Today marks the 140th anniversary of the opening of the Royal Albert Hall in London. Originally to be given the catchy title “The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences” it was changed as a mark of respect to honor the 10th anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria’s husband. The Albert Hall is one of the most distinctive buildings in London, set in a lovely spot just across the way from Kensington Gardens and close to Hyde Park.
Arguably the most famous event to take place in the Hall these days is the series of concerts known as the Proms. Initiated by Henry Wood in 1895, the idea of a promenade concert (so called as audience members would stroll around during certain numbers) was a way of providing classical concerts at an affordable price. Early days saw themed nights with Wagner on a Monday, Beethoven on a Friday as well as a full range of other more adventurous works. These concerts remain central to the cultural life of Britain and audience involvement is encouraged, however, certain rules evolve. In the earliest days no matches were to be struck during a vocal piece, today visitors would not consider smoking and are just asked to switch their phones off. The Last Night of the Proms is a piece of nationalism unsurpassed in the English calendar and now overflows to Hyde Park and other locations around Britain where large screens allow thousands more to join in the pomp.
The Albert Hall is more than just the Proms though. As a building it is marvelous, incorporating the auditorium feel of ancient design with a redbrick construction and features that mark it clearly of its time. Renowned for, frankly, terrible acoustics (it was said that the echo was so bad it was the only place a composer could hear their work twice in once evening) this on-going issue was finally solved by the placing of large plastic mushrooms on the ceiling from the late 1960s to diffuse the sound. On the outside of the building, the mosaic frieze depicts the triumph of the arts and sciences.
Uses of the hall now go far beyond classical music as well. The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance is held their each year, the day before Remembrance Sunday. The first ever sumo contest to take place in Britain was at the Royal Albert Hall and the UFC had their 2002 contest there (hall, rhymes with brawl, it was too easy). The Killers have played there, Masters Tennis takes place there and a couple of colleges of the University of London use it for graduation ceremonies.
One final thing, when you are visiting, cross the street and spend some time in the park opposite enjoying the marvelously overdone memorial to Prince Albert. It really is quite something, and you get some great views of the Hall.
Flickr Photo via Simononly