End of line for London concert hall: heads roll?

End of line for London concert hall: heads roll?


norman lebrecht

February 18, 2021

Today’s death certificate for a new London concerthall, designated for the wrong place at the wrong time, is not without costs.

The Arts Council put up a million quid for a rubberstamp feasibility study and thousands of hours of executive time were expended on a venture that was designed to please Simon Rattle but had no other validity. Those of us who opposed it from the start are entitled to say we-told-you-so.

This is a massive setback for the Barbican, the LSO and the Guildhall, who are condemned to remain in an unsuitable site because their leaders never came up with a better plan.

Heads will roll quietly into retirement: certainly two of three signatories on the abandonment letter:

Nick Kenyon, Managing Director Barbican Centre
Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director London Symphony Orchestra
Lynne Williams, Principal, Guildhall School of Music & Drama

But that’s not an end of the matter. The entire music press and almost every music critic supported this venture uncritically. Consciences need to be search. One very prominent critic owes the world a mea culpa if he wants to retain credibility.

London needs a better hall. But now not, and not where the three musketeers above so badly planned it.




  • Sam says:

    Except the CoL has announced funding for a major renewal of the barbican in the same press release, Norman, somewhat going against your third paragraph.

  • JussiB says:

    I learned today concerthall is one word.

  • A very very bad news and unfair news for classical music in UK for the next 50 years. Fortunatly UK has the Proms.

    • IC225 says:

      London is not the UK. There are excellent halls – better than anything in London – in Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle and elsewhere.

  • Bob says:

    Heads will roll quietly into retirement, said Mr Lebrecht, 72…

  • Allen says:

    I knew that the RFH was Grade I listed but I am surprised that the Barbican is also listed (grade II).

    Over generous, in my opinion, and ensures that money will continue to be spent on superficial improvements to unsatisfactory buildings, weakening the financial argument for entirely new projects. I’ve had many enjoyable evenings at the RFH but it is a good site that deserves something better in 2021 (I realise that this is well outside the City of London).

    Another disturbing trend is the apparently widespread view that a new concert hall must be welcoming to people who have no intention whatsoever of leaving Pizza Express and stepping inside. Just build a safe shoebox shaped hall at a reasonable cost and, for God’s sake, stop apologising for what happens inside.

  • Benuinu says:

    Which ‘very prominent critic owes the world a mea culpa’?

  • Tommy says:

    I’m a bit confused about what exactly you ‘told them so’.
    Are you saying “See! See! I told you there would be a worldwide pandemic that would drain the resources of arts companies and make new building work impossible! I TOLD YOU THAT WOULD HAPPEN!!”

    • Allen says:

      I think it had more to do with the suitability of the Museum of London site, and the cost. But let’s face it, there’s never a good time for spending money on the Arts in the UK. Every project of any size comes under attack.

      NL is gloating a bit, though.

  • Dave says:

    Well, it always looked like being some overpaid architect’s wankorama…

    I’m (not) a little surprised that the City of London, which was always going to do so well out of Brexit, has had to pull the funding.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    My preferred location for a new ‘London Concert Hall’ to rival (acoustically) those in Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, among several others) would be somewhere on the banks of the Thames. The RFH site is a logical place, but anywhere which is reasonably well served by public transport would be good. And as someone else has said here, it needs to be acoustically sound, probably shoebox shaped and not costing an arm and a leg.

  • A bassist says:

    London has a hall with ‘world class’ acoustics. Unfortunately it’s had a terrible recent history and it is in Croydon.

  • SVM says:

    Finally, a sensible decision… why did it take so long? A shift in focus to support music and musicians (rather than property developers and ‘starchitects’) is long overdue. I trust that GSMD (where I used to be a student) will redirect its campaigns and fundraising efforts towards more (and larger) scholarships for its students.

    And I think characterising the site as “unsuitable” is a bit extreme, given that it includes Milton Court, a hall with outstanding acoustics, opened in 2013.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Good grief, Norman. I don’t live in London, but I’m guessing you’ll bump into these people at some point. Aren’t you pouring it on a bit thick? The pandemic has changed everything, as you remind us pretty much daily. If the right people are put in charge of the project, I’m sure The Barbican could be made to sound better. Someday money will flow again and the call for a new concert hall will reemerge. Let’s get people safe and healthy first.

  • Don Pasquale says:

    How does “ venture that was designed to please Simon Rattle but had no other validity.” square with “LSO and the Guildhall, who are condemned to remain in an unsuitable site because their leaders never came up with a better plan”

  • Meridien says:

    The Royal Festival Hall was a failure on its own terms as soon as it was completed. The expensive refurbishment some years ago failed to deal with the ‘dead space’ in the rear stalls, and how many times have I heard quiet music accompanied by the sound of trains rumbling over Hungerford Bridge. Fine concert halls can be built in close proximity to train stations without disturbance by train noise – KKL in Lucerne is one example. If the RFH could be rebuilt surely it would be possible to follow I.K. Brunel’s example and bring construction materials in by river? That a purpose-built concert hall with such poor acoustics and therefore unfit for purpose, has a listed building designation, makes a mockery of the listing building concept itself.