Just in: Birmingham gets £2.5m to reopen halls

Just in: Birmingham gets £2.5m to reopen halls


norman lebrecht

October 23, 2020

Hours after we asked why halls stay closed when orchestras are keen to play, this just happened:

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) is to return to Symphony Hall Birmingham, as its doors open for the first time in over seven months to enable live concerts for socially-distanced audiences.

The announcement follows today’s decision by Arts Council England to award Town Hall Symphony Hall £2.53 million from the Culture Recovery Fund designed to help the sector until March 2021 – while the CBSO received £843,000 earlier this month.



  • fflambeau says:

    Maybe Covid has resulted in some positive things. Like this brilliant production (free, online) about the life and times of Marc Blitzstein. Free but up for only 24 hours. At https://www.music.wisc.edu/

  • Stephen Maddock says:

    Delighted that we can finally announce what has been our plan for several months: live concerts by an orchestra of up to 60 players, played weekly (2 concerts each day) throughout the autumn and winter. This has been our plan since early summer but it required three things:
    1. The UK government to allow live performances with audience (which was announced in mid-August)
    2. Symphony Hall to complete enough of the long-term capital project on its foyers for us to be able to manage the audience in that space while maintaining social distancing (this will finally be possible by early November)
    3. CBSO and then Symphony Hall to receive positive news from the DCMS / Arts Council Recovery Fund. The second of these decisions came at midnight, and we have immediately announced the concerts, which begin in 11 days’ time on 4 November.

    We will put new concerts on sale each week, a week in advance, allowing us to respond to an ever-changing situation (not least around quarantine for artists which is proving a nightmare for all British promoters) and make sure that we are providing fair access to the limited number of tickets available for people who want to book.

    Full details of the first 2 concerts on http://www.cbso.co.uk

    It’s great to be back!

    • Dan W says:

      What about streaming concerts Stephen? I am one of many vulnerable people who can’t risk going to concert halls. I’ve been to many CBSO performances over the years and am shocked that the orchestra has put out almost no online content. Are there plans to do this? Most other orchestras in the UK have now and you are letting down the audiences that have for years supported the orchestra. After receiving considerable funding and in your centenary year, this is simply not good enough! Our wonderful orchestra is still considered one of the best in the world and are being let down by it’s management! A world class orchestra needs a world class media plan. The only thing that has been released was the Simon Rattle concert with appalling audio. Quoting my wife who never complains “I can’t listen to this, it sounds like an old car radio”

      • Stephen Maddock says:

        Dan we will indeed be streaming some of the concerts starting next month.

        The Rattle concert was reissued last month with improved audio, and if you missed this in its free window it will be available again soon.

        And our latest Recording with Mirga – Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem – was released last week.

  • Mark (London) says:

    They need to open to public and some audiences ! 2.5£ million is a huge amount at the present. Must have some friends in arts council committee s to get this amount !

    • Appleby says:

      Hardly. To re-open one of Britain’s few world-class concert halls, serving a region with a population bigger than Amsterdam or Vienna, it’s small change. Have you seen how much they’re giving to London venues – including the Southbank, which routinely spaffs up the wall sums several times greater than this.

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      The charity which manages Symphony Hall and the Town Hall in Birmingham gets a tiny amount of public grant each year compared with the major halls in London – most of its income in normal times comes from ticket sales, external hires and catering. This has all been zero since March – no commercial promoters can afford to put anything on with c.15% audience capacity – as a result of which it needs this government grant (having already made heavy redundancies) just to get through to next March.

      We have yet to see the largest government awards (which will be loans of £3m+) and some of these are expected to go to organisations that receive a lot more regular subsidy than THSH. In normal times, like so many concert halls (most of which are not subsidized outside London), they are extraordinarily efficient – in Covid times, this dependence on earned income goes from being a strength to being a weakness: hence the government rescue package.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    This brilliant news. Make the most of this opportunity. I’m sure you don’t need ANY encouragement but there must be thousands of people who can’t wait to hear the orchestra “in the flesh”

  • Derek says:

    Excellent! Essential help at a critical time.

    Now there is the opportunity to restart performances in Symphony Hall with audiences or for live transmission or both!

    So many music lovers long for large scale orchestral concerts and live performances of all kinds.

  • Zelda Macnamara says:

    Well, I was quite excited by this and so I went to the website to see if there were tickets available but…. it seems they cannot be booked online. No other advice given.

  • Firing Back says:

    The money will run out in a flash. And what then?
    Probably a Tier 3 lockdown for Birmingham soon. And what then?

    Only a new management team and a new vision for the CBSO will see it survive after the ‘what then’ point.

    The CBSO has been idle for many, many months. No visionary initiatives, no thinking outside the box, no imaginative re-shaping of things for the wider community.

    But now, with over £3-million thrown in his direction, Maddock has the audacity to say ‘It’s great to be back’. How incredibly lazy.

    And it makes a mockery of the many organisations, festivals (Harrogate, anyone?) and orchestras that received little or no rescue funding – despite many of them having displayed more initiative during the COVID crisis alone than CBSO management has shown in years.

    • IC225 says:

      And you have the audacity to say they’ve been “idle” when (clearly) you know nothing of what’s been going on behind the scenes, and the financial and practical realities of running regional orchestras and venues under these circumstances. No two arts organisations are the same; the issues for an organisation like the CBSO are very different from an orchestra with (say) mostly freelance players, or access to substantial financial support; with responsibility for buildings other than the main concert venue, and with little direct control over that venue. It’s so tedious, hearing endless armchair punditry from amateurs operating in a money-and-safety-no-object fantasy world; and insulting in this case to people who’ve been dealing with a situation about which you know little. Hang your head in shame: better still, keep silent if you have nothing intelligent or informed to say.

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      To be clear: The new £2.5m has gone to Symphony Hall NOT the CBSO. As explained elsewhere, most of it is needed to replace their lost commercial income this year. So the two grants should enable both Hall and Orchestra to get through the current financial year (we have lost more than £5m of commercial income due to Covid, THSH even more). As to beyond next April, that all depends on the progress of the pandemic and social distancing – as it does for every arts organisation in the country.

      You seem to be an expert on the activities and finances of British orchestras. If you want to have a conversation about the details of our approach – rather than sounding off anonymously – do please get in touch. I’d be happy to talk.

      • LPO snitch says:

        It’s incredible to witness this. Here is Stephen Maddock the chief exec of the CBSO, clearly unable to deal with anyone disagreeing with him, without resorting to being passive aggressive.

        Has it come to this? Is classical music now a cult where one cannot and does not dare disagree with the ‘dear leader’? Actually, yes, that’s what Mr Maddock is banking on. He wants to state his case, as long as you don’t dare state yours.

        Believe me, execs of other organisations are looking on at Mr Maddock’s behaviour in horror.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          MODERATOR: This commenter is using the email address of a well-known classical PR. Clearly there are some dirty tricks going on and they need to be strangled at source. As far as Slipped Disc is concerned, Stephen Maddock has been honest, transparent and positively engaged, which is more than can be said for other UK orchestral managers, who shall go unnamed. Now stop sniping at him and get back to civilised discussion.

  • violin accordion says:

    I really doubt that audiences can stomach the conditions in which they have to attend live concerts, spreadout, wearing masks, sanitising, tracking and tracing, one at a time in the conveniences, and all the rest of it. Rather a misery really

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      Our experience to date in Birmingham – and that of orchestras in Bournemouth and Liverpool – is that people have found the experience very safe and well organised. Yes it’s very different from normal pre-Covid concert-going, and we all look forward to the restrictions loosening, but if those are the terms on which live music is available, there are plenty of people who will be happy to attend. Others will not feel able to attend yet, but then there are far fewer tickets available in any case, and there is a vast amount of music available online for those who don’t want to leave home and/or travel into our cities at present.


    Congratulations Stephen on your open and positive responses to this tirade of ill informed negativity. Wishing you and the CBSO every success with these concerts which are bound to bring much needed comfort to many. Your excellent centenary concert last month proved how much work you and your colleagues have put into bringing music back to Birmingham. Bravo!