Live at the Hex at Acland Burghley School

Camden’s immersive playlist: Live at the Hex

This unmissable new event on London's gig circuit is born from an unusual collaboration

The corridor you walk down on the way to the Live at the HEX event is stained with the lumen blood of red LEDs, a bit like being in David Lynch’s dreams, or a vampire’s oesophagus. The air is thick with dry ice and, after stepping through a curtain of shivering silver tentacles, I find myself born again into the hexagonal womb that is the hall at Acland Burghley School, a brutalist space designed by eminent architects Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis.

“It’s hexagonal and uncompromising, like this event!” Crispin Woodhead, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s (OAE) CEO, grins. The scene is lit the same striking red as the corridor. In the centre is a hexagonal stage, the hall in miniature. Students lounge around the edges occasionally trying their luck at the bar.

LIVE AT THE HEX came about through candid conversations with students, Crispin explains. “They wanted to formulate a live playlist. They thought about the hall and decided to riff on the idea of its shape of it, enjoying the magical witchy connotation. They thought of a strapline: Making Hexagons Fun Since May 2022. They are very funny, these kids!”

The project is just one of the ways in which the Orchestra is working with students since they became the first orchestra in the UK to move into a school in 2020. “We want to signal that the school is a relevant and attractive centre for really well-presented, high quality musical entertainment. It’s an important seeing-is-believing exercise that an orchestra moving into a school is not about puff pieces and PR chatter, it is about sleeves being rolled up, screwdrivers coming out and effort being made to create new opportunity”, Crispin says. As part of the event, students get to develop skills in artistic planning, event production, camera craft and set design.

Not only do these ‘Young Producers’ present and manage the event and operate complex camera and lighting equipment, students also perform alongside professional musicians, including the OAE’s own players. “It’s not an aw, didn’t they do well? thing. It’s about young people functioning as professionals. The students on stage are just as important as the other performers. They are there on merit, have a contract they negotiated with fellow student administrators, a schedule, management…” Crispin elaborates.

What do the students feel they have learnt from playing and working alongside professional musicians? “That keeping things simple can be beautiful”, one says. “What professionalism is all about, the importance of careful preparation”, another chimes in. “The Orchestra are patient and inspiring!”, adds a third. The result of this collaboration is no ordinary event. The format itself is unique – the audience follows each act as they travel around the space, and each performance is strikingly different, though no less magical, than the last.

The night begins with a bang, a rather robust and invigorating one, as a rock n roll trio of students take to the centre stage. Chroma Harp follows, a harp duo playing original compositions that use the wood of their instruments as percussion whilst they pluck the strings like sirens in front of a group of enchanted children. Next up are Aoife Ní Bhriain and Cormac Ó Briain, an Irish violinist and cello duo playing Romanian folk music.

As the audience is recovering from Aoife and Cormac’s synergetic virtuosity, a suited man steps up to the piano under a stage light that looks like a film noir lamppost, playing his own Nocturne inspired by insomnia. Rob Colley’s composition is a Romantic, melancholy tune that he plays so thoughtfully it’s almost as if we’re watching him find the notes for the first time. 

Then the resident OAE takes to the stage on the next side in the hexagon, accompanying award-winning opera singer Christine Rice and featuring a spectacular Baroque Theorbo. Finally, two of the presenters themselves, delightful hosts called Riley and Sidney, perch on the centre stage, singing softly, playing the acoustic guitar, and using some keys and school stationary as percussion.

This is not a normal school concert. Each performance was something you’d pay to see on its own. Crispin has big plans for the HEX, “we’d like the event to become a ‘thing’ in the London gig circuit.” I’m convinced the London gig circuit would be honoured if this enrapturing, innovative and accomplished ‘thing’ would join it.

LIVE AT THE HEX

The next LIVE AT THE HEX takes place on December 2nd. Find your tickets here.

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