The Royal Albert Hall is one of my favourite London venues.
I was there on Saturday, with my daughter Abigail, watching a performance of Swan Lake in the round, by the English National Ballet. Sixty swans danced in the arena below us, transformed into a lake by skilful lighting effects; and the audience delighted in the performances of Dmitri Gruzdyev as Prince Siegfried and Fernanda Oliveira as Odette and Odile.
The earliest memory I have of the Royal Albert Hall is when, as a child, I sang in the Chorus of Younger Angels in a performance of Mahler’s 8th Symphony.
I stood close to the organ; and I’ve never forgotten that tremendous experience as trumpets, drums and organ, under Leonard Bernstein’s flambuoyant direction, brought Mahler’s ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ to its thunderous conclusion.
During my sixth form days in Orpington, Kent, I often took the train to London with my schoolfriends so we could sit on the pavement outside the Royal Albert Hall in a queue for promenaders tickets for the BBC Proms; and then, once inside the door, sprint to the arena, to find the best place at the front, near the conductor’s rostrum.
One summer, I spent several hours walking up and down the queue with spare tickets to sell, having bought Gallery tickets for a half season.
Later, when I lived in Bayswater, London W2, the Royal Albert Hall was just a stroll across Kensington Gardens, to go to the rehearsals and concerts of another choir I sang in – the London Choral Society.
Whenever I now enter the Royal Albert Hall, I feel a deep sense of affection and euphoria.
This great circular space is to me, and to many even without such memories, both grand and intimate.
It’s also wonderfully flexible,with its central arena, for many great occasions.
The Hall was originally supposed to have been called The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed by Queen Victoria to Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when laying the foundation stone, as a dedication to her deceased husband and consort Prince Albert. It forms the practical part of a national memorial to the Prince Consort – the decorative part is the Albert Memorial directly to the north in Kensington Gardens, now separated from the Hall by the road Kensington Gore.
Thank you to Queen Victoria for deciding to commemorate Albert in this, among many other ways!