The ArtMuseLondon team ventured to Rotherhithe Wednesday night for a fine concert in a most unusual venue – the massive iron shaft down to the Thames tunnel, the first road tunnel under the river, conceived and built by Marc Brunel, and his then unknown son, Isambard Kingdom. Known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, the tunnel – the first in the world under a major river – opened in 1843 and hundreds of thousands of people walked through it in its first weeks. Originally the entrance hall to the tunnel, the shaft later provided ventilation from the steam trains which ran beneath, and many vestiges of its earlier role remain, from the soot-scorched walls with their crumbling stucco to the rumble of Overground trains which now run below in the original tunnel. The space was converted to a performance venue in 2016, complete with a freestanding cantilevered staircase (designed by architects Tate Harmer) of which Brunel, father and son, would be justly proud.
The space has a surprisingly good acoustic – with such a high ceiling it’s akin to a large church – and is atmospherically lit to create an intriguing and intimate concert space. But take a cardigan or wrap as, despite the warm evening, inside the shaft was distinctly chilly!
Formed in 2017, Eos Trio (Angela Najaryan, Paul Evernden and Jelena Makarova) are a violin, clarinet and piano trio, all alumni of the Royal Academy of Music. They have a passion for both new and older repertoire, and their programme for the evening reflected this, beginning with a Sonata by CPE Bach (arranged for their combination of instruments by Paul Evernden), Arvo Pärt’s Frâtres for violin and piano, a new work by Greek composer Dimitris Maragopulos for clarinet and piano, and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time (for which the trio were joined by Canadian cellist Daryl Giuliano).
This was a most interesting concert, and once one’s ears had tuned in to the rather unusual, echoey acoustic and the strange rumblings and other “noises off” from the railway beneath, it proved an absorbing evening of music, sensitively and imaginatively played. Being so close to the music made it all the more powerful, especially the Messiaen, where the stark venue served as a reminder of the place where the Quartet was originally composed and premiered (a German prisoner of war camp). But this concert wasn’t just about the music – the venue was an integral part of the performance, providing a dramatic backdrop to some of the most spiritually profound music of the 20th century.