THEY'VE finally put the "Liverpool" into Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall, just in time to herald the opening – 24 hours later than planned – of the beloved orchestra's 175th season.
The sign out front came with added sparkle – “all energy efficient” we are assured – to welcome a lot of old (some very old) faces to the new look venue, now much of the way through a £13.8m refurb.
With a couple of exceptions, most of what the public will see, and get, was ready for inspection. Gone is the Rubato cafe bar in the basement, but the new food operation, to be based in the Grand Foyer bar, is not quite there, so slow roast pork belly with sticky mustard glaze will have to wait a week or two.
Toilet facilities are also as yet incomplete, which resulted in the phenomenon, common to the female of the species but unheard of among men, of a queue for the gents.
Otherwise it was looking pretty spick, with an ocean of paint on the walls; blue in the bar, red in the toilets (was an Evertonian in charge of this?). Audiences at the Philharmonic like things to be just so and one can imagine many a hand was wrung in anticipation of their first night arrival.
First nighters were probably mostly relieved that not too much has changed. More space has been created in the impressive entrance foyer, making it possibly more impressive still, the vast first floor drinks area now has one big island bar with – on Thursday night at least – an army of servers, while the auditorium features a restructured blond-wood stage and a lot of white emulsion.
Any complaints were restricted to minor grumblings (the lack of “proper cups” for the coffee) but there was one major talking point – the disappearance of the familiar sculpture on the back wall.
Theories quickly swept the room: it was in the basement with no plans to bring it out again; it would be back but “somewhere else”. Whatever the truth, and the 30ft kinetic creation certainly divided opinion, most agreed the wall looked incomplete without it.
Perhaps it was thought the sculpture, known affectionately (or perhaps not) by orchestra members as “the sperm” was a distraction; that there is only room for one sex symbol on stage.
Vasily was there of course, he of the twirling baton and the twinkling eye, throwing himself into the job with his usual verve.
For the new look, there was new music, the world premiere of Pas De Deux a double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra by the ridiculously prolific film composer James Homer (Titanic, Avatar, The Amazing SpiderMan, Apollo 13 and many more). It is written for Norwegian brother and sister Mari and Hakon Samuelsen whose accomplished musicianship charmed the full house.
The siblings did not miss a beat when a particularly soft passage of play was intruded on by a noise from the gods resembling that of a large dog scrabbling over a polished floor.
Other than that, a sizeable proportion of the audience had evidently neglected to make an appointment for their annual flu jab, the quiet movement of Tchaikovsky's (or should that be Tchaicoughsky's?) 5th proving a particular test for the infected.
If this was all rather irritating for Petrenko, it didn't show and it was on the familiar ground of great Russian music that he and the orchestra let off the musical fireworks befitting the new chapter for Herbert Rowse's grand, art deco "Liverpool Philharmonic Hall".
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