It was possibly the smallest concert ever given. It was just me on a chair and two musicians inside a glass box measuring 15 square metres. I had booked a place to listen to a performance in the Klarafestival Box on Place Flagey. The festival programme described it the smallest concert hall in the world. It looked like a shipping container with glass walls parked on the square outside the Flagey building. Inside, a grand piano, three wooden seats and an audience of one.
It had been almost impossible to book a place for one of the 114 mini performances scheduled over the coming weeks. The tickets had sold out almost as soon as the booking went online, as if it was Arctic Monkeys playing at Werchter. The organisers had to put on extra performances to meet demand. But they, too, were quickly snapped up. The last time I looked, just one seat remained for a performance at 22.45 on a Sunday.
Vince, a festival volunteer, was pouring out free Omer beer in a glass box that served as a bar. I asked him what was so special about the Box. “It really brings classical music out of the concert hall and onto the street,” he explained. “Sometimes, when there is a spare seat, I will just go out into the square and ask a random person if they would like to listen to a free concert. It might be a street cleaner who ends up sitting next to a lawyer.”
I was shown to my seat by Sarah, a French intern. The musicians turned up a little later with their instruments. They introduced themselves as the Orpheus Clarinet Quartet, but I counted just two of them. “One of the group was sick, so we decided to perform as a duet,” they explained.
The audience was also drastically reduced. Two of the three people who had booked had failed to turn up. It was basically me and half a quartet in a glass box.
The two young Greek musicians, Spyros Fakiolas and Giannis Kritikos, were studying at the Music Conservatory in Mons. They had turned up on a wet afternoon to perform just for me. The programme would consist of some short opera pieces arranged for clarinet.
As they performed in the glass box, the rain pattered down on the metal roof. Occasionally, someone would stop to peer inside. A little girl in a red raincoat stuck her nose to the window and said something to her mother. The box was soundproof, so it was impossible to know what she was saying. But she was obviously intrigued.
The festival organisers originally wanted to install speakers outside the box, so the performance could reach a wider audience. But they decided in the end to keep the experience intimate.
It felt odd to be sitting there like a goldfish in a bowl while bus 71 rolled past. It was definitely different from listening to an orchestra in a big concert hall. And it was having an impact. “We get all ages of people interested,” Vince said. “Whereas an audience at Bozar will be mainly older people.”
The performance lasted under fifteen minutes. As I left, a mother arrived with her small daughter for the next session. It seems the smallest concert hall in the world is reaching a very young audience. I think that’s the big idea.
By Derek Blyth