A £200 million donor for London’s new concert hall?

A £200 million donor for London’s new concert hall?


norman lebrecht

November 11, 2016

The London Symphony Orchestra has pumped up its pet biographer Richard Morrison to proclaim that its dream of a new hall is not dead, despite the Theresa May Government withdrawing its support.

The hall, a condition for Sir Simon Rattle becoming the LSO’s music director, was backed by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, costed at £278 million and killed last Friday in a Downing Street press statement. The LSO read of its fate in a newspaper report.

Morrison writes today: Supporters of the project* are understood to be pinning their hopes on a wealthy individual who would probably be given naming rights for the new venue. This practice is common in the United States, which has the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Carnegie Hall in New York.

Come on, LSO, it’s over. This is not California. It’s cloud-cuckoo land.

A hall built in the wrong location and without a shred of public consultation was never going to fly, even if Brexit hadn’t happened and the world was squarer than we thought.

Like anti-Trumpers who can’t bring themselves to believe the result, the LSO needs to stop wasting energy on might-have-beens.


*Morrison’s supporters/sources appear to be the LSO’s Kathryn McDowell, the Barbican’s Nick Kenyon and the faceless Corporation of the City of London.


  • Halldor says:

    “Even if Brexit never happened”
    What’s that got to do with anything? Non-sequitur of the week…

    • Will Duffay says:

      Well not really. If Brexit hadn’t happened we’d still have the hopeless, hapless Cameron as PM, and the concert-hall-supporting George Osborne as Chancellor.

  • Pedro says:

    Off-topic: The Salzburg Summer Festival 2017 edition is online since yesterday . There are several very interesting things.

  • NYMike says:

    “Naming rights” for Carnegie Hall?? No – Andrew Carnegie actually had the idea and built the hall.

      • Cyril Blair says:

        Geffen is Lincoln Center (as is Koch) but Carnegie Hall has Zankel Hall (Judy and Arthur) and Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage (Isaac and Ronald O.) and Weill Hall (Joan and Sanford).

        And the main hall at Symphony Center (Chicago Symphony) is divvied up into the Melk Main Floor, Gray Terrace, Fadim Lower Balcony, Krehbiel Upper Balcony, and the Flynn Gallery (nosebleed although nowhere near as high and dangerous as the top of Stern Auditorium). Only the poor Box Seats have no sponsor, maybe Garrett’s Popcorn Shop or Donald J. Trump would like to chip in.

  • Una says:

    This is England in Britain, and we just don’t do this kind of thing. With personal sponsorships then comes restrictions to even repertoire performed. Plus classical music today is no financial investment for some rich guy to come along and stuck his name on it – and it usually is a ‘he’ but culturally that isn’t great here. But then no reason though if someone really wants to build a concert hall, getting the planning permission and pay for it. But it is regarded that London has enough concert halls and theatres in most people’s eyes, including us performers, and mainstream concerts are very rarely sold out however good they are. And as other parts of the country simply do have not one concert hall to their names, as is the case with Leeds (or an opera house for Opera North to do bigger operas), just smacks in faces, and obviously the government’s too.

    • Nick says:

      No? Doesn’t the Royal Opera House have the Paul Hamlyn Hall and the Linbury Studio, both named after donors? What about the Tate Gallery or the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery? In sport it is becoming much more common with various stadia being named after corporations – Etihad, Emirates, Reebok (now Macron) etc. And it used to be more common – e.g. the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Abroad there are loads of examples not including Carnegie – particularly the excellent Suntory Hall in Tokyo, the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv and the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.

      But I agree the amounts donated in the UK do not come close to those for naming rights in the USA. However, I am sure the LSO is also investigating another avenue – incorporating a concert hall into a much larger commercial building. Tokyo’s Bunkamura is an excellent example with its 2,100-seat concert hall, home to the Tokyo Philharmonic, a 730-seat theatre and small Gallery and Museum spaces incorporated as a part of the large Tokyu department store complex in the heart of one of the trendiest districts in Tokyo.

    • Allen says:

      As pointed out before, if Leeds, and Yorkshire generally, had shown more concern about its lack of a full time symphony orchestra, it might have been easier to justify a concert hall in Leeds.

      Perhaps it’s a matter of priorities. Google “Leeds International Pool” – an indoor Olympic sized swimming pool which, at the time, put Leeds well ahead of London in provision. Unfortunately, it was tainted by the local Poulson controversy.

      Then, of course, there’s the not entirely successful Royal Armouries Museum. “The museum, set up in 1996 to house 40,000 military artifacts, faced going into receivership two years ago after attracting less than half its target number of visitors” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1124649.stm).

      As I said, priorities.

  • Bruno Mégevand says:

    Just a personnal experience: I’m the founder and president of the Fondation pour la Cité de la Musique de Genève. We’ll build a new concert Hall (1800 seats) and all necessary halls for the Haute Ecole de Musique (500 students) + restaurants, shops aso.
    We’ll start begining of next January the international architecture contest with 18 famous offices invited to compete.
    That has been made possible thanks to a private sponsor who accepted to give to our foundation CHF 209 millions of swiss francs on a total budget of roughly CHF 250 millions.
    Such miracles can happen in Geneva.Why not in London?
    As we say in french: la foi peut soulever des montagnes!

  • FreddyNYC says:

    Hopefully the donor isn’t named Shlomo Rabinowitz….. ; p

  • will says:

    What do you mean by that?
    Why ‘hopefully’?

  • SVM says:

    Personally, I think there are far better ways we could spend £200M+ on music than in lining the pockets of architects (I have nothing against architects, but I do not think it fair that they always seem to end up as beneficiaries of funding intended for the arts). What about improving pay and/or job security for musicians (of course, many musicians are freelance by choice, but I am not suggesting that better job security would necessarily entail moving lots of people to the status of employees — employment status is only one among many factors that can be used to measure job security)? Or using the money to endow UK conservatoires and university music departments with funds to provide more scholarships, especially at postgraduate level? Or commissioning a lot more new repertoire from a wide range of composers? Or (personal-interest alert!!!) funding academic research into the theory and practice of music? I am sure others will have further ideas as to how that sort of money could have a genuinely transformative effect on some facets of the music profession, and, given the financially precarious state of most such facets, it seems irresponsible to spend large sums of money on erecting another concert hall.

    A concert hall, no matter how wonderful acoustically and/or aesthetically (I think that Rattle is correct in his claim that, acoustically, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall is far better than any *orchestral* venue in London, but I still disagree with Rattle’s priorities), is a white elephant without the concerts to match, surely. Were such a hall to go ahead, there is no doubt that funding (public and private) for the music itself (and for musicians) would be cut somewhere else to compensate — there are plenty of precedents: notably, the misappropriation of Lottery funds to pay for the Olympics, something which the government had promised to rectify, but *still* has not. Ultimately, the chances are that the new hall would be prohibitively expensive for most *classical* concerts, and degenerate into yet another lowest-common-denominator, commercial enterprise, driven by profit and/or public image, and not artistic vision.

    If any wealthy individuals interested in furthering the art and science of music are reading this, I would urge them to speak to a diverse range of professional musicians (including musicologists) to learn more about their working conditions, their ambitions, and their frustrations. Then, having figured out what might benefit the art and science of music, draw up a list of individuals and organisations to which they feel inspired to donate money, stipulating conditions generic enough to allow imaginative use (as opposed to box-ticking) yet specific enough to avoid abuse. But please, not another big capital building project — these are the clichés of fundraising, and we have more than enough of them as matters stand. What is really needed is support for the less glamorous yet equally important things that make the profession work.

    Postscript: could somebody make the Corporation of London stop ripping up its network of highwalks radiating from the Barbican Estate — they are disappearing at an alarming rate (I was particularly saddened to see the loss of the link from the Barbican Centre to Moorgate station)?

  • Allen says:

    Sorry about duplication. First one generated error message.