Simon Rattle learns that London will not get new concert hall

Simon Rattle learns that London will not get new concert hall


norman lebrecht

November 06, 2016

The Theresa May Government has withdrawn from a proposal to build a new concert hall in the city of London, replacing the unsatisfactory Barbican, it has been announced.

The reasons given were cost and lack of need. The projected cost was £278 million pounds, though some experts predicted half a billion, given that new concert halls rarely come in on budget. Both Paris and Hamburg, among recent new builds, cost two or three times the initial estimate.

A government statement said: ‘London is already home to world class culture and music venues, from the iconic Royal Albert Hall to the Barbican Hall and the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre.’ That seems to indicate that the capital cannot expect any change on the music scene in the forseeable future.

The proposed new hall had been sold to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne as the price of bringing Sir Simon Rattle to London as music director of the LSO. The plan was backed by the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson and by the City of London, which offered the site of the former Museum of London.

The loss of the hall does not necessitate any change in Rattle’s immediate plans: there is no worthwhile vacancy for him at present. It may, however, mean that his tenure with the LSO will be shorter than foreseen.


Simon Rattle Petition photo fixed (3).jpg-pwrt2

Slipped Disc has argued throughout that a new hall in the heart of the City represented no added value for audiences, at an unaffordable cost and at the wrong moment in national affairs. London needs a modern hall, but there has to be wider public consultation and consensus before it is approved, probably in a different part of town.

So what happens now?



  • Brian Cooper says:

    “Both Paris and Hamburg, among recent new builds, cost two or three times the initial estimate.”

    That’s an understatement. I’m not sure of the exact figures, but a recent International NY Times article (Oct. 26) mentions “a tenfold increase in costs” for the Elbphilharmonie.

    Regarding London, I can’t think of another city that has as many world-class orchestras as London. Pity they don’t have a satisfactory hall! We continental classical music buffs are certainly grateful that the likes of the LSO, LPO, Philharmonia, ASMF etc. tour as much as they do!

  • stweart says:

    Sorry you “favoured Londoners” you’ll just have to travel to Birmingham,Gateshead,Glasgow,Nottingham or even Manchester etc if you need to hear a good large concert hall acoustic.

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    £800 million on the Dome, then years of security. Altering the Olympic stadium, altering the aquatics centre. Football stadia (many), will someone work all that out. One concert hall (shoebox with decent acoustics and good artists’ and chorus facilities) is a small thing to ask.
    Funny how the government’s department is for Culture Media and Sport but most of it goes to sport.

    • Maria says:

      My thoughts exactly – this announcement at a time when the former Olympic stadium is being described as unfit for purpose as a football stadium, in spite of the money thrown at it.

      People might gloat childishly on behalf of “Birmingham, Gateshead, Glasgow, Nottingham or even Manchester”, but this issue will not be going away.

      Governments and politicians come and go.

  • James Isaacs says:


  • James Spade says:


  • Allen says:

    Ideal solution IMO: demolish the Coliseum, replace it with a Mozart sized opera theatre (for ENO and ROH)/1800 seat concert hall complex.

    100 reasons why that could never happen, of course.

    Alternatively, instead of spending a fortune on the H of P, keep the Elizabeth Tower and demolish the rest, move the Government into the Barbican (since it apparently regards the building as satisfactory), and build a concert hall on the river site.

    There, problem solved.

  • Adrienne says:

    “London is already home to world class culture and music venues, from the iconic Royal Albert Hall to the Barbican Hall and the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre.”

    Unless their definition of “world class” is very different from mine, and I suspect most of the readers here, that is just plain dishonest.

    If they were “world class”, there wouldn’t be a problem.

    • Jaybuyer says:

      I can only guess that Sir Simon has never had to use the gents in the bowels (sic) of the Barbican, otherwise wild horses couldn’t have dragged him to the LSO. Before I am burnt at the stake for being elitist, one problem I have with the RFH and the Barbican Concert Hall is that they are both within ‘People’s Palaces’. I presume this was part of the original concept, to provide facilities for everyone, not just a few classical music lovers. The Southbank Centre is in a breathtaking position on the Thames (no need to pull down the crumbling Houses of Parliament) but the public areas in the building are favoured as a warm place to sleep, use the free Wi-Fi or let your children run around. Similarly in the grey, brutalist, unwelcoming Barbican Centre. Apart from the much criticised acoustics, these cannot compare with the wonderful Concertgebouw and the Philharmonie in Berlin and Paris (and no doubt others I haven’t been to). Perhaps the Russian billionaires who grace the restaurant and champagne bar at Covent Garden could be persuaded to throw in a million or two.

      • Allen says:

        “I presume this was part of the original concept”

        I don’t think it was part of the RFH’s original concept. As I recall, the process started under Livingstone who seemed to be obsessed with the place (remember the wretched “GLC” signs on both sides of the organ?) and has continued ever since to avoid, as you suggest, accusations of “elitism”.

        We should make music accessible to as many people as possible but that will not be achieved by, at the same time, apologising for it.

  • Ian Kaye says:

    Can someone tell me why the withdrawal of govt funds means the end of a new London concert hall? The govt we’re only going to put in £5.5 million and the hall is nearly £300 million (if it’s on budget). That means most of the funding comes from private equity. Does London need govt permission to build a new hall?

  • Peter says:

    It is remarkable, that the two world capitals of finance and banking, NY and London, only have substandard halls for classical music.
    Maybe the high priests of greed simply are not as cultured as their appetite to suck money out of other people is.

    • Allen says:

      Quite a lot going on in both cities though, isn’t there? Particularly if you include smaller venues such as Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, Cadogan Hall.

      Perhaps a more sensible explanation would be to look at design trends when the main concert halls in those countries were built. As a general rule, the best ones tend to be quite old or relatively new. Compare the new-ish Dallas concert hall (1989) and its UK Birmingham relative with the David Geffen Hall (1960s), the RFH (1950s) and the Barbican (1982, design is older).

      Don’t think it would fit your narrative though.

      • Peter says:

        Maybe, but were there any correlation between monetary super wealth and funding of the high arts, London and NY should be showcases of state of the art venues.

    • M2N2K says:

      Carnegie is not “substandard”.

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    What London needs is a new hall up to the modern age but WITH a shoebox design, stunning acoustic, good artists facilities backstage accommodating a full chorus and their needs i.e. a proper chorus rehearsal space and enough toilets. I have been singing in a chorus in London for over 35 years and there is still not decent chorus rehearsal room in the capital (the R.O.H. one we have only had access to once). A decent Reiger organ.
    The ones I have been to are the Musiekverein (the best acoustic in the world in a concert hall) and it seats 1,700 and has places for 300 standing! Concertegebouw and Carnegie Hall. I wish I could afford to go to others. London needs to get its act together – that is why I left Cardiff for London – a concert hall but we still do not have a decent one. Birmingham is soulless by the way.
    London needs to get its act together for future generations.

    • Jaybuyer says:

      “Birmingham is soulless, by the way” – a sweeping statement indeed. Do you mean the city or Symphony Hall? It can be lacking in warmth when the hall is less than half full, but that is probably true of anywhere.

      • Robert Garbolinski says:

        It is a modern building which does not enhance the music with ambience like the Musiek verein, Concertgebouw or Carnegie. I find it sterile – I have performed there and been to concerts there and it is not one I would want to go to regularly.

        • Jaybuyer says:

          OK Your choice!

        • David J Gill says:

          The Birmingham hall does have a rather banal, middle-of-the-road architectural aesthetic. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco and perhaps Meyerson in Dallas have the same problem. (Meyerson is a bit more interesting than the other two.) But, it’s not modern architecture itself that is the problem; there has been a veritable surge of rather exciting and apparently acoustically successful new concert halls built around the world that suggest that greater things are possible. I doubt you would find them equal to the Concertgebouw or the Musikverein and they still tend to conform somewhat to what I will call the international minimalist, modern corporate aesthetic consensus, but they aren’t Birmingham.