Simon Rattle, again, on why London needs a new hall

The LSO conductor held a webchat yesterday on the Guardian site. He was asked about the LSO’s hobbyhorse new hall.

Here’s his current line:

SR: While realising that London has many riches of its own, we do not have a magnificent concert hall – as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Gateshead , for instance, do. London is the capital and as it happens I’m conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, who desperately need a hall where they can grow and develop and where we can build a kind of beacon for music all over the country.

What we are trying to build here is not simply a concert hall, although of course that is part of it, but to intensify and increase all the magnificent work that is going on in music education and to make a place that will be a magnet for people of all ages to learn about music and to be infected by this hopefully incurable virus. An orchestra’s life int he 21st century is not simply a matter of playing great concerts. This is apart of it but everything we do is inform by the work around it and the necessity to be evangelists for the cause. Yesterday I met for the first time the young students at the East London academy, which is one of our new initiatives and an important way to keep young people moving forward, kids who come from the kind of backgrounds that would not normally support their music making.

Sometimes, it’s best to stop digging.


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  • My suggestion: tearing down the Royal Festival Hall and building a concert hall on that site. Better buildings have been torn down.

    • Agreed, but unfortunately it would require an Act of Parliament to authorise it. It’s “listed” status is of the highest grade, and planners have no legal discretion to even contemplate it….though I agree….the whole site should be flattened and re imagined.

  • It would be a good thing to have a great hall in London (the last one was bombed out during the second world war). On the other hand, there is no guarantee that a hall will end up being great until it is completed. Either way, as I have often witnessed in Sydney Opera House Concert hall over the years, the great orchestras still sound great in less than perfect halls. It is an excuse for orchestras with less than great string sections (the common weakness of second & third rate orchestras, even if they boast excellent woodwind & brass) is to complain about the hall. This obviously does not apply in the case of LSO, which is a great orchestra.

  • Among the things Boris mentions that England could be spending on from the millions it saves from Brexit, a London concert hall is not one of them…

    • I agree.
      London DOES need a new hall (I’m NOT a “Londoner” of any sort any more…); even when I first went to the Barbican as a comparatively young person (for a Hogwood performance of Mozart’s Requiem, ed. Maunder), I found the place numbing, totally at variance with my then feelings about the City of London architecture. People who say that The Barbican area is not the right option are correct; Portland Place looks a very imaginative alternative.
      I would however put in a plea…WHEREVER the Sir Simon Rattle Hall ends up being built, it MUST have provision for an organ. Not a massive RFH-type one (times have changed…), and certainly NOT for organ recitals, as these are very well catered for in various churches and cathedrals around London. It is, however, vital for many standard orchestral repertoire pieces, and London’s great new concert hall should have a great quality organ to match. Look at the Concertgebouw and similar halls. Please, no electronics brought in on a rental basis; would you ask Argerich to play an electronic piano. Fine for home practice, yes, but NOT for world-class public performance.

      • If we built a new hall, why should the LSO play in it? We have three internationally regarded orchestras: LSO, LPO and Philharmonia. They could have a hall each if we built a new hall (and each would have a support orchestra to join them since we have the BBC SO and the RPO orchestra as well as some others). In any case, the Barbican is adequate (not better than adequate, but not terrible in the way Festival Hall is).

  • “we do not have a magnificent concert hall – as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Gateshead…. London is the capital…where we can build a kind of beacon for music all over the country.”

    Ah, you literally just contradicted yourself, it looks like the rest of the country is doing just fine without a beacon in London.

  • ==great orchestras still sound great in less than perfect halls

    Yes, the great violinist Nigel Kennedy was asked about Barbican and said sure, it’s not great acoustically, but as a performer you just adjust. Sir S goes on about musical education but you could buy an awful lot of education for the price of the Vanity Hall

  • It isn’t just about acoustics, the platform is too small and it doesn’t have an organ – facts regularly omitted by those who oppose this as a “hobby”.

    • If a Wagner orchestra can get into the pit at Bayreuth then any orchestra has enough room on the platform at the Barbican.

      As for an organ: does it really matter. There is more than enough orchestral music which does not require an organ, and anything that does can be played a festival hall.

  • The Barbican has a lot of issues besides the acoustics, but before spending hundreds of millions on a new hall, they should consider what else could do they with that money to reach new audiences.

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