The Rattle Daily: New hall is pie in the sky

When the dust settles from Simon Rattle’s blitz on British media – the latest roseate sample can be read here – will London get a new concert hall?

Let’s face the realities.

1 London needs a concert hall with good acoustics. No question.

2 No politician will promise one in an election year – there is no surer way to lose an election than by pledging a concert hall at the expense of public libraries, public health and public safety.

3 No elected politician will offer one after an election, either. The money isn’t there.

4  That leaves private money. An Emirates concert hall? An HSBC tax-dodgers hall? More questions here than answers. There is no moral solution.

5 London has the highest per–square-inch real estate value in Europe. There is no more expensive place to build a concert hall.

6 If by some miracle a clean-handed dotcom billionaire offered £500 million for a new hall, where would it be built?

7 Rattle’s allies – and the Mayor of London – are eyeing Olympopolis, the former 2012 Olympic village, far to the east of the city. But there’s no likely audience living anywhere near the site at present, and there won’t be one for the next 20 years.

8 So a new hall remains hot air, a Rattle-fuelled balloon that cannot get off the ground.

9 But London needs a new hall, every music lover knows that.

10 It will take more than a Rattle-dazzle to get one.

simon rattle vesa siren

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  • We tend to think of concert halls as stand-alone buildings. Yet there are examples around the world of performance spaces incorporated into high-rise multi-purpose buildings. For example, the new National Theatre is at ground level of the 54-storey Tokyo Opera City Tower complex, a building which also includes to one side the excellent Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall.

    Is it totally out of the equation that whichever company builds the next Gherkin or Shard could be persuaded to incorporate a world class concert venue with all the trimmings? There must surely be considerable kudos to be gained, in addition to some funding from the city and national governments. Should we rule out an Emirates Arts Centre/Concert Hall so quickly?

  • Norman, you suggest that there is no audience for a new concert-hall near the 2012 Olympic site (point 7 above). That is precisely the same argument advanced to disqualify the magnificent new Philharmonie de Paris on the outer periphery. Now that its recent inauguration has confirmed what a wonderful place this is, audiences will flock there from all over Paris and beyond. Audiences will go wherever quality performances and quality aural experiences can be expected, and the same would hold good for any new concert-hall in London built in the outer suburbs.

  • Sir Simon once said that the only great hall in London is the Wigmore and funnily enough it’s been advertised that he’ll be making his WH debut next season as a pianist accompanying his wife.

  • Norman, with reference to point 7 what makes you think there wouldn’t be an audience for a new concert-hall away from central areas of town and near the former Olympic site? That is precisely what some commentators thought about the splendid new Philharmonie de Paris when its location on the periphery became known. Audiences will flock to any new place that offers first-rate concert performances and aural experiences, and that is as true as it now is for Paris as anywhere else on the planet.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, Alexander. I live in an area with an E postcode; I attend concerts, opera and dance performances, and not just in London. There are plenty of arts lovers and practioners who live within a short tube ride of the Olympic site, as seen from the number of people who flock to the tube going east after a performance in Covent Garden, on the West End, on the Southbank, etc. Norman, No.7 simply isn’t true and, as Alexander points out, audiences will always travel for quality.

    • The reality in London is that the majority of concert goers need to commute home to the suburbs afterwards, which means catching a train from Waterloo or Charing Cross or the like. A concert hall in the Olympic Village will add significantly to their commute and detract them from going. Most people will not use their car to get into work during the week (parking & congestion charge) and therefore rely on public transport to get home after a concert. This is the reality in London, and different from Paris.

        • Yes, they came to the Olympics but that was for a fortnight! This would be permanent. I come from E3 but have moved out of London to West Yorkshire in 2012. I’m not convinced Stratford East would be the place for such a thing. Anyhow, we’re not going to get one – and whilst the ones we have are felt to be inadequate, they are rarely never full, and on it goes. The worst concert hall is the RAH, and you’d never get the Proms taken out of there. The next is the Barbican, which I think is the newest of 1982 or something like that, and RFH is not so bad. There’s the King’s Place which isn’t so big, and then there’s Cadogan Hall which I must say I’ve never been to, even when I lived in London. I think it’s like building churches, until they’re full, then there isn’t going to be much political appetite for such a place, and yes, people need to be near mainline train stations, not stuck out in Stratford East or the likes. Rome got a new centre, and it’s out of the city, and a nightmare to get to with the extra travelling. So much easier just to have halls, and particularly the South Bank, so near Waterloo and Charing Cross, with people knowing they’re just going to get home after a day’s work as well.

          • So long as attendance levels are healthy, I don’t think that existing halls need to be full to justify a better hall. It’s about the quality of the acoustics at the end of the day. Maybe better acoustics would ensure better attendance, particularly if the quality of the experience is the same throughout the hall.

            Not everybody heads home from Waterloo and Charing Cross. What about Liverpool St, Kings Cross, Euston, Paddington etc? And as I said, there will be Crossrail.

        • Yes, I accept that, Crossrail may benefit a new concert hall once it’s up and running. And of course there are other stations people use, yes. If orchestras like the LSO could have a venue coupled with a schedule such as that of major Continental orchestras (plenty of rehearsals, several repeats of a program, chamber music, education & outreach activities, etc.) then a new concert hall could become a local magnet, a cultural centre a bit like the Gasteig in Munich. It’s a risky thing though, it would need a lot of investment and that’s not likely to come in an election year.

      • I don’t necessarily see that it will be such a major distraction provided it lives up to the hype and is in fact a great venue. Such a venue with excellent performances will attract its own audience. Concert-goers in Tokyo mostly have much longer commutes and excellent halls spread around the city. That does not deter people from going.

        • People in Tokyo will travel miles. We just have a different culture, and we struggle with classical music enough in this country without making it harder to get to, and upping the cost. So many unemployed musicians at the moment.

      • More to the point, it is not uncommon for a concert to finish not long before the last trains to a given destination depart from the major rail terminals. A venue in Stratford would thus be potentially inaccessible to those living in towns to the south or to the west/northwest of London (because most terminals require a fairly substantial tube journey from Stratford, the exceptions being Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Fenchurch Street, and arguably King’s Cross), unless such people had the money to stay overnight in a London hotel, something which is beyond the reach of most concert-goers.

  • I’m sure someone with more knowledge on this subject can give an accurate answer, but my understanding of current planning laws is that any new construction in central London is required to provide either affordable housing or a social facility to gain approval. I believe accommodating the Guildhall School of Music in one of the City’s Heron Tower is one such example.

    If this is correct then why not house the new concert hall in the next big tower to be built in London?

  • How many concerts does LSO play at the Barbican vs. touring?

    How many programs do they repeat in the Barbican?

    How many concerts are sold out?

    What is the average ticket price?

    The answers to these questions hold two answers to the question at hand:

    Does London need another hall?

    Maybe.

    But the LSO cannot justify one.

  • Agreed, but of course such a hall would not be for the sole use of the LSO. Like the Barbican and Festival halls, it would likely become home to at least one other ensemble, if not several others, and it would of course attract many more visiting orchestras from outside of London and the UK. If this hall is to have any chance of being built, more people and more musical institutions will have to wade in and make the case for it.

  • I agree with Norman’s description of Rattle’s media blitz on Britain: last night’s BBC2 Documentary, ‘The Making of a Maestro’, was nothing but a free advert for the conductor with every single interviewee trying desperately to outdo each other in their limitless praise for him. This combined with the tone of relentless reverence of James Naughtie’s narration made you think Rattle was the greatest musician who had ever walked the earth…a man devoid of all failure, of any character flaw whatsoever. I have never seen a television programme that has so deified a musician in this way – no, not even the various documentaries about Karajan or even the martyred tributes to Jacqueline du Pre. This was shameless, highly subjective and grossly biased publicity for Simon Rattle, neatly timed to coincide with his London concerts with the BPO.

    I mean, what is it about the man that is so special? At 60 he conducts technically in exactly the same way as when he was 16 – which is to say no technique at all, his tentative, inarticulate rehearsal methods offer no insight into actual interpretation and his actual performances are bland, cosy love-ins where the orchestra does its own thing completely divorced from what is happening on the podium – which in my opinion, is practically nothing.

    I’m not saying Rattle is an actual charlatan and his enthusiasm and capacity for hard work is not in doubt but having attended many of his concerts with various orchestras down the years as well as having heard many of his recordings, I have failed every time to be convinced that he is the ‘great maestro’ the BBC would have us believe. He’s a thoroughly nice guy and may well, in his own words, reach his potential at 65 (But nice guys are not the stuff of which great conductors are made). But the relentless idolatry of last night’s documentary would make you think that he is the only conductor that ever existed.

    What’s worse of course, is that if anyone dares to offer a balanced criticism of Rattle’s work, it’s tantamount to heresy. And I have no doubt my posting will elicit a storm of aggrieved harrumphing by Rattle’s many admirers, who are deaf to the fact that he is one of the most overrated conductors in the history of the profession. Well, grumble away but I would prefer to see a more accurate representation of Rattle’s life and work devoid of the brainless iconography contained in last night’s documentary.

    • This post reflects what we thought when we watched the programme last night – a piece of commercialised hagiography, just this side of idolatry. My wife wondered whether Rattle was about to be beatified. It must be said that he has been remarkably loyal and attentive to his two orchestras, unlike some conductors who jump from one band to the next before they’re rumbled, sometimes holding multiple posts, unable to do anything meaningful in any of them. In that respect at least, Rattle is in the honourable mould of Barbirolli and Gibson (remember him?) What particularly irks me is that the pre-Rattle CBSO is portrayed as a basket case band. We lived in Birmingham in the 1970s and well remember the excitement which was generated by the concerts and recordings with Louis Fremaux and the CBSO. Whatever the circumstances of his leaving the orchestra, the groundwork for further development was laid by Fremaux, as extant recordings demonstrate. I recall their performance of a Tchaikovsky symphony a couple of weeks after the Leningrad Phill had played one at the Town Hall; many, admittedly partisan audience members felt that the CBSO performance was tauter and better played. It does not, or should not, belittle Rattle’s real achievements in Birmingham to acknowledge the valuable work of his predecessor, Louis Fremaux, a fine musician and, incidentally, an exceptionally brave man.

      • About “that programme”
        Two (of many I expect) corrections.
        Symphony Hall did not cost £160M . That was for the entire eleven hall International Conference Centre. SH cost about £45m
        Also the Queen did not attend a gala concert. She called in at a rehearsal.
        And Louis should have also had been given due credit.

    • Robert,

      Yes agreed- it was a bit of of a Simon Rattle love fest in the BBC documentary and he is overrated, but only at the expense of some other worthy conductors, and not on his own terms. In fact, he came across as a very humble, questioning servant of the music.

      You are right off the mark to suggest that he has no technique and has not developed since he was 16. This is ludicrous because if you really had watched the documentary, you would not have failed to witness the striking difference between a Sibelius Tapiola in the late 70’s and his stunning handling of Bruckner 7 with the Berlin Philharmonic today. Amongst living conductors, he owns the Rite of Spring and this is certainly not a work for the technically challenged maestro.

      Most would agree that Simon, including himself, is not one of history’s great musical. But let us celebrate the achievements of this immensely dedicated, passionate and hard working musician.

  • It was toe-curlingly awful. Many of the qualities he was praised for are necessary tools for all conductors.

    He seems to have established himself as the victim outsider, the cheeky lad from Liverpool. It has served him well. It also serves organisations which want to revise their image to something more youthful and progressive. I thinkThe Gramophone must share some of the blame; in the 1980s he never seemed to be off the front cover.

    A middling conductor, IMO.

  • Gut the RFH and QE halls down to the studs, and rehab from the shells left exposed. Consider it a postwar reconstruction . . .

    • Orchestra ist stunning. But play at their best with other conductors. Try to imagine how sounds the music just at looking at him. Impossible. He conducts everything the same

  • OK – I am probably in a minority here but someone has to speak up for the RFH.

    Yes, I know it’s not perfect and in an ideal world we would have something better, but to read all the press and comments you would think it was a complete disaster zone. It’s not. I’ve been going there since 1974 (Christina Ortiz, New Philharmonia, not sure but probably Muti?) and have had many glorious experiences there, most recently on Thursday: when the chattering glitterati were at the Barbican a packed RFH heard Salonen, Uchida and Hannigan in a fabulous Ravel, Dutilleux programme. I suppose being a mere London orchestra in the RFH with no Rattle meant it wasn’t a proper concert.

    This conversation seems to place the hardware before the software. Yes, of course I’d rather hear the LSO, LPO, Philhrmonia in a great acousticl, but to be frank I’d rather hear any of them in a London concert hall than a French orchestra no matter how good the acoustics.

    And while nobody in this thread is guilty of this mistake, I have read other comments to the effect that there is no good concert hall in the UK. If people really can’t stand the RFH and Barbican, then they can always go to Birmingham, Gateshead, Manchester or Edinburgh.

  • Since I’m not a Londoner I won’t comment about the merits of its concert halls.

    As for Sir Simon, I’ve seen him conduct several times over the years (Boston SO, CBSO, Berlin Phil) and now watch him regularly on the Digital Concert Hall. I’ll grant that he’s probably not as good at Bruckner as Bloomstedt or Skrowaczewski, not as good at Mahler as Abbado, not as good at Strauss as Thielemann, etc.. But the performances I’ve seen him lead have provided some of the most wonderful music-making I’ve experienced in a concert hall (one New York critic once called Rattle/CBSO an average orchestra making great music, as opposed to the great orchestras he frequently heard making average music).

    Greatest interpreter? Maybe not. Greatest leader? Quite probably. Sir Simon has been a transformative leader for the Berlin Phil – the St. Matthew Passion and “Rhythm is It” achievements any conductor/orchestra should envy.

  • Simon Rattle – a middling conductor, not disastrous, but certainly not the musical force that the British media presents him to be.
    Two generations ago, he would have hardly been noticed – except by The Gramophone, of course.
    Even among British conductors, he doesn’t hold a dim candle next to the likes of JB, Tommy, Sir Adrian, Flash Harry, Wyn, or Colin. Not to mention Sir Henry. True greats. They’re all dead now, so Rattle takes the laurel by default.
    Honest music lovers, British or otherwise, know this to be true. Robert Kenchington does – see his posting.
    (I expect the insulting replies to this post to come fast and furiously. Bring ’em on. But one can’t argue with facts.)

    • Hi Greg. When you say “Flash Harry” I assume you mean Sir Malcolm Sargent. He was always just Flash to the promenaders. See the last night placards and listen to the chant, “We want Flash.” He was perhaps the only other British conductor with the charism to achieve wide public recognition and affection, though this was not shared by the orchestras who played under him.

  • Robert,

    Yes agreed- it was a bit of of a Simon Rattle love fest in the BBC documentary and he is overrated, but only at the expense of some other worthy conductors, and not on his own terms. In fact, he came across as a very humble, questioning servant of the music.

    You are right off the mark to suggest that he has no technique and has not developed since he was 16. This is ludicrous because if you really had watched the documentary, you would not have failed to witness the striking difference between a Sibelius Tapiola in the late 70’s and his stunning handling of Bruckner 7 with the Berlin Philharmonic today. Amongst living conductors, he owns the Rite of Spring and this is certainly not a work for the technically challenged maestro.

    Most would agree that Simon, including himself, is not one of history’s great musical. But let us celebrate the achievements of this immensely dedicated, passionate and hard working musician.

    • So much Simon bashing. I’ve worked with him, and he’s a joy, and taken the stuffiness out of conducting, and particularly in Germany. He’s not ashamed of his upbringing in Liverpool, and I knew him when he was at the BBC in Scotland. Good luck to him if he’s got that publicity. He deserves every bit of it. It’s always the same. Some one is successful – and through honest and humble means – and we try and bash them down. America would be just the opposite. The BBC programmes, particularly the documentaries, are of course dummed down for the whole of the British population, who at least know him by name. Just be a bit kinder to him. You would like him if you met him!

    • Sorry Mark. If I hadn’t watched the documentary I wouldn’t have made my earlier posting. And sorry again, Mark but Rattle’s stiff, jerky podium mannerisms are exactly the same. The only difference was that the Tapiola passage shown was animated while the Bruckner sections were slow. And NO conductor has the right to ‘own’ the work of any composer. Sir Adrian Boult for example hated conductor’s who spoke of ‘their’ Brahms or ‘their Sibelius’. “If we got run down by a bus tomorrow,” he once memorably said. ” Brahms and Sibelius will go on without us.”

      I have never doubted Rattle’s enthusiasm, commitment and questing attitude to music but the over the top fawning of the BBC documentary was grossly disproportionate in relation to Sir Simon’s overrated talents.

  • Before everything else:he has the big luck …like some of other middle overrated conductors. ..to conduct orchestras who can help him a lot!!
    His expressive faces, extasic, pathetic or agressive, don’t bring anything to the music making and disturb orchestras. They’re probably good for audience and television…and that’s a pity.

  • As below, Sir Simon’s LSO concerts for next season just been advertised. Bet they sell out soon :

    Sat 9 & Sun 10 Jan 2016
    Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande(semi-staged performance)
    Sir Simon Rattle conductor
    Peter Sellars director

    Wed 13 Jan 2016
    Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin
    Dutilleux L’arbre des songes
    Delage Four Hindu Poems
    Dutilleux Métaboles
    Ravel Daphnis and Chloe –Suite No 2
    Sir Simon Rattle conductor Leonidas Kavakos violin

    Thu 14 Apr 2016
    Messiaen Couleurs de la cité céleste
    Bruckner Symphony No 8
    Sir Simon Rattle conductor Pierre-Laurent Aimard piano

    Sun 17 Apr 2016
    Haydn The Seasons(sung in German)
    Sir Simon Rattle conductor

    Sun 30 Jun 2016
    Ives The Unanswered Question
    Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4
    Rachmaninov Symphony No 2
    Sir Simon Rattle conductor Krystian Zimerman piano

  • Re – That programme …
    So many inaccuracies too.
    The cost quoted for Symphony Hall was for the whole eleven hall International Convention Centre. SH cost £45M
    The Queen did not attend a gala concert only a rehearsal (Princess Anne attended the “opening” night)
    and many more

  • I agree, it was rather queasy-making hagiography, but not necessarily his fault. As regards halls, what we have is not perfect but it is good enough that people will not be falling over themselves to spend hundreds of millions building a new one. .

  • Gentlemen, I have never read such crap. This guy is a wonderful musician and leader and we should delight in have him in our midst

      • Hear hear from me too. I thought that the Sibelius cycle and the Mahler 2 were fabulous. And the several BPO players that I know well all genuinely rate Simon. Given that they’re all pretty astonishing musicians in their own right, this is a serious recommendation of his musicianship and leadership. Can audience members truly judge him on these grounds on the same footing? I doubt it.

  • I agree he’s not as good as his publicity and that programme was awful. Funny how they didn’t mention who his wife is and she of course when interviewed referred to him as a great conductor.

  • I was fortunate enough to hear Saturday night’s Mahler 2 live at the Festival Hall. It was fantastic. However much I love the venue, first visiting at the age of 10 for a Saturday morning Robert Mayor concert. However the sound is dry and some of the most expensive seats have the deadest sound.
    I don’t know why people have such an aversion to the idea of a new hall on the Olympic site. There is plenty of space, it’s cheaper than central London and the transport links are superb, including Eurostar to Paris. I live east of the site and think nothing of travelling to Kensington for a prom (1 hour + journey time) so with cross rail in place, why shouldn’t someone from Reading come to Stratford for a night out? And why is it more important to get someone in from Basingstoke than from Colchester?
    I think there is a snobbery going on – that people think those who live east of Islington can’t possibly enjoy classical music. Well they can, and do!

  • Hello, Peter…..
    Yes, I was referring to Malcolm Sargent.
    Being of a younger generation, I never had a chance to hear him live. But I have his recordings of the Beethoven piano concertos (with Schnabel, of course), two different Handel Messiah sets, and some other recordings as well. I enjoy them all very much. Those records exhibit a real, recognizable personality – unlike (to my ears) what Rattle is able to produce. Rattle is competent and generic, and rather run of the mill. It’s the Berlin Phil which carries him along. They always sound good.
    Sargent was a wonderful musician. As you said, he had charisma. But one didn’t build charisma – in those days – without being a powerful musician, able to grip your audience, even at The Proms, which was and is far from the “standard concert setting”. Times are different now…..
    I think what I admire about him the most was that he stayed in England and performed there during WW2. That took courage and commitment.
    I’d be interested in hearing you expand your comment about his relationship with his orchestras.
    Bravo, Flash!

  • Sorry, Mark. It was not stunning because of Rattle. You could hear lots of great instrumentalists playing the same piece at the same time. But there was nobody conducting it. Shame. He is a middling conductor and this is still a compliment.

  • Boult? A dull old stick both to watch and hear. Sargent? Inspired on occasion but too often routine and slightly dull. Neither would have been allowed near the Berlin Philharmonic. We should be proud of Sir Simon – he is one of the two or three greatest living conductors and more than a match for “Wavery Willie” and Toscanono!

    • Kirk

      For your information, Sir Malcolm Sargent conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in 1959 for a performance of ‘Messiah’ (I know the BPO ‘cellist Eberhart Finke, who remembers the occasion well) and in 1967 he received a personal invitation from none other than Herbert von Karajan to conduct the orchestra in whatever he wanted to play. Unfortunately, a slight touch of terminal cancer prevented Sargent from meeting this latter engagement…

      And Boult was by no means ‘dull’. A deeply subtle, sensitive and thoroughly versed musician with an expressive stick technique only Carlos Kleiber was able to match – and Kleiber was a great admirer of Sir Adrian. You listen to performances by either Boult or Sargent and you’ll find their more than a match for the wishy-washy ever-so-nicie nice efforts of Simple Simon!

  • One only has to look at the Desert Island Disc choices of Cameron – his favourite being Benny Hill’s “Ernie, the fastest postman in th West” – to see there would be no hope of a new concert hall or indeed for the arts in general from that direction. Sadly, Miliband’s choice was not all that much better.

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