Plans for new £278m London concert hall back on track

12 January 2017, 14:52 | Updated: 12 January 2017, 15:04

Roger Norrington

Up to £2.5m in funding will be provided by the City of London Corporation’s Court of Common Council to complete the business case for the new Centre for Music, after government funding was withdrawn last November

Plans for the capital's proposed new concert hall looked to have stalled in November, when the Government pulled funding for a detailed study into the business case for the project. 

But today it has been announced that £2.5m will be provided by the City of London to complete the business case, to test the viability of building the centre. 

The proposed site for the centre is 140-150 London Wall, the site which currently houses the Museum of London. 

A spokesperson for the three partners for the project – the Barbican Centre, London Symphony Orchestra and Guildhall School of Music – said: 

"We are very pleased that the City of London Corporation has agreed to provide funding to complete a detailed business case for an outstanding Centre for Music in the Square Mile. Our vision and drive to deliver a world-class Centre for the 21st century that provides access to great music to the widest possible audience remains unchanged, and we are looking forward to working with the City of London Corporation to explore how this vision could potentially become a reality.”

Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican said that the Government was "in principle supportive of the project, if alternative funding can be found."

He continued: "Our vision to deliver a world-class Centre for Music for the 21st century that provides access to great music to the widest possible audience remains unchanged, and we are looking forward to working with the City of London Corporation and a wide range of partners to explore how this vision could potentially become a reality."

What does the music world think?

The leading conductor Sir Roger Norrington, best known for his work with early music, told Classic FM:

“Well I wouldn’t mind a new concert hall in London – we don’t have a good one. Of course the Royal Festival Hall has improved, the sight-lines are great but the sound is not amazing. I think it would be fantastic if there was another hall – I’m used to a lot of very wonderful halls in other parts of the world.”

Vladimir Jurowski, the Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the Southbank Centre's resident orchestras, also said he thought a new concert hall in the city could only be good news.

Vladimir Jurowski

“Well I certainly think another great concert hall is always great news – there can’t be enough of them,” he told Classic FM. “But the creation of a new concert hall can’t and shouldn’t undermine the existence of all the other ones.”

His comments follow the publication of an article in the Guardian by cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, in which he said:

“Just because a concert hall doesn’t bathe its performers in a comforting wash of sound doesn’t mean it is not a good hall for the listener.”

Where has the idea for a new London concert hall come from? 

Conductor Sir Simon Rattle will become music director of the London Symphony Orchestra in September 2017 – and in the lead-up to that announcement, Sir Simon put the case very strongly for a world-class concert hall for London. 

“The music-lovers of London and the country would deserve to have something where… the orchestras can flourish,” Rattle recently said in an interview. “You have no idea how wonderful an orchestra like the London Symphony Orchestra can sound in a great concert hall.”

Earlier this year, when his appointment was announced, Sir Simon said: "I wanted to kick-start the conversation about an expansion,” he said of the new concert hall. “Watch this space."

Tell me more about the plans

The new Centre for Music be built on the site of the Museum of London (which is planning to move to a bigger site near Smithfield Market).

The new concert hall would be home to the London Symphony Orchestra and would include a 1,900-seat main hall and a smaller, more informal venue to accommodate 200 people.

There would be no formal front or back-of-house areas with that aim, according to the report, that it would "feel inclusive, transparent and alive, encouraging interaction between musicians and the members of the public."

How much will the new concert hall cost?

The headline figure is £278m but the report also proposes that £34m will be needed for work on Barbican Hall (the London Symphony Orchestra's current home) so it can hold more non-classical events. It also suggests £0.8m would be needed to make changes to LSO St Luke's, a smaller venue currently used by the LSO.

The report says that £125m could be raised from fundraising but the rest would come from the Corporation of London and the public purse.

The Government has agreed to put £5.5m forward to fund the development of a detailed business plan and analysis of costs and benefits as well as initial designs for the building and to begin fundraising.

Who's backing it?

In a speech at the Tate Modern last year, former chancellor George Osborne announced he was “backing plans for a new major concert hall in London by funding a feasibility study to progress plans to give London a world-class concert hall comparable to those present in other major cities across the world.”

The project was also supported by the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who said: "I welcome the Government's backing for the next phase of the Centre for Music project. It would create a world-class concert hall to compete with those in other global cities and help to reshape an increasingly important cultural quarter in central London."

Sir Simon Rattle, unsurprisingly, has voiced his support for the plans: "The Centre for Music has the potential to be an extraordinary place that will make music central to people’s lives. There is still much to do to move this from dream to reality, so this is exciting news. I’m delighted to see the project advancing, and look forward to the next phase of work."

But London already has a load of concert halls… 

barbican centre

Yes. There’s the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre, the Barbican (pictured above) – where Simon Rattle recently performed with the Berlin Philharmonic – the Royal Albert Hall, Cadogan Hall, Wigmore Hall, King’s Place, LSO St Luke’s, to name just a few…

But it’s widely thought that the two main orchestral venues – the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall – don’t have acoustics to measure up to venues such as Symphony Hall Birmingham (a project Rattle also spearheaded), and the great European halls such as Berlin’s Philharmonie and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.

Is anyone against the idea? 

As mentioned above, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber has bemoaned the fact that, 60 years after it was built, “we are being told that the Royal Festival Hall is no longer good enough… nor any other concert hall where orchestral concerts are heard in our capital city".

He asks in the Guardian: "Can this really be true? Or are classical music’s luvvies being a mite too sensitive?” 

Lloyd Webber says the Royal Festival Hall is difficult for performers, because the "the slightest mistake is immediately heard". But for the same reason, it's great for the audience, who are able to hear delicate musical phrases. “It is no coincidence that some of the greatest performances I have ever heard have been at the festival hall,” he concludes.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph’s music critic Ivan Hewett who recently wrote a piece called ‘Sorry, Simon, London doesn’t need another concert hall’.

“Great art and music is created by people, not buildings… Spending many millions to build a hall to get a few more seconds’ reverberation time, and show that we’re keeping up with Paris, Copenhagen, Lucerne etc is an indulgence we just don’t need in straitened times. 

And there has been lots of comment on Twitter:




Ex-Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and former culture secretary David Mellor have also weighed in on the debate, arguing that Simon Rattle should be finding the money himself by working with the LSO, rather than using it as a bargaining tool.

What do you think? Is London crying out for a new concert hall or could the money be better spent on other things?