Yesterday I adjudicated a scholarship whose auditions were held at the Royal Academy of Music. Their Josefowitz Recital Hall is set into the ground at basement level. Half way up the wall behind the stage is a large half-moon-shaped window as wide as the room. This whole window is actually above ground level. The lower rim of the window is level with a patio on the street outside, and this patio appears to be favoured by smokers, who gather to have a cigarette in the shelter of the building. Curiously, they seem unaware of the fact that there is a concert hall below them. Nobody ever turned round to look down into the room. The comings and goings provide a strange counterpoint to the music, one that I can’t quite imagine the architect intended.
From my position at the adjudicator’s table, this window produced a curious effect. In front of me was the stage, with a grand piano on it and a succession of fine young pianists playing their hearts out. Above the stage was the half-moon window. It was raining heavily outside, and the light was grey. People would gather in groups on the patio to smoke, or to shelter in the lee of the building. Sometimes a lone figure in an anorak would drift into the centre of the lunette and stand there with their back to us, apparently oblivious of the concert hall below. I kept thinking how startling it would be if I were in a cathedral, looking up at the window above the altar and suddenly seeing the hooded figure of a smoker appear in that exalted position.