Small town builds new concert hall. London won’t.

Small town builds new concert hall. London won’t.


norman lebrecht

January 20, 2015

The Moravian city of Brno, population 400,000, has a Beethoven-sized philharmonic orchestra and a very good concert hall. If it wants to do the ninth symphony or anything larger, it has to use the opera house, which is named after the city’s most important musician, Leos Janacek.

The Janacek Theatre, somewhat showing its age, is perfectly serviceable for opera, but the acoustics are not right for concerts.


Today the city told the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra that it can have the funding needed to build a new hall, probably some £27 million. Mikel Toms, who conducts there a lot, is thrilled.

London (population 8 million), on the other hand…. oh, don’t go there.


  • Alexander Hall says:

    Some of us have been arguing for years that London badly needs a world-class concert-hall with the kind of acoustics those of us who are forced to frequent the RFH or Barbican can only dream of. However, until the external circumstances change – philistines in successive governments who couldn’t care less about such a supposedly elitist concern, plus the absence of sufficient economic growth – nothing at all is likely to happen.

    • MWnyc says:

      The problem is, of course, that from the perspective of the public officials who have to use taxpayers’ money* to pay for it all, it’s difficult to justify spending millions to build a new and good concert hall when there are already several bad concert halls in place.

      Especially since one never knows for sure whether the new concert hall will actually be good until it’s finished and the money has all been spent.

      * In theory, it wouldn’t have to be taxpayers’ money, but no one who’s clamoring for a new, acoustically decent concert hall are suggesting that the RFH or the Barbican Hall or Avery Fisher Hall be sold to real estate developers, with the proceeds being used to build a new concert hall elsewhere.

      • Anne says:

        Additional problems in the UK include listed building status, the fact that money has already been spent trying to improve the two halls you mention, and a cynical press which sees elitism everywhere (the Cardiff Bay Opera House springs to mind).

        So far as design is concerned, if a miracle happens and Simon Rattle or somebody is able to push something through, I sincerely hope we play safe, risk angering our leading architects if necessary, and copy a tried and tested design from somewhere else. Another mistake doesn’t bear thinking about.

        Pie in the sky, I think.

        • SVM says:

          A London-specific issue would also be obtaining an affordable, suitably located (which means somewhere in Zone 1, really) plot of land on which to erect a new hall.

        • Mikko says:

          I do think that acoustic design is finally got to the point where one can build a good hall predictably, if there’s no architectural pressure to do something unusual and untested, and if the acoustic designer is worth his or her fee (the handful of usual-suspect big names seem to all do well).

          • Anne says:

            Agree that we can build good concert halls reliably but I think it would be very difficult to justify another hall in London with anything less than first rate acoustics. We’ve always had the option of copying the best shoe box designs, but we haven’t. Seating capacity has probably played a part in this. Seems to me that when you push seating well above the more reliable 1700 – 2000 optimum, results become far less predictable.

            SVM mentions problem of finding a site. That’s another issue. I believe that the fan shape of the Barbican Hall was dictated by the shape of the site available.

            If it were up to me, I’d just copy the Concertgebouw and ignore the inevitable complaints from architects and others of ‘missed opportunity’ etc. Acoustically, we’ve had missed opportunities for years.

      • NYMike says:

        “Selling AF Hall to real estate developers” – not gonna happen since its part of LINCOLN CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS. A redo of the hall (hopefully with far better results) will commence with LC, NYPO and city government footing the bill.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    It’s called the Wales Millennium Centre and that’s what everyone calls it, not the Cardiff Bay Opera House. In fact opera is very much a minority offering there, touring shows taking up most of the dates. Later addition is the splendid Hoddinott Hall, home of the equally splendid BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

    • Anne says:

      Peter Phillips: You’ve missed the point in a spectacular way. It WAS called the Cardiff Bay Opera House when originally proposed, and attracted a lot of criticism from the tabloid press for the reason stated.

      I wasn’t attacking Wales. I suggest you stop being so thin skinned and think before pressing ‘post’.

      Google: ‘Zaha Hadid’ and ‘Cardiff Bay Opera House’.

  • Greg says:

    Some countries sponsor Anjem Choudary and use a zillion pounds to avoid daily terror attacks, others sponsor culture. Way to go, Czechs. And in neighboring Poland: (from

    In September, the city of Szczecin in northwest Poland opened a translucent philharmonic hall. On Oct. 1, the Polish National Radio Symphony moved into Katowice’s 377,000-square-foot hall, where the Vienna Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra have already performed. Next September, the city of Wroclaw will open its National Forum of Music, a complex of similar dimensions.

  • Paul Mauffray says:

    we will all be happy about this in Brno. But Norman, I don’t believe it is fair to call the Brno Philharmonic a “Beethoven-sized orchestra”. When I conducted the Rite of Spring with them, they were certainly larger than you lead one to think, and all you have to do is view this page with their roster to see that it is more of a Mahler-sized orchestra (and a very good one too):