LSO presses ahead with new hall despite no money

LSO presses ahead with new hall despite no money


norman lebrecht

January 21, 2019

The Goverment has said it won’t pay for a concert hall in London and most of the banking industry that might have funded it is in headlong Brexit flight to Frankfurt.

But the London Symphony Orchestra issued new hall designs this morning, as if Brexit never happened.

See here.


  • Caravaggio says:

    Building new concert halls every few decades is commendable but not at the expense of other social priorities and certainly not in times of financial anxiety and despair for so many.

    • Allen says:

      Depends on what you mean by “at the expense of”. Do you really believe that making do with second rate concert halls would actually benefit those suffering “despair”?

      Does your own consumer spending reflect this, or is this just another case of knee-jerk virtue signalling?

      Life goes on, large cities need to function in many different ways, and the way that people choose to spend their money does not suggest that there is widespread support for the type of worthy, hair shirt existence that some people claim to be in favour of. Talk is cheap.

      • Mike Schachter says:

        No at the expense of means spending the money on other things. Spending £500 million and more on a “world class” concert hall is not easy to justify. I don’t think the majority of people in London care two hoots about concert halls. Perhaps you think people on the waiting list for housing would be really gratified that the bourgeoisie like you and me have a nice shiny concert hall?

        • Allen says:

          “I don’t think the majority of people in London care two hoots about concert halls.”

          They don’t need to; it doesn’t matter. Listen to the “majority” and you’ll end up with third rate, lowest common denominator everything, or just nothing.

          The Sun outsells The Times. So what?

    • Bill says:

      In the states, we build new sports stadiums every few years to replace the perfectly adequate facilities, usually at great public expense, and at the expense of greater priorities at the behest of the private ownership of these sports teams, during good or bad economic times, without nary a peep from the right, or if there is a peep, it’s about all of the great minimum wage jobs selling popcorn these projects will create, yet the paltry sum government spending on the arts is considered “socialism” by the same righteous anti-socialists that demand the arts pay for themselves in ways sports teams do not.

      Show me a professional sports team that gives discount or free tickets to students or furloughed government workers.

      • Neil Thompson Shade says:

        You did not mention that many sports venues are partially subsidized by the denizen taxpayers the venue is located in because the team owner has a meltdown and threatens to leave the city for another willing to cough up the bucks.

      • Mark says:

        Sports stadia, like concert halls, used to be built by the team owners (or orchestra founders/trustees), not by the taxpayers. Then they showed what looked like loyalty to their locations because they didn’t want to throw that money away by moving.

        Ebbetts Field, Yankee Stadium (the real one, not the current imposter), Fenway Park, Lewisohn Stadium, Wrigley Field; Boston’s Symphony Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall, Chicago’s Orchestra Hall; and so on. The Polo Grounds even used to host a summer orchestral concert series.

        Yes, I still haven’t forgiven the Dodgers for leaving Brooklyn. And if the Boston Symphony Orchestra ever decides to replace Symphony Hall with a circular theater so they could have more seats, we’ll know they’ve lost their ears, and minds.

        • barry guerrero says:

          “I still haven’t forgiven the Dodgers for leaving Brooklyn” . . .

          Neither have I. I’m a Giants fan and wish the Dodgers would go back – or better yet, just go away.

  • Will Duffay says:

    Bexit hasn’t happened. Yet… (and fingers crossed it won’t, if commonsense prevails).

    What immediately strikes me is the concert hall having the sort of democratic central performing space which has received so much criticism in Hamburg recently. Will the priority be seating and visibility over acoustics?

  • Robert King says:

    It looks thrilling. Some people may look for negativity in this concept, but many musicians and concertgoers will celebrate the fact that there are creative, visionary people who not only recognise that London needs a world-class, large concert hall, but are really trying to do something radical about it – rather than (as has happened so far), ending up only tinkering with existing, flawed buildings. If the Barbican/LSO/Guildhall team can bring this concept to fruition, this will be a brilliant cultural addition for London and the UK.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I think you should have a good look on the accompanying picture. That is a crazy imitation of the Alp Philharmonie in Hamburg. Such designs are only appropriate for sound art, not for classical music.

    • Tom says:

      Thrilling, creative, visionary etc…

      Meanwhile, Robert, out here in Gloucestershire I am trying to scrape together £2,000 to give 500 local primary school children the chance to see an orchestra. We can’t afford to bus them to Birmingham or Bristol because the schools have no money (and I mean *nothing*); there are no regular music teachers in schools; and all we want to do is a concert with enough committed amateur volunteers to get local kids to see and hear an orchestra *at all*.

      Can we get £2k from anywhere? Can we heck. So forgive me if I think, magnificent concert hall as it is, this is going to use up a lot of money that could make a much bigger impact elsewhere.

      • Alexis Paterson says:

        Tom, sorry to hijack the thread, but I’d love to hear more about what you’re trying to organise and see if there’s any way we can put our heads together. Want to drop me a line at Three Choirs? If you could DM us through facebook or write to for my attention I’ll get in touch. Alexis

      • Anemba says:

        Please give me a private email address where I could contact you re school children’s possibility to attend concerts

      • Robert King says:

        So sorry to hear you have the same problem in Glos as we do in our county – despite heroic efforts by teachers and governors to make budgets balance, we parents have to raise funds to pay for anything that isn’t core curriculum; out here in the sticks there is next to no music provision in my youngest child’s state (primary) school.

        But back to the London concert hall issue, my understanding is that it will have to paid for by private donations – in other words, it isn’t going to take away central or state funds that we all want to see go towards music provision in schools. I am totally with you in pressing for more (sometimes for any) music in schools, but I do wonder if suggesting we mustn’t build any “flagship” buildings is necessarily the best way forward? Separately, I really hope that the splendid Alexis Paterson (below) can help you raise the money you seek for your concert visits. I really wish you the very best of luck.

      • Robert King says:

        It’s such a shame that your wonderful plan, costing just £4 per child, to enable them to have experience of a concert, seems to be foundering. With funds in state education getting ever tighter, music provision in state schools has long been trimmed and trimmed until it is in many areas all but non-existent. We have had the same issue in my children’s primary school: despite heroic endeavours by hard-pressed teachers and governors, any non-core curriculum activities and visits can happen only thanks largely to funds raised by us parents. I really hope that the excellent Alexis Paterson (see below) can direct you towards new possible funding sources for your project.

        A detail on financing the new hall for London: it’s my understanding that it will be built using funds raised from private sources – so, if it happens, there should be no diversion of funds for education (or anything else) from central or regional government. Big capital projects are always controversial when funds elsewhere are as tight as they are, but this may be one project which shouldn’t be blamed for the dearth of funds for education. And (as someone who was brought up near Birmingham) I still look on with amazement at the transformation of a significant part of that city thanks to the build of Symphony Hall (which, at the risk of fuelling other fires, I seem to remember received a significant chunk of its build costs from European funds). That building and all the activity which takes place in and around it really has changed lives – and, I’d hazard a guess, has generated significantly more for the city’s economy than was invested in its initial build. All that said, I remain utterly with you on getting more funding for grass roots music education.

        • Tom says:

          Thanks, Robert, for that very thoughtful reply. My concern is that – whatever the new hall’s proponents might be saying now – the government would have to step in if it got 3/4 of the way there and the money ran out. It would hardly be the first time (!).

          Point taken, though; and I agree that if private funding covers it all, a new hall would indeed be a fine thing to have. As you say, Brum was transformed by it.

          Alexis and I have been in touch and are hoping to meet soon.

          Best wishes


      • Will Duffay says:

        Funding across the country is terrible, and of course even in London boroughs the picture is the same. But isn’t the funding for the hall going to come from private City of London pots, rather than lottery or public funding?

        • SVM says:

          The source of funding is immaterial. Rattle must be held to account for the way he misuses his clout. He should be fundraising to pay rank-and-file musicians properly, rather than fundraising to pay starchitechts for another vanity project. As for the “City of London pots”, well, perhaps a good start would be to use the money to reduce the tuition fees at GSMD (they were, after all, happy to pour tens of millions into Milton Court Concert Hall), since the Corporation boasts that they “provide” the Barbican and GSMD as a contribution to the cultural life of the nation &c. For too long, donors have been giving the “big bucks” for buildings, not people. Without musicians, concert halls are pointless (oh wait, they can be rented out for other stuff, like the corporate functions of some of the donors, but calling it an arts complex means the capital costs can be raised in a tax-efficient way… and if the hire/facility fees get pushed-up in the process, such that orchestras can no longer afford to use the hall, that is too bad). IT IS TIME TO REFOCUS PRIORITIES, and make life better for musicians.

  • anon says:

    Stop saying London has no money.

    Once Brexit happens, the UK will save £350 million per week, so just wait a couple of weeks, and London will have £700 million.

    Admittedly not as much as the €900 million that went to Hamburg, so won’t be as glamorous.

    But wait, if Brexit occurs with no deal, then the UK can forgego paying EU the divorce bill of £40 Billion.

    With £40 Billion, London can build 40 really nice concert halls, one right next to the other, and ensure London is the classical music capital of the world for the next couple of millennia, at least.

  • Paul C says:

    It looks wonderful and, no, most of the banking industry is not fleeing to Frankfurt. Stick to creepy posts about cancer.

  • Rob says:

    Build the bloody hall ! The royal family, freemasons, vatican and all other b’zillionaire money spongers can pay for it.

  • bell says:

    I’m sure that that building design will be an absolute nightmare to maintain.

    Not built for permanence like older brick and stone ones are.

    Cool shape I guess?

  • EUFan says:

    Oh, my dear British friends, what a silly thing to do! Wish you all the best, and hope other countries will learn from your experience.

  • May says:

    Same shiddy hall design as the Elbphilharmonie. When will people learn?

  • Von Schneider says:

    Immediate observations:

    1. The allocated lot is truly horrendous and is not worthy of a concert hall. The hall will have to be built on pylons on top of a roundabout in what essentially is a narrow ditch. Also, why must the hall be in the City as opposed to in West London closer to where most of its patrons actually live?

    2. Why must modern concert halls always be built in concrete and class with a modernist aesthetic? What happened to the beauty and permanence of classicism?

    3. Why do so many new concert hall feature the in-the-round approach when we know that; (1) it gives the people at the back a distorted sound with too much brass, muted strings, and winds that aren’t allowed to penetrate the curtain of string sound and blend, and; (2) it prevents even the greatest singers from being heard above the orchestra in large sections of the back?

    • Will Duffay says:

      I agree completely with your last point, and about the precise location which is dreadful.

      But the City isn’t a bad place at weeknds any more, and I don’t agree about west London being better for most patrons. Plenty come in from Kent, Herts and Bucks, which makes the centre much more convenient.

      As for the architectural aesthetic: concrete and glass are the materials of our time, and they can look beautiful. The Festival Hall is lovely. The QEH…less so… Classicism would be a very odd choice these days, I feel.

  • Sixtus says:

    The following quote, from the hall’s description linked in the article, contains several phrases that history, as well as recent experience in Paris and on the Elb, has shown to be reliable harbingers of bad symphonic acoustics:

    “The concert hall is designed as an intimate and inclusive space for up to 2,000, in which every seat in the house is a great seat. Its design is tailored for exceptional symphonic sound, yet agile enough to accommodate creative work across all disciplines.”

    Intimate and inclusive–and for 2000 people. This is impossible if you also want every seat to be a great seat. The likely result will be only a few, highly contested, great seats–if any. Half the audience appears to be behind the orchestra which itself is far from bass enhancing walls or major lateral reflection surfaces. And always beware of claims that a symphonic concert hall will have “agile” acoustics capable of of “accomodation” other “disciplines.” On the contrary, the artist rendition shows a hall that will be an acoustical disaster for all “disciplines” and especially the one for which was designed.

    • Tamino says:

      It’s the usual self indulged idiocy these days. Visually pleasing halls with compromised acoustics for music.
      The main reason is conductor’s ego.
      Rattle wants to be surrounded by audience. Just like Karajan.
      It’s all about that ego thing.
      Hundreds of millions of Pounds will be spent for another Circus Maximus and music will be taken hostage in the name of pleasing conductor’s egos.
      It’s particularly sad, since Rattle should know better, his wife is a singer. Singers can’t be heard well on too many seats in such halls. Orchestras sound unbalanced in most seating areas.
      Hans Christian Andersen’s great tale ‘The Emperor’s new clothes’ must be rewritten for our times. ‘The conductor’s new halls’.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        I agree, the design is terrible. The architects have never designed a concert hall before, but they have designed great looking museums. It shows. It will *look* great but *sound* awful.

        A shame since the Barbican, despite what people say, is not that bad.

  • Anon says:

    Monies will obviously come from the City, where doomsayers say after Brexit, they’ll be relocating to Frankfurt! London needs a great concert hall – it’s envy that the LSO has managed to attain both a plot and excellent architects for this inspiring project.

    • Furzwängler says:

      Well said Anon, my sentiments entirely. What codswallop about “…most of the banking industry that might have funded it is in headlong Brexit flight to Frankfurt.” It simply isn’t.

  • Anthony Kershaw says:


    Third time lucky? God, after the last two halls, I hope so.

    • Tamino says:

      This time it will work Anthony, this time it will, promised!!! Copenhagen, Helsinki, Hamburg, they don’t count. This time it will be all different. Believe me! There will be only great seats. You don’t want a “good OLD shoe box, do you”? You want to be modern, right? Please sign here!

      (small print: great seat=seat the conductor can be seen well from)

  • Dave says:

    £288m from private donations. That will barely scratch the surface of what the City’s denizens have salted away in the Cayman Islands. Shame they don’t pay tax on even a fraction of it – that would help mitigate the effects of “austerity” – and any Brexit that austerity might trigger, though I hope it hasn’t quite done so.

  • Plan A: Why doesn’t the L.S.O. scrap this idea and instead put some of the money towards paying its own players acceptable fees? The current rate is £125 for a 3-hour rehearsal and concert in London for rank and file players. £125! And for this, they expect first rate performances in one of Europe’s most expensive cities. Once food, travel and waiting time is factored in, it’s not far off the minimum wage. And now they’ll be driven even harder, with more punishing programmes under Rattle. Plan B: Why doesn’t Rattle artificially top up the players’ fees to an acceptable level out of his own earnings? It would barely scratch the surface of his salary. Then he can have his ambition satisfied by a new concert hall that looks like a lump of cheese. . .

    • MacroV says:

      I don’t know what they’re paying Sir Simon, but the LSO is a proudly self-governing institution, i.e. they’re their own bosses, set presumably set their pay according to the revenue they estimate they can generate.

      And whatever they’re paying Sir Simon, presumably they calculated that it’s worth more than not having him.

    • Anon says:

      Not true..suggest you check your source.

  • MacroV says:

    Ah, the usual suspects:

    – Why not a shoebox? No other design works!
    – How can they spend so much money on a concert hall for the elite when there are so many other urgent needs?

    Surprised nobody is calling it the Rattle Edifice; Simon Says Build a Hall; etc.. Does seem to bear some resemblance to the Berlin Philharmonie, which I see as a good thing.

    • Semaj says:

      “Why not a shoebox? No other design works!”

      Tell that to the ghost of William B. Tuthill, architect of the decidedly non-shoebox Carnegie Hall.

      • Sixtus says:

        Carnegie is a part shoebox, which accounts for the sonic excellence of certain areas of the ground floor, as well as much of the upper levels that aren’t deep under an overhang from the level above. Important shoebox features include parallel sidewalls, not too widely spaced, and the absence of any appreciable “acoustic shell” directly above the stage. Deviations from these basic shoebox characteristics almost always produce an inferior hall.

  • Tamino says:

    Fool us once, shame on you.
    Fool us twice, shame on us!

    Circuses are not for hearing classical music.
    But maybe they could fill the bottom with water and have Seaworld open a franchise there? Or just some wild tigers, and clowns, and acrobats dancing on a rope?

  • Christopher Storey says:

    What a hideous monstrosity . Typical of the designs of fashionable but talentless architects all over the globe : fit only for the wrecker’s ball from the day it’s built

  • barry guerrero says:

    Chinese lantern show?