Possible World Record Attendance at Rachmaninoff Ampico Concerts
Some time back I was asked to consider providing two instruments
from my collection for 2014 Melbourne White Night Festival. It was
proposed that a reproducing grand piano capable of playing the music
of Rachmaninoff be used in a major concert recital venue and a large
European outdoor organ also be placed in the city.
For the benefit of those not familiar with concept of The White Night
Festival, the movement grew up from a cultural event held annually in
St. Petersburg in Russia (to celebrate their summer solstice where
sunsets are late, sunrises are early and darkness is never complete) to
all-night cultural events held in a number of cities around the world.
It was originally proposed to use one of my Mason & Hamlin AA
Ampico grand pianos but short notice and unforeseen circumstances
prevented this and Harold and Beverley Ball very kindly and generously
agreed to provide their fine 1921 Knabe 5' 8" Ampico for the occasion.
The Festival was held last night and I am pleased to advise it as
a roaring success at all levels. The crowd was very well behaved and
preliminary estimates of attendance indicate that it was well over
double that of last year and may well have been over 700,000 people.
Regarding the Ampico Rachmaninoff concerts, I was very surprised to
see a queue of people approximately 100 yards long awaiting entry to
Hamer Hall for our first session at 7:00 p.m. Over the course of the
night the Box Office tells me that approximately 15,000 people of all
ages attended the event and patrons were attentive, respectful and
interested. Whist I was the notional compare of the event, Harold Ball
also very kindly shared this role and together we introduced rolls and
provided commentary, gave historical background information and later
answered questions put by the audience.
Harold Ball on the stage was at his sartorial best and, together with
his shock of white hair, was initially mistaken for Rachmaninoff by
the younger and less well informed members of our audience. (Given
Harold's long involvement and passion with our interest, I could not
help but think that perhaps Rachmaninoff's love child may have been
a more apt description).
My Verbeeck organ, "Australia Fair Grand Concert Organ," was also
used and its operation required the kind assistance of Damen O'Donahue,
Steve Rattle, Micky Tee, Nick Lange and Scott Harison. It attracted
crowds of between 200-300 all night and most were taken in with its
operation and loved the very fine arrangements provided by both Johnny
Verbeeck and Tommy Meijer.
All in all, it was a very satisfying event and on a serious note
(regarding our Ampico concerts), I am amazed to think that crowds
of this magnitude and age group, could today be attracted to largely
forgotten technology and to a concert virtuoso who has been dead for
over 70 years. It just shows that good publicity for events at prime
concert venues can draw an audience. To the best of my knowledge,
I am not aware of a crowd of this size ever attending reproducing piano
concerts (and possibly even to live Rachmaninoff concerts)and would be
interested to hear if anyone knows of a larger audience attendance.
Kind regards always,