Chile looks below the surface for music

The unique acoustics of a tunnel slicing through the Chilean mountains made it an alluringly unusual place for a classical music concert.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Virginia Vargas had never seen anything like it – actually, no one had. Set atop an improbable stage a mile inside the belly of a mountain, Santiago’s Philharmonic Orchestra swelled a cement cave with the sounds of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.”

Cerro San Cristóbal, a hill in northern Santiago, Chile, divides the city. A tunnel slices through the mountain, providing a vital north-south connection – and apparently an acoustic uniqueness.

For one day, the San Cristóbal Tunnel was shut down to allow the Municipal Theater of Santiago and the Philharmonic Orchestra to transform the cavernous surroundings into a concert hall. Minister of Public Works Hernán de Solminihac called it an opportunity to “take art and culture from its traditional spaces and occupy public infrastructure beyond the every day.”

Ms. Vargas, who had won her ticket in an online lottery, described the concert as simply “amazing.”

Bathed in the orange glow of the tunnel’s emergency lighting, the orchestra treated an audience of 1,500 to Rossini and Mendelssohn. For Vargas, it was her first classical music concert.

Citric-toned perfume blended with an undercurrent of diesel, and as the lights dimmed the tunnel felt uniquely suited for a concert. The finale was met with thunderous applause. And then came a mile-long exodus to the surface.

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