London concert hall in crisis after 26% ticket sales

London concert hall in crisis after 26% ticket sales


norman lebrecht

February 19, 2020

Terrible results are coming in from the Fairfield Hall in Croydon, which reopened in September after a £42.6 million refurbishment.

Up to the end of last year,  the venue sold 88,000 tickets, amounting to a 26 per cent occupancy. Classical content has dwindled to near-zero.

There’s a fear the hall may soon have to shut.

Read the full horror here.

Then call Raymond Gubbay to help save this valuable performance asset from dereliction.

UPDATE: It just got worse.


  • Concernedcitizen says:

    … and now the Director of the Hall has resigned!

  • Wally francis says:

    AND They want to build another concert hall in London?

    • They have to of course.If they don’t there will be less ans less people to go to the concerts and it will be tougher to attract the best classical maestros outside of the Primes period.

    • Will Duffay says:

      The trouble is that this is in Croydon, not central London…

    • Allen says:

      Do you know where Croydon is? It was originally part of NE Surrey. It bears little similarity to central London.

      The hall seems to be doing badly all round. Classical is only a small part of it and I suspect that most of the classical audience is taking advantage of the short train journey time (min 16 minutes) to cental London, or staying on if they work there.

      • Irrelohe says:

        An area like Croydon has the worst of both worlds – too close to central London to build up a large local following (despite affluent areas to the south) – as Allen says they will stay on in central London for the evening if (as they mostly do) they work there – and yet too far from the centre to be attractive to most Londoners, to other “Home Counties”-based concertgoers, or to tourists. And since the Hall was built the demographics of the local area have changed significantly, and hardly to the likely advantage of classical music. I’m not sure whether there is a viable solution.

        • Allen says:

          Agree entirely. To be honest, I was being a little cowardly and skating around the demographic issue because I wasn’t in the mood for a fight, but you’re right.

          IMO, the only potential solution would be to aggressively and widely promote the advantages of its acoustics for classical, but that is simply not going to happen.

  • Ok it seems that there’s a concert hall crisis in London bigger than the case of the very ugly Barbican. There’s no secret a city needs to have some excellent concert hall if the old ones are not like the Concertgebouw or Musikverein. Paris change complately or built its three biggest 5 years ago, it was expensive but now it’s a big popular success. London has to do the same thing. Even outside of the UK we know the passion of the Bristish for classical.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Well yes, but how many concert halls will London fill?

      • The good solution would be to earise this ugly Barbican, to build something new and big like in Rome and Paris with of course one or two little places inside the building for the chamber music and the morning concerts. In the big capital you need to have an opera one place only for dance and one concert hall with some seats around the orchestra.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    If I remember correctly that was the hall where Andre Previn & LSO used to present their television series. On screen it looked like a bland venue and the picture above does not look very appealing. It looks like one of those appalling buildings erected after the second world war. I would make an exception in the case of Deutsche Opera Berlin, the acoustics make up for any blandness in the externals of that building.

    • I would like to know and I would like to go to the Royal Festival hall. It’s maybe old but not ugly like the Barbican and I know it’s a place important for Haintink. I heard good or bad tings about this place.

      • Tim says:

        Having lived in the Barbican and performed regularly at both the Barbican and RFH I simply don’t recognise your provocative description, ‘ugly’, as being true.

        I can see why one would come to that opinion after seeing 2D photos of it but you should visit and walk round the Barbican once. And try to understand it’s purpose and what the whole centre offers Londoners. Many people are deeply attached to it. It’s an underrated gem and should be appreciated for all that it is.

        • I’am only talking about the concert hall. It’s a fact that this concert hall didn’t get old like the acual Gewandhaus of Leipzig who was built at the same time or the Cologne concert hall. The new Gewandhaus is a masterpiece inside. Barbican like the old Salle Pleyel (who closed for classic) in Paris is out of time. And the LSO must have a new configuration. Rattle is right LSO must have something new

        • Nik says:

          Fully agree with you.
          The Barbican Hall has some acoustic shortcomings, but as a venue and a space the Barbican is wonderful. It has a unique ethos and atmosphere.
          I work nearby and often take a stroll around the Barbican in my lunch break. I love it.

    • John Kelly says:

      The acoustics at Fairfield Hall are very good actually. About 1200 seats – in the 1970s Stokowski and the LSO played to sold out houses. We live in sad times. The new hall in Paris is way on the outskirts of the city (I felt like I was going from central London to Ilford – or Croydon) but it was worth it when I got there for sure.

      • Paris does the same thing Berlin did in the 60’s, going in a place where there will be space not touristic. It’s far from downtown yes but it’s in a place where there are a lot of concert places the Paris conservatoire. Many people espacilly consertavies from the right thought it will not work and it’s a fantastic success. There’s also a very good organisation for the taxis. London has to do the same thing.

      • And for the bourgeois from the west of Paris who don’t want to move there’s the Auditorium Radio France in the richest neighbours, beautiful and smaller.

      • Parisian says:

        John, the new hall is not at all on the outskirts of the city. Please don’t make uninformed comments about places you do not live in, thanks.

  • Brian v says:

    This is sad I have heard very good concerts there. And it is not far from the centre of London

    • Saxon Broken says:

      It is far enough from central London, and it isn’t on the tube network. This essentially means nobody from “north of the river” is ever likely to go.

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    =Up to the end of last year, the venue sold 88,000 tickets, amounting to a 26 per cent occupancy.

    There’s not much to go on here. How many billed performances were there over those 365 days ? Had that number gone down ? Is there more to it than quarter full houses ?

  • Such a shame regarding Fairfield Hall. They used to attract the calibre of Solti conducting the LPO in Elgar – I know because I was there. Fine acoustics – better than the awful Barbican or the disappointing post-refurbished RFH. In an ideal world the Corporation of London would “privately” fund a new hall within the confines of The City, and the taxpayer would foot the bill for a brand new venue on the South Bank. This may just about happen in the case of the former if Sir Simon gets his way, but is most unlikely in the case of the latter. We will just have to wait and see. In the meantime let’s hope the fortunes of Fairfield Hall quickly improve.

    • In my last post the fourth sentence should read “In an ideal world the City of London Corporation would encourage “private” funding for a new hall within the confines of The City…” – apologies.

      • Mike Schachter says:

        The Corporation spent much more than it expected to build the Barbican-it was given hugely optimistic figures without which it would not have happened at all. I doubt if they will give it another go.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Festival Hall has fairly terrible acoustics, but I think you are overstating the problem with the Barbican. While the acoustics aren’t superb, it also isn’t terrible from most places in the hall either.

    • Nigel Hawkes says:

      Agree-I’ve been to some wonderful concerts there-Cherkassky, Rubinstein (!), the Arthur Davison children’s series, on the lighter side-Engelbert, Demis, Martha Reeves… the smaller halls Mickey Rooney, Matt Monro jnr., the much missed Peter Katin also did occasional lunchtime recitals. There are many reasons for the present issues-I would cite (in no particular order)-demographics definitely, the long time closure has affected the loyalty which will take time to re-establish, closure of many of the big local companies must have affected the lunchtime trade and those wishing to go to an early evening event, and let’s be frank Croydon is not the most appealing of places-dirty, run down, with beggars and other anti-social elements very apparent (I’ve worked here for 19 years so I do know); what’s this I read of inadequate parking? There used to be a very good car park underneath-that aspect would definitely put me off….

  • Dave says:

    Given recent talk about the future of the BBC bands, the solution would seem fairly obvious; relocate the BBCSO to Croydon. The ramshackle and endlessly “refurbed” Maida Vale studios will surely collapse before the pointless Stratford development is ready, so use that money to pay off Croydon council instead.

    In terms of concerts this shockingly and embarrassingly (if the jobsworth management were capable of embarrassment) underpromoted band are already used to playing to 15 men and a dog at the Barbican anyway.

  • Tony Britten says:

    Stokowski said it had the finest acoustic in Europe. I was there the other week for a joint Whitgift Foundation schools concert and it sounded as glorious as ever. When I was a boy, my music master; David Squibb used to take me to Fairfield most Saturdays where I saw Rubinstein, Stokowski, Klemperer, Clifford Curzon etc etc. The London Orchestras all played Fairfield on the Saturday night and the vastly acoustically inferior RFH on the Sunday afternoon.

    The hall and (admittedly rather grim Ashcroft Theatre) thrived – really classy pantos and first class touring productions, The wonderful Arthur Davison Children’s concerts – all organised by the visionary original General Manager; Tom Piper and his equally talented successor Michael Tearle.

    Now we have an ‘Artistic Director’ whose previous job was as entertainment manager on cruise ships, presumably appointed by the regional entertainment producers who run the halls for Croydon Council. Maybe everyone in the huge Croydon catchment area has had a culture bypass – in which case just close the whole building. Or spend the money, put proper arts administration in, decent orchestras and theatre and stop patronising the audience.

    Oh – and set the place up as a high end orchestral recording studio during the day – there is currently a severe shortage in London and Croydon’s transport links would make it just as viable as Abbey Road or Air Lyndhurst. Just a thought.

    • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

      Yes, going up-market must be the way forward. The superb acoustics (for the audience: I don’t know what they are like for the players) have survived the renovation. In the late 70s and early 80s, before the opening of the Barbican, Abbado insisted on doing his LSO broadcasts from Fairfield rather than the RFH — which gave me (listening from afar) a perhaps rather rose-tinted impression of cultural life in Croydon.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Perhaps sell it to a consortium of London orchestras who might be interested in classical concerts, with good promotion people could come again.

  • SVM says:

    I am saddened to hear of this, having been impressed by the acoustics of the venue when I attended a lunchtime concert given there in the pre-refurbishment era. As others have noted, the dearth of classical concerts makes it difficult for the venue to expect much support in the shape of classical audiences. A couple of things might make a big difference:

    1. cut the hire charges for the hall, and launch a campaign to encourage classical ensembles and orchestras to hire it — if they can get the price to be substantially lower than the cost of a church hall in central London, they will find lots of takers (a persistent frustration shared by many classical musicians putting on performances in London is the sky-high cost of hiring a venue); and

    2. obtain advertising and signage in and around East Croydon railway station (a major interchange with fast trains to/from central London, Gatwick Airport, Brighton, and various other towns) to catch the attention of potential audiences and offer clear directions for the very short walk, and demonstrate how easy it is to get there from East Croydon railway station.

  • PJL says:

    most people felt it had the best acoustics in Greater London; I was hoping to attend a BBCSO concert there soon but it has been cancelled (I got a refund) Did they respond to lack of ticket sales? Very annoying as I booked a hotel in Croydon for the concert and that is non-refundable!