For the past four years, I have had season’s tickets to the Orchestra of the Academy of Saint Cecilia, Italy’s leading symphony orchestra. I started going to the concerts in a–mostly vain–effort to raise my brow. My tastes run more to Cole Porter and Rogers and Hart. But it’s always a fun evening out and since the concerts start at 6 and run till 8, there is time for dinner afterwards and isn’t that the point?
The concerts take place–about two per month–at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, which they say (they being the people who work there) is the second most visited entertainment venue in the world after Lincoln Center in New York. The complex gets a million visitors a year according to the website and it’s only been open since 2002. I know the Auditorium complex well. One of the last things I did at my old job was to mastermind a four day festival there last May. That turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back of my desire to keep doing what I was doing and while the Auditorium isn’t really to blame (although the people there can be mighty taxing), I do have some nits to pick.
The complex has three halls–the Petrassi (small), the Sinopoli (medium), and the Santa Cecilia (huge)–as well as various other spaces for exhibitions, seminars and the like. It was built by Renzo Piano, a super famous Italian architect who also designed the Pompidou Center in Paris and the new New York Times Building in NYC, as well as a bunch of other important stuff.
Here are the nits:
- To get to the Santa Cecilia Hall,which is where the Orchestra plays, you can either take one of two teeny tiny elevators or walk up 100 steps. If you wish to visit the nicely appointed bar at the interval, you must walk down those same 100 stairs, then up again and down again at the end of the concert. Now I ask you, given the Early Bird Special nature of the concert series, which means it attracts more than its fair share of senior citizens, don’t you think it would have been more sensible to organize a way of getting people to the concert hall that didn’t run the risk of killing off the bulk of the audience (not to mention out-of-shapers like myself)?
- In the peanut gallery, where I sit, there are many (too many) posts and partitions. I guess the latter are to keep concertgoers from plunging to their deaths when they fall asleep during a particularly boring bit, but the main thing they accomplish is to obscure the view of about 30% of the audience.
That having been said, the acoustics are very fine. And the building itself looks like a cool 70s-era spaceship. And the bookstore is great. And I like the little sandwiches they give you at intermission.
It must be said that the Auditorium has breathed new life into the area it occupies in northern Rome, on the site of the 1960s Olympic complex. Restaurants, bars and the like are beginning to abound. The International Rome Film Festival has just opened its 5th season at the Auditorium. And the newly opened MAXXI modern art museum is bringing in record crowds. It used to be a ghost town up there so this is all to the good.
One last thing. Inside the complex, just before you start climbing all of those stairs, you will see a series of neon installations on the ceiling in various languages. These mostly make no sense, although they do all mention music. The English one reads “At the end you can remind the sound of the beginning.” Huh?. It’s like that bit at the end of ‘When Harry Met Sally’ when Harry is trying to figure out what the words to Auld Lang Syne mean. I’m reminded that there was a similar installation outside the national airport for several years that read (in English) “If music be the food of love, play on!” A very fine sentiment. But at the airport?