Prince Philip had fun at Britain’s best hall

Prince Philip had fun at Britain’s best hall


norman lebrecht

April 15, 2021

Ed Smith, who ran the City of Bimingham Symphony Orchestra, remembers the day 30 years ago when Symphony Hall opened:

Just after this photo was taken (that’s the back of my head on the right) Prince Philip turned to me and said

“Who is that man Her Majesty is talking to now?”

I replied “That’s the acoustician, Russell Johnson. He’s been responsible for many Halls up and down the country”

“I beg your pardon?”

I repeated what I had just said

“ Oh”, he chuckled, “I thought you said he’d been responsible for many balls-ups up and down the country!”


  • Petros Linardos says:

    Does anyone know whether any of the great Russel Johnson’s associates went on to become successful acousticians in their own right? Johnson passed away in 2007.

    • Jonathan Sutherland says:

      Yes. Johnson’s star
      protégé was Tateo Nakajima who merged Artec into ARUP in 2013. Nakajima first collaborated with Russell Johnson at the much admired Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre and after Johnson’s death, went on to be responsible for many other acclaimed projects including Harpa Hall in Reykjavík, the Maison Symphonique de Montréal, the Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest, the Musikkens Hus in Aalborg, Denmark and arguably the jewel in ARUP’s acoustical crown, the National Music Forum in Wrocław Poland.
      Evidence of Nakajima’s pre-eminent reputation in this highly specialised field is the fact that ARUP was awarded the acoustic design contract for the new concert hall in Munich (current status uncertain) and the eagerly anticipated new hall in Belgrade.
      Unlike perhaps more ubiquitous acousticians such as Yasuhisa Toyota, Nakajima is also an accomplished musician, having studied violin and conducting and once held the position of Principal Conductor of the Timisoara State Opera in Romania.
      Johnson’s formidable legacy not only endures but has been significantly enhanced.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Wonderful, thank you.

      • Tateo Nakajima says:

        Thanks Jonathan – I agree that Russ’ legacy is very much alive.

        I would also say that it continues to evolve strongly in a number of notable acoustics and theatre designers aside from myself including Ed Arenius, Damian Doria, Bob Essert, Eckhard Kahle and Todd Brooks to name just a few… and note that the projects you name should properly be recognised as the result of collaborations of a strong and broad team that is too large to name here!

    • Robert King says:

      Another renowned acoustician who worked with Russell Johnson at Artec, and also worked at Arup (before setting up his own company Sound Space Vision) is Bob Essert.

      Bob was principal acoustician for KKL Lucerne (for me still the finest modern concert hall in mainland Europe), Sage Gateshead, Singapore Esplanade and dozens more. Bob and SSV produce world-class work across a range of venues, not just concert halls, but also theatres, opera houses, recording studios etc. He’s one of the often unsung heroes of modern-day arts venues.

  • Alexander Platt says:

    That seems to be so in his style…..what’s also so endearing is that a) the Royal Family (and therefore the Government) would decide that it was worth their time to publicly endorse a new temple for classical music, and b) the look of seriousness on their faces as they learn about it.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Oh, that Prince Philip! What a card!

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Haha 😉

  • Robert King says:

    Many years ago I had to lead HM the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh down the TKC orchestra line after a concert in Prague, and one of our violinists had said he didn’t want to be introduced (not in favour of royalty, etc). At the relevant moment he tried to hide behind everyone but I made sure I pointed him out, saying “And this is [XYZ]: he’s getting married next weekend”. Prince Philip, quick as a flash, replied: “Oh, bad luck”. The whole line dissolved into laughter.