money. It wasn’t very expensive at all – £4). And I completely fell in love with the place. I went straight to the info desk and asked how I could get a job there.
And I was just in time – they were hiring stewards and before I knew it I had a lovely part-time job watching concerts. (Ok, looking after the audience at the concerts and selling them ice-creams, but I did get to eat the broken ice-creams!)
I have that job to thank for a lot of things: I definitely expanded my musical knowledge and knowledge of the music industry; and the money kept me full of beans on toast and pints of snakebite (the student’s drink of choice circa 2006). And I did it all whilst wearing a snazzy waistcoat.
Whilst a lot of the events were things like Jimmy Carr gigs or Level 42, I did get to see a lot of performances by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and various international orchestras. Sakari Oramo conducing the CBSO in Mahler was particularly popular, and I got to sit practically on the stage for a Jonas Kaufmann concert. At later stages (I later had a job in the Box office, and in the marketing team) I got to watch my first full Wagner opera (an unstaged Lohengrin), an awesome performance of The Rite of Spring with a dancer projected in 3D, and had an revelatory evening watching a stunning performance of Britten’s War Requiem (though the overwhelming feeling might have been as much to do with the food poisoning I later came down with!) I was very lucky to be being paid for the privilege – plus the ice-creams that most often broke were my favourites, the now-discontinued Cadbury Dream.
Symphony Hall was built in 1991 and, in my opinion (and the opinion of many others) the acoustics of this hall are the best in the country. I live in London now and nothing here compares to it – it is one of the things I miss most about Birmingham. Everywhere you sit has a good view and a great acoustic, and there are hundreds of hidden features that make the acoustics variable depending on the event. There’s a reverberation chamber around the hall which is half the size of the hall itself; there’s an enormous canopy above the stage that can be raised and lowered; and all around the hall there are soft panels that can be moved to absorb or reflect sound. And on top of all that, it’s beautiful!
My favourite places to sit were in the circle boxes, the upper circle ledges, and I really think you can’t beat a choir seat. I did once or twice have the good fortune to sit on the stage too, playing in a university concert. Symphony Hall certainly impressed my parents more than the community centre in Halesowen (sorry Halesowen). I do think it’s the best concert hall in the country (though that is not me saying that we need a new one in London FYI). If you’ve never been before, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I promise it’s gorgeous enough to take your breath away. Any seat is good enough, so don’t delay!