VisitScotland’s inspectors have been making anonymous visits to the Usher Hall this year. Because of its exceptional facilities, acoustics and customer service they have granted the concert hall a rare but much deserved 5 stars.
Karl Chapman has been the Usher Hall’s General Manager for ten years and so has seen it through its closures for repairs. Now reopened for 18 months, with his dedicated colleagues he can enjoy the deserved triumph of the 5 star award. I have attended nearly 40 of its concerts in the past year and constantly admire just how well everything is run, and with the all important smile.
Karl hails from Portsmouth, was at the University of Sheffield and has been a saxophone player. It is his responsibility to make ends meet. He decides what is appropriate and knows he cannot lower the tone simply for the sake of profit. Talking to him today, it is clear he knows he has the care of one of Edinburgh’s greatest treasures.
But also the Usher Hall is very much one of the world’s greatest concert halls, purpose built in 1914 for an audience up to 2,900. The Edinburgh International Festival would be nothing without it, nor the Scottish and visiting orchestras for their Edinburgh concerts.
It is very unlikely anybody has visited every concert hall in the world so as to be able to judge which really is the best. Indeed sound engineers with the most sophisticated equipment most probably would not be able to agree among themselves.
I took a distinguished friend from Washington DC to a Philadelphia Orchestra concert last month. He had heard the Philadelphia many a time and in many places, and had been in many of the top concert halls throughout the world. But this was his first visit to our Usher Hall. He was overwhelmed, and has booked to come back next year.
How do you judge? What is best for an audience in the stalls may not produce the same enjoyment for the grand circle or upper circle. A capacity audience will produce a different result from an almost empty hall. The musicians on stage have their own views and are influenced by how well a concert hall allows them to hear what they are playing. But what is absolutely certain is that great orchestras will only play in great concert halls.