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The Theresa May Government has withdrawn from a proposal to build a new concert hall in the city of London, replacing the unsatisfactory Barbican, it has been announced.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


  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    This is a disgrace! Interesting how the givernment has dished out £800 million on the dome plus all the security costs in the following years, millions to convert the Olympic Stadium, converts the aquatics centre. Let alone grants to football clubs for new stadia! One concert hall is a drop in the ocean to all that. Also how come it is the Ministry for media CULTURE and sport! For those who have never been to the Musiekvereinin Vienna, concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Carnegie Hall, New York you do not know what you are missing. This is more than appalling. I have been performing in the existing halls for over 35 years as an amateur choral singer and the existing halls are a disgrace and the acoustics are appalling. If you want first class music making you must have a first class hall. Our orchestras and choruses do their best but when we perform in the halls abroad like above you really know how good we can sound. Come on London, nothing gets done now all people do is talk about it. Get real, stop pissing around and give us first class facilities and a concert hall (shoebox)with superb acoustics!

    • John Borstlap says:

      Agreed…. entirely.

    • Anon says:

      Wasting money with one hand should not mean it should also be thrown away with the other hand. London’s concert halls are not brilliant, and not ideal. But they are not horrendously terrible, a ‘disgrace’ or ‘appalling’; that’s more than a bit of an exaggeration.
      The State has no business dumping a few hundred million on a project to please one conductor, and should more carefully allocate its resources than it currently does anyway.
      I agree that London could do with a better hall, but I’m pleased that this proposal to build an expensive, bizarrely designed hall (at least from the snippets that have surfaced) in a place unsuited for it, has been shelved. If London’s musical community wants this proposal to go ahead, let it raise the funds to do so, rather than suckling at the teat of the nation’s taxpayers.

    • Josh B says:

      Disagree completely, and I am glad this madness is over. Government cuts in health, education (including music ed), police and social services convinced half of this country that it was all the immigrants’ fault and led to Brexit. But we were still going to pay money we don’t have for a concert hall? We are a country that can’t look after its mental patients and elderly. So maybe we need to check our priorities.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Actually, all this is true, I change my mind. But the UK is not a poor country, the problem seems more a problem of priorities and distribution.

  • John Borstlap says:

    A fascinating and sobering article by classical architect Leon Krier – who, by the way, is also a classical music connoisseur:

    • Anon says:

      Yes – I’m not wholly sure of the traffic practicalities, and cut’n’cover may not work given how much ‘secret underground’ there is around in London, but the basic concept of Krier’s scheme is certainly has some appeal. A much better location, for a start.

  • Jon H says:

    Speaking of Carnegie Hall, there’s also private funding.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Why not just tear down the Royal Festival Hall and build something there? It’s ideally located. There’s nothing sacred about it. I would hardly call it a monument.

    • David WILSON-JOHNSON says:

      wonderful idea……they just wasted 100 million on turning it from a third rate to a second rate concert hall……roll on the bulldozers…the RFH was never fit for purpose and never will be……….ps: just performed in the Concertgebouw this afternoon….there really is no comparison at all with ANY hall in the UK……

      • Richard Gibbs says:

        Oh dear, Jumbo, have you no feeling at all for the circumstances in which the RFH was built. It’s a tribute to the old LCC that they built a world class concert hall in the darkest days of post-War austerity. It’s easy to knock it but it is well loved by me and I suspect many others too.

        • David WILSON-JOHNSON says:

          ah yes, Richard, but that was in the fifties! and I know I am not alone among musicians when I say my spirits sink every time I try and make music in that dreadful acoustic….would that it were otherwise, but I think our generation has a responsibilty to bequeathe to future generations a hall and acoustic worthy of the great music and musicians that we produce and expect to visit London on a regular basis.

          • jim says:

            rfh isn’t that bad. I’ve heard many great performances there. And it’s your choice to have low spirits when you perform there.

          • offspinner says:

            Interesting that performers seem to dislike the RFH acoustic more than listeners. Elder’s RFH Missa Solemnis on Sunday sounded pretty good to me.

  • paul lewis says:

    I think the real problem is that knowing the ego of so-called “starchitects” (one of which is sure to be appointed) the new hall would be a grossly over complicated affair and like the ridiculous Paris Philarmonie, run way, way over budget with no appreciable advantages.

    They could of course take a cue from the city of Katowice who managed to build a superb new hall with great acoustics for the Polish Radio Orchestra at a fraction of the cost of Paris or Hamburg (even more absurdly expensive than Paris) but somehow I suspect this would not be the case as it wouldn’t be “spectacular” enough!

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      The Paris Philharmonie is “ridiculous” in that it went disgracefully over the budget. On the other hand, it is is a successful venue aesthetically and acoustically. As there is some question of Simon Rattle here (-perhaps too much question!), he asserted that it is the best modern concert hall in Europe. Concerts are played to, on average, 95% capacity audiences and the hall has attracted new audiences; people that wouldn’t normally go to Classical music concerts. I do however take the point: it shouldn’t have gone so far over the budget, at tax payers’ expense. And let’s see how it ages. A lot of modern buildings here in Paris are falling apart.

  • mbhaz says:

    Having been to numerous Proms in RAH, I can say without reservation that the sound is awful, unless you’re right up front. But I cannot understand why so many new concert halls cost such an obscene amount. Of all the halls all over the world and in the US I’ve been to concerts in, there is one that is without doubt the best: Walk Hall in Jackson Wyoming used for the Grand Teton music festival. Extraordinary, powerful, clear sound no matter where you sit. And best of all, it was built for next to nothing. Just wood. No fancy cushiony seats, no carpet, no private boxes. And I’m sure the back stage area is pretty basic, too. But the sound! These several-hundred-million-pound concert halls are ridiculous.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Also the Snape Maltings hall at Aldeburgh is very simple and excellent. The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam was paid for by a group of bankers, who spent their private money on it,
      without any state funding. It was not a costly building. It can be done.

    • Max Grimm says:

      Indeed. There are also larger (1700+ capacity) halls with a good acoustic and a more elaborate design for less than £150mio; ie. the Harpa in Reykjavík, the Helsinki Music Center, even the KKL in Lucerne.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    “Simon Rattle learns that London will not get new concert hall.”

    I’m seeing a “Downfall” video out of that.

  • MacroV says:

    Don’t know whether or not it’s a good decision, but I find the constant references to Sir Simon annoying. Even if this hall would get built, it would be well into (if not after) his LSO tenure. And since the LSO would only play there maybe 30 times a year (with all those one-offs they do in London), there obviously would be many other users of the facility; Sir Simon is just its most prominent advocate. But apparently not influential enough.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Personally, if a hall is built, I think it should be in another part of town. I would like the LPO, LSO and Philharmonia to each have their own hall as lead tenant hence I would like one of the two resident orchestras at Festival Hall to move out and the other to get sole residency. (It would also allow the RPO to move out of the rather too small Cadogan Hall.) They should also aim for a hall with between 2000 and 2500 seats; only 1900 is a small. Incidently, I find the acoustic at the Barbican is fine, but Festival Hall is often poor, especially further back.