I made a flying visit to my hometown of Liverpool on Wednesday to discuss the RLPO’s 2015-16 season. I always get a special buzz every time I step off the train at Lime Street; in what other UK city would they ever have put colossal Jacob Epstein sculptures on the façade of a department store?
I go back a long way with the RLPO and its home, the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, and it’s always nice to have a chance to catch up with some old friends – both human and architectural. The Hall is halfway through a major refurbishment, and the admin team is currently camped out in a rather elegant-looking Regency terrace on Rodney Street.
But up on Hope Street, the refurbished foyer and auditorium are already back in action. I popped in for a very quick inspection, and was glad to see that the gorgeous abstract Art Deco engravings that make this (in my far-from-objective opinion) the most beautiful concert hall in the UK are still in pride of place on the front doors and the windows of the Grand Foyer.
The most obvious change – apart from a rearrangement to the layout of the Bar itself (the third since I started visiting the Phil in the 1980s; it looks good, though they’d be hard-pressed to fit a string sectional rehearsal in there now, as we sometimes used to do back in my Merseyside Youth Orchestra days) – is the decision to paint the Grand Foyer in a sort of dark teal colour.
It brings out the gold Deco details nicely, and creates a dramatic setting for the huge, gold mythological relief panels at each end of the Foyer. When the whole space is lit up and bustling with people on a concert night, it’ll be both smart and atmospheric. But…well, I’ll have to give it time; it’s strikingly different from the Phil I’ve always known. I’ve a feeling it’ll wear well, actually.
Of course what really matters is the sound in the auditorium. That’ll have to wait for another visit – I’m long overdue a reunion with the RLPO. There’s no orchestra in the UK with a warmer, more stylish sound, or that I love more. Meanwhile, walking off down Leece Street, I noticed this in a coffee house window. Always special to be in a place where an orchestra is so much part of the life and lore of the city; it even has an affectionate nickname. No-one in Liverpool ever calls the RLPO or the Philharmonic Hall anything other than “the Phil”.