Where should classical music be performed? It might still be synonymous with grand concert halls, but maybe times are changing. We’ve had a number of reviews in the last couple of weeks which have been looking at the effect of location – often, it seems, it makes quite the difference.

Gavin Bryars' Sinking of the Titanic at (Le) Poisson Rouge © Mark Shelby Perry
Gavin Bryars' Sinking of the Titanic at (Le) Poisson Rouge
© Mark Shelby Perry
Leading the way has been Joe in New York, firstly with a trip to that famously hip classical venue (Le) Poisson Rouge, at which the JACK Quartet and cellist Joshua Roman tackled music spanning over three centuries. While Joe had found a prior Beethoven performance at LPR a very “particular” experience – David also had something to say about the venue’s background noise a few weeks back – at the JACKs’ concert the innovative programming helped to produce an evening which boded well for classical music’s future: “if nothing else”, Joe commented, “other efforts ought to look to LPR as a model for which battles to fight and which to concede.” Joe’s second interesting location was a barge, where he went for a programme of music by Milhaud, Lutosławski and others – here, Bargemusic’s concert brought up questions not only about appropriate classical music venues, but also about that very old-fashioned concept of the “Masterwork”.

Some shows, of course, are conceived with particular venues in mind, and the City of London Festival’s How Like an Angel – a collaboration between contemporary circus company Circa and vocal ensemble I Fagiolini – impressed Katja with its beautiful use of one of London’s oldest churches, St Bartholomew-the-Great. CoLF has also been making good use of St Paul’s Cathedral, with a rendition of Britten’s War Requiem from Edward Gardner and the CBSO which was stirring despite the problematic acoustic. Another intriguing London venue is Village Underground, a cavernous space filled with atmosphere, and the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival scored hits there recently both with a show of Monteverdi ballets and with some puppetry from London Sinfonietta.

Circa and I Fagiolini, How Like An Angel - Billie Wilson-Coffey © Robert Piwko
Circa and I Fagiolini, How Like An Angel - Billie Wilson-Coffey
© Robert Piwko

Venues don’t always help, though, as Richard found at the Montreal première of Vivaldi’s Motezuma in a newly converted bank lobby, and I wasn’t fully convinced by Kings Place’s small-scale handling of the Klangforum Wien on a rare visit to London – though the concert was undoubtedly “in the space–time continuum”, as its programme pointed out. And sometimes, of course, nature intervenes: it’s hard to imagine what either the Vienna Staatsoper (for David McVicar’s new Tristan) or the Vienna Konzerthaus (for Camerata Salzburg) could have done about the “oven-like” conditions which a heatwave inflicted on the city’s residents. At least the Konzerthaus apologised, though, for the men playing without their jackets.

Martin Lukas Meister with the orchestra and choruses in rehearsal for Mahler 8 in Darmstadt © Barbara Aumüller
Martin Lukas Meister with the orchestra and choruses in rehearsal for Mahler 8 in Darmstadt
© Barbara Aumüller
None of this is to suggest that extraordinary things can’t take place within a standard concert hall. After all, Rohan was blasted out to space – HD space, at that – by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Lawrence Renes for a recent performance at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. Just as stratospheric, in a different way, was the small city of Darmstadt’s combined effort for Mahler 8 – it’s always an impressive piece to witness, but Ken found this “an achievement of which few similar-sized communities could even dream”. Having Alan Gilbert “lugging a life-size puppet down the aisle” of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, meanwhile, surely also counts as an innovative use of space.

Other recent highlights on Bachtrack have included a five-star appearance from Mark Morris Dance Group at Toronto’s Luminato festival (choreographed to Handel’s oft-reviewed L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato); a fresh look at Britten’s Gloriana at the Royal Opera House; and an enchanting Hänsel und Gretel at Garsington Opera. Controversy of the fortnight was Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, an impeccably researched, fresh look at a rather old story, which has recently premièred with San Francisco Opera. It’s split the critics, but Jeffery found this “a compelling, dramatic journey”, if not a complete success. And the biggest disappointment was Laurie Anderson’s new show with the Kronos Quartet, which I couldn’t make any sense of at the Barbican.

Big or small, formal or casual, venues play an important role for sure – but it’s rare that they steal the show. For proof of that, just remember that one of the world’s greatest music festivals takes place in a venue whose acoustic few can abide. Yes, the BBC Proms are back in town next week, and here in London we’re all rather excited. Look out for reviews from the Proms – as well as from New Zealand, Cleveland, Verbier, and festivals in the UK and elsewhere – over the next few weeks.