The man who got Birmingham a hall

The man who got Birmingham a hall


norman lebrecht

January 11, 2020

From the Times obit of Tom Caulcott:

he was head-hunted in 1982 to be the chief executive of Birmingham, then a city in decline.

He persuaded the council to embark on a substantial capital building programme, the centrepiece of which was a convention centre and concert hall for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) and Simon Rattle, its new young conductor. Although the hall did not qualify for European funding, Caulcott found an original way to unlock cash from Brussels by billing it as dual use. He was similarly imaginative in securing funding from his contacts in central government, now under Margaret Thatcher, although the invitation to Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission, to lay the foundation stone ruffled feathers in Whitehall.


Bless him!



  • Ken says:

    Surely — and by a good margin — the ugliest hall I’ve ever walked into in 40 years, like a drunken set designer ‘s idea of an alien convention. Sound was fine if you shut your eyes. For “England,” I guess it passes. Should have suited Rattle’s bass-light/absent sound concept just right.

    I was at a post-concert thing in Toronto the next year (’98 or 9) and happened to tell the new managing director bitterly about my recent experience in Birmingham, and he shouted, “I built that!!”

    • Stweart says:

      See Stweart !

    • Dl142 says:

      What an idiot, it’s a beautiful hall and one of the best I’ve had the pleasure in performing in. You must have lived a very sheltered life

    • Rugbyfiddler says:

      Everyone is entitled to express their opinion, (even in Slipped Disc) but as a performer for over 40 years and lucky enough to have played at the opening concert in Symphony Hall, I measure most acoustic spaces by the sound they produce, and not necessarily by their appearance. There are of course exceptions and I have played in quite a few of them – but PRIMARILY a concert hall should be judged on its sound, rather than how it looks, after all a deaf person might be entranced by the visual, but a blind person probably won’t give the proverbial tinker’s cuss.

    • C Porumbescu says:

      File under “cloth-eared Anglophobes”.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    A new hall can transform the fortunes of an orchestra. At one time a provincial orchestra, Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is today one of Britain’s finest (along with London Symphony & Philharmonic orchestras, both of which lack a fine hall unfortunately).

  • Kevin O'Connor says:

    Time to pay back what Europe gave you in good faith Britain. Acknowledge what Europe did for Britain. ( i left out the “great”bit.

    • C Porumbescu says:

      There’s a monument to Delors out the back, by the canal. He’s had his due.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Huh? You do know that Britain was part of this Europe and paid into the budget. If Europe wants the money back for the hall, then they equally would have to pay back the British contribution to the budget.

  • Stweart says:

    What do your “minority of one” thoughts have to do with Norman’s article? ….and try Specksavers!

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    Yes, bless Tom Caulcott. We’re very proud of Symphony Hall here in Birmingham.

    Birmingham felt very sorry for itself in the 1970s. I think it began to feel confidence return when the National Exhibition Centre was built (admittedly in Solihull, but with Birmingham as a major player in its founding), making the city less inward-looking. The magic that came with Simon Rattle and, later, Symphony Hall has bolstered the city’s confidence ever since.

    I can hardly understand where Ken is coming from, other than to say that the acoustic canopy over the stage does look like it’s come out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s an integral part of what makes the acoustic of the hall so great. Mendelssohn complained about the acoustics of the CBSO’s previous venue, so it was important to get the next one right, albeit more than a century later!

    • Appleby says:

      Many concertgoers actually think the acoustic canopy looks rather fantastic. One lady even thought it had mystical properties and was relaying messages to her. For years she’d arrive very early for concerts and sit in the front row praying to it.