Britain’s best concert hall is 30 years old today

Britain’s best concert hall is 30 years old today


norman lebrecht

April 15, 2021

Birmingham’s Symphony Hall was a marvel when it opened on April 15, 1991 and remains unequalled in this country to this day.

The acoustics were by Russell Johnson, working closely with the conductor Simon Rattle. They were stress- tested in an opening concert of Stravinsky’s Firebird and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe.

In Britain’s lamentable history of bad concert halls, Birminghm stands out as a shining exception.




  • Rogerio says:

    Recently there was a breakthrough in nuclear fusion technology that may just herald in a new era of unlimited sustainable energy.
    Do you know who the scientists worked closely with?
    Simon Rattle.

  • Rogerio says:

    The dinosaurs looked at Simon Rattle the wrong way once. You know what happened to them.

  • Rogerio says:

    When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night he checks under his bed for Simon Rattle.

  • Derek H says:

    Everyone who goes to Symphony Hall will confirm that it is an amazing concert hall and the acoustics are exceptional.

    I never take it for granted – it is always a pleasure to be there.

  • Iain Muir says:

    But any attempt by London to have a first rate full sized concert hall (other than Fairfield Hall, which is sadly in the wrong place), will be an unnecessary, vanity based, Londoncentric, overpriced, elitist, white elephant. Did I miss anything?

    I wonder if Birmingham could have achieved this in 2021?

    Not that I’m suggesting commentators can be negative, or anything….

    • Cocertgoer says:

      Symphony Hall is a part of the ICC complex, but it is leased from the larger ICC organisation and operated by a separate company.

      Several years before it opened In 1991, nearly 25% (£49.7m at the time) of the cost of the whole ICC complex – came from the EU regional development fund.

      Would be more than twice that amount in today’s prices, so the answer is it would be highly unlikely unless funds could be found fromsomewhere else (which they couldn’t be at the time it was planned).

    • SVM says:

      How many times does it need to be repeated: the Fairfield Halls complex has outstanding and fast transport connections (including late at night), such that it is easily accessible from London and the Home Counties! Just go to National Rail Enquiries ( and search for trains to/from East Croydon (ECR), and you can see this for yourself (or, if that is too much effort, there is a decent and up-to-date summary on Wikipedia, at — I would never recommend Wikipedia for serious musicological research, but for an overview of public transport, it is alright). If only the Fairfield had a decent concert season, they would be able to compete easily with the central London venues.

  • Old Bob says:

    Very funny!

  • … and it now looks even better from the outside than the photograph suggests following the completion of the new foyer! We can’t wait to welcome audiences back to the Hall for CBSO concerts from next month.

  • Gustavo says:

    What’s become of the Caird Hall in Dundee?

    Wasn’t it once compaired with Musikvereinssaal?

  • Bass One says:

    Disagree. I have sung in both and Manchester’s The Bridgewater Hall is superior.

    • John Kelly says:

      I’ve listened in both and I have to disagree. Bridgewater Hall is very good but the Birmingham hall is much better from a listening standpoint, in my opinion. Having said that, two good halls in a country without many…………

  • Wally Francis says:

    Having attended concerts in this wonderful hall since it’s opening I know that it is a truly wonderful Hall, which incidentally is home also to a truly fabulous world class Orchestra.

    The problem for London is that it has gone for quantity rather than the quality of its concert halls. How many more does London need? They have somehow managed to turn the
    Royal Festival Hall into something quite squalid.

    My I also add that I find the appalling and truly cowardly personal attacks on Simon Rattle pathetic. OK you may not like the man or his music making but that does not justify these pathetic remarks,: – so much a sad feature of Slipped Disc these days.

    It is not just Rattle, we get the same personal attacks on many others here on an all to regular basis. I would have thought/hoped that serious music lovers were a bit above this dreadful, spiteful name calling. Judge people by their musical achievements by all means, but remember, we cannot all like, all the same things, all of the time.

    Great music is surely above all this nonsense. If contributors have nothing really sensible and constructive to say may I respectfully suggest they stop tapping at their keyboards and listen to more music!

    Isn’t interesting to note that the worst culprits always hide behind some silly name they have created for themselves.

    If you have an honest opinion to air at least have the courage to use your own name,

    Wally Francis

    • Christopher Clift says:

      I love your assessment, Wally, and could not agree more with your comment about the trolling which is becoming far TOO prevalent in SD these days. A sign of the times, perhaps, but I quite suspect that most people who pass the kind of remarks that you mention, do not really understand what makes people like SR tick. Thankfully I worked a lot with him as you know, and more recently have been to loads of CBSO concerts in that fabulous hall.