Who 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?