Opening her concert programme at the grand opening today of Hope University’s Capstone Building, Joanna MacGregor explained why she had chosen to kick off with a piece by Renaissance composer, William Byrd. She was inspired, she said, by the Angel Field Renaissance Garden that will soon open alongside The Capstone to complete Hope University’s Creative Campus in Everton.

Capstone Theatre

It’s certainly a renaissance for this part of Everton, transformed in the last few years from an area of derelict buildings dominated by the old St Francis Xavier school (SFX) and the Gothic facade of the Collegiate. The first step in the development of the campus to house Hope University’s Creative and Performing Arts departments was the transformation of the SFX building into The Cornerstone, home to the annual Cornerstone Festival and the Cornerstone Art Gallery. Meanwhile, across the road, the Collegiate has been redeveloped by Urban Splash to house high-quality serviced apartments, retaining the Gothic facade.

And continuing the renaissance theme – scouser Winifred Robinson on BBC radio 4’s You and Yours today, presented a feature on the new Museum of Liverpool, reckoned to be the largest national museum built in the UK for more than a century, which has now been handed over by the construction company for fitting out before opening in 2011.  The museum will demonstrate Liverpool’s unique contribution to the world and showcase popular culture and social, historical and contemporary issues. It occupies a prominent position in the UNESCO World Heritage site between the Albert Dock and the Pier Head, next to The Three Graces of the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and Harbour Board.

For some, this has made the development controversial.  The building is in stark contrast to the Three Graces, and is conceived by its Danish architects as inclined or elevated platforms, forming a sculptural structure. Personally, I think that, with its high-quality limestone cladding, it is a fine addition to the waterfront. I don’t see why neo-classical buildings can only be joined by more of the same. Today’s radio broadcast also whetted the appetite for seeing the interior of the building: there is a spiral staircase that soars from a grand entrance lobby (above) and a third floor picture-window view of the Three Graces that is, apparaently, stunning.

Nevertheless, sometimes the loss of a distinctive view must be mourned. The view (below) of the Three Graces from the Albert Dock, looking across Canning Dock, is no more: obscured by a large apartment block, clad in black reflective glass. It’s not an unattractive building, but a famous view is gone.

Returning to the Joanna MacGregor recital:  having seen her several times now in different configurations, I think that this was her most electric performance. She was inaugurating the new Steinway grand piano, and after the highlight of the show – an amazing rendition of George Crumb’s A Little Suite for Christmas AD 1979, in which the pianist is required to hammer, pound, pluck, stroke and strum the instrument inside and out – she assured us that ‘no piano had been harmed in the process’. Later, though, the piano was subjected to an extraordinary pummelling in the Six Tangos by Astor Piazzolla. Leaving a friend remarked, ‘never buy a used piano off Joanna MacGregor!’

Joanna MacGregor – who is now Professor of Musical Performance at Hope – is always educative in her introductions to pieces. No less so this evening. Introducing Byrd’s Hugh Ashton’s Ground, she explained how her piano arrangement aimed to capture the original’s weaving together of several voices over a ground, creating a set of variations each one more complex than the one preceding. She spoke about how the George Crumb Suite was inspired by his first visit to the early 14th century Arena Chapel in Padua and the exquisitely beautiful Nativity frescoes by Giotto.

The concert continued with Six Mazurkas by Chopin, selected from the 58 short pieces MacGregor said, to reflect the range of moods and emotions captured in them. She remarked on their blazingly pro-Polish character (Schumann described them as  ‘cannons buried in flowers’) and noted both Chopin and Piazzolla were exiles from their native land – Chopin a political exile, Piazzolla born in Argentina but brought up (by parents who were in the Mafia!) in New York.

The performance took place in the Hope Theatre, which feels a lot like the smaller theatre at the RNCM in Manchester. If the plan is to stage similar concerts to those at the RNCM, I will be mightily pleased. The Grand Opening brochure does seem to suggest that the Phil’s 10/10 Ensemble performances will take place here.

‘Before the Everyman theatre became a national success in the seventies, Hope Hall, or ‘The Hopey,’ was the much loved venue for poets, actors and musicians. Now there is renewed hope, the Hope Theatre in the Capstone building on Shaw Street. Spacey but intimate, warm and yet cool.’
– Roger McGough

‘Liverpool Hope is opening up new and exciting opportunities not only for the residents of Everton but for all those interested in the arts.’
– Jimmy McGovern, writer, Old Xaverian and Friend of Hope at Everton


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