The Classical Music Palace
Antonio Gaudí and Lluis Domenech I Montaner led the XVIIIth Century urban renewal in Barcelona, and it is the latter who completed this project despite quite a few problems, namely the site’s cramped nature. There was not much space to build a concert hall, but it was chosen, because the Orfeo’s members all lived close to it. A small historical digression is necessary, as the Orfeó Catala needs to be properly introduced. Wanting to support Catalan music, Lluís Millet and Amadeu Vives set up the Orfeó Catala in 1891, which had grown to over 180 singers by 1908. It has a wide and extensive repertoire.
During the Franco dictatorship, references to Catalan culture had to be hidden or destroyed and the Palau was not excepted. There is so much to see and appreciate. Let us start with the outside: a red brick façade decorated with mosaics by Lluis Bru and a sculpture entitled La Cançó Popular Catalana represented by a maid surrounded by male and female figures by Miquel Blay. This initial façade merely hides the more lustrous and delightful second façade made of glass that allows natural light to slip in and cover the concert hall. This architectural trick enhances all that is inside the hall itself.
The gorgeous yellow and blue glass dome designed by Rigalt and Granell overlooking the stage would be the first thing that grabs your attention, but look at the stage itself, which as the seat of the music is the place where your eyes and ears should be; firstly, the proscenium that contains two sculptures, one inspired by Wagner’s Ride of Valkyries and another of Beethoven. Pau Gargallo and Didac Massana designed both of them, and then the stage’s rear scene with mosaics by Eusebi Arnau and Mario Maragliano. Walking around the hall will bring you face to face with columns, such as those on the main balcony, that are decorated with colourful floral themes whose motifs regularly appear in the glass and ceramics. Go for the staircases that are between the main hall and the gallery and if you are artistically observant, you will realize that they represent a transition between their different artistic and architectural styles.
The Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Richard Strauss had the honour of the opening performances in May followed by Pau Casals in October. A year later, the Pau Casals Orchestra was inaugurated; the first symphony to be permanently installed here. In 1997, UNESCO declared it a “World Heritage Site”. Some of the composers who have walked through its doors include Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Ravel on the piano, Stravinsky holding the conductor’s baton, and Bennie Carter blowing away on a saxophone.
As with most early XIXth Century buildings, some ‘modern’ adjustments had to be made, namely adding a larger foyer and air conditioning by opening small holes in each leaf covering the ceiling. The building is an architectural marvel.