The show must go on – The Christchurch Town Hall

Christchurch Town HallWho can say what the Town Hall has contributed to the cultural life of Christchurch?

I remember the days before we had it. Concerts were often held in the tin box of Canterbury Court or the wide open spaces of King Edward Barracks. Not a lot of atmosphere, and you had to hope it didn’t rain because the noise could drown out the performance. Not having a proper venue meant we had trouble attracting performers, so the opening of the new town hall in 1972 caused great excitement.

Researching the opening in Proquest I was surprised to find that this was not our first town hall. The first one in High Street was built in 1857, “but proved unsatisfactory” and the second was damaged in the 1869 earthquake.

The auditorium has proven a wonderful success – with clear lines of sight and excellent acoustics, even in the cheap seats. Some of the outstanding performers of the 70s that stick in my mind are Yehudi Menuhin with his own orchestra, and pop stars like Roberta Flack and Don McLean. It also finally gave a home to our symphony orchestra which proceeded to flourish.

The James Hay Theatre proved its worth for recitals, operas and ballets. My earlier memories include everything from an unknown pianist called Irina Plotnikova, winner of the inaugural Sydney International Piano Competition, who held the whole audience in thrall, to Nureyev dancing in his later years, to a beautifully costumed Magic Flute by the then new Canterbury Opera.

The huge variety of community groups, classical orchestras, touring artists, opera companies and choirs which have come to use these venues have vastly enriched our lives and it is impossible to imagine Christchurch without this melting pot of musical culture. Unfortunately damage from the quake has left its future in doubt. It is my fervent hope that we are able to attend more performances there soon.

We all have our own favourite memories of the Town Hall. What have been your favourite performances?

12 thoughts on “The show must go on – The Christchurch Town Hall

  1. bronnypop 24 May 2011 / 9:59 am

    August 29th, 1984. U2’s Under Australian Skies tour – I was 17 years old, and it was my first proper concert ever. I was right up the front, and was completely deaf for three days afterwards – it was fantastic! I’ve even found the concert playlist here:

  2. richard 24 May 2011 / 11:13 am

    Annie Crummer as a teenager performing with Netherworld Dancing Toys, sometime in the early or mid-80s. It was a big Kiwi music festival of some sort.

  3. Allie 24 May 2011 / 11:43 am

    Christchurch Schools Music Festivals, and the annual Christchurch School of Music demonstration/showcase (or demolition) concerts. Fantastic place to learn to perform.

    I also have wonderful memories of the Jacques Loussier Trio performing there, and the screening of The Battleship Potemkin with the CSO playing Shostakovich’s score.

  4. Erin Harrington 24 May 2011 / 12:16 pm

    Singing, a capella, in front of a full house at a school prizegiving, and nearly throwing up I was so nervous. CSIM demolition concerts – being 5 years old, holding my recorder, thinking that the lights in the ceiling were stars. Choral Fed. Sneaking in during the day when noone was around and enjoying the darkness and the wide, empty space. Like Allie, I loved Jacques Loussier – I took my very ill father and sat there nearly in tears it was so lovely. My single best film experience was there too – The Thief of Baghdad accompanied by the orchestra. Running round and round the upper stories. Having a nap in the James Hay during tech rehearsals. The toilets, which are some of the only publically open in the area – good for emergencies!

  5. zackids 24 May 2011 / 6:17 pm

    The Christchurch Schools Music Festival would have to be one of mine too. I was in the special choir for 2 or 3 years and I loved being part of it. My favourite concert would have to be ENZSO, when the Finn brothers, Dave Dobbyn, Annie Crummer and Sam Hunt got together with the NZSO to perform the great Split Enz songs. That was the first concert I went to with my dad and it started a long running tradition of going to concerts together.

  6. Paul 24 May 2011 / 11:13 pm

    Many memories but a quick recollection gave me a toss up between the theatrical events of seeing The Fires of London perform Peter Maxwell Davies music theatre piece Eight songs for a mad king and the Residents in the James Hay. Eight songs featured the performers in suspended cages, the Residents featured Snakefinger, eyeballs and the sad but hilarious attempt by a small group of skinheads in the audience trying to exit through plate glass windows. I am still unsure why they payed money to see the enigma that is the residents and after paying they decided to leave early.

    But I think the winner is still seeing a young Talking Heads perform with the prototype set of More Songs about Buildings and Food. David Byrne and the team left the most lasting impression – geeks can rock with minimalism and long sentences in songs are ok.

  7. jane 25 May 2011 / 2:36 pm

    The NZ symphony orchestra, sitting behind the stage and seeing the harpest sobbing as she played. I have no memory of the piece as I was so transfixed by her!

  8. El Zorro 25 May 2011 / 6:22 pm

    I intensely enjoyed the NZSO with Hilary Hahn and Pietari Inkinen last April, her performance of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto entered my marrow bone. And the Town Hall was only half full! You missed out, Christchurch.

  9. Marion 26 May 2011 / 9:32 am

    Lots of shared memories here – sitting behind the orchestra was a great experience, Menuhin,CSIM and Primary Schools Music Festival concerts, Jacques Loussier, Emmy Lou Harris …
    Oh and the bloody uncomfortable seating!

  10. Michael A 26 May 2011 / 4:43 pm

    Numero uno – Little Feat at the height of their powers maybe 1979?

    As for the rest…XTC who blew the walls off the building they were so loud (all that Andy Partidge performance anxiety I think) and Elvis Costello and the Attractions and Dave Brubeck and Billy Connelly when he was still funny and Cheech and Chong and Joan Armatrading and…

  11. Robyn 12 June 2011 / 10:24 pm

    And Henry V (or was it IV) as the opening performance in 1972 (?). I think it was directed by Dame Ngaio Marsh – can I really be that old? I was a school girl at the time I hasten to add.
    Most memorable – Lou Reed (twice). Once when he was straight, once not so much. One time the person in front of me vomited all over the person in front of them. And the vomitee sat through the whole show. But then it was Lou.
    Also The Boomtown Rats. Also Bonnie Raitt just a couple of years ago. And the incomparable Emmylou Harris. And Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell!
    And Split Enz. And Space Waltz.. And always and forever Don McGlashan – “and the voice says this is London, and I wait to count the beats…”
    The trippy mirrors in the women’s toilets.
    Graduating there and seeing two of my children graduate there.

    • billirwin 4 September 2011 / 1:27 pm

      Lou at the Town Hall, was it ’76 or ’77? Pretty much my all time favourite music experience. I was at boarding school in ChCh and escaped for the night to see Lou. Was and am still a keen photographer, took my camera in and found my way up to a great spot in the balcony (minimal security those days!), got some great images of classic Lou, full bore. His drummer spotted me and biffed a drumstick at me.
      And Lou is still going, unlike the Town Hall. Hopefully we will see it open again.

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