DURING AN INTERVAL of a concert given in Thaxted’s parish church, someone sitting close to us asked whether we hade ever been to a performance in what she described as the ‘superb concert hall’ in nearby Saffron Walden. We had no idea that the small Essex town had a concert hall of note. Always keen to enjoy classical music and to have an excuse to visit Essex, we booked for a concert given on the 12th of August 2022 by both the Essex Youth Orchestra and the Essex Young People’s Orchestra.
The concert hall, which has seating for audiences of over 700 people, was opened in late 2013. It is attached to Saffron Walden county high school, and was financed by a private donation of at least £10 million. This is believed to be the largest private donation to have been made to a state school. The hall is used both for school purposes and for public performances. The venue attracts ‘big names’ in both the classical and non-classical music worlds. For example, the Autumn 2022 programme includes concerts by: the Hallé Orchestra, Isata Kanneh-Mason, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Lady Smith Black Mambazo, Courtney Pine, The Sixteen, the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, and so on. In addition to these better-known performers, there is a host of others.
The air-conditioned hall is beautiful. It is spacious, and fitted with adjustable acoustic panels and its walls are lined with birch wood. We heard a wide range of compositions beautifully performed by the two orchestras. The acoustics were fantastically good. The sound quality within the hall rivals that of the best concert halls in London. A small grumble is that the seating is not overly comfortable, but that did not detract from our enjoyment of the music performed by some of the best young musicians in Essex. Saffron Walden is not far from London, but it feels like it is much further away. If you do not mind night driving, it would be feasible to drive to and from Saffron Hall to enjoy an evening concert, but my suggestion is to spend a night somewhere near the hall and to enjoy Saffron Walden, its concert hall, and its rustic surroundings.