Friday, February 20, 2015


Or so they say. According to the Evening Standard and some other papers, Chancellor George Osborne is giving his blessing to...a feasibility study to see if there really is a watertight case for a new world-class concert hall in the UK capital. That isn't quite the same thing as saying that London is definitely going to have said hall, but it's got to start somewhere, and apparently the City of London Corporation is now looking for a good site. Here's the latest:

Just in: a statement from the Barbican:

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director, Barbican and Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director, London Symphony Orchestra said:

“This commitment from the Chancellor to put new money into a feasibility study for a world-class music centre that serves London, Londoners, and the nation as a whole is a hugely exciting prospect.

“Culture is ever more important in defining our great cities, and this is a once-in-a-generation chance to explore how we could work with the City of London to create a state-of-the-art performance and education facility for the digital age that offers outstanding learning opportunities for all.”

We've been wanting this for years and years and years and decades and decades. It's a real breakthrough. First of all: thanks, guys. the reality. What happens now?

One wonders about the timing. If they find a site soon, then by the time all the processes are in place it will probably be time for Rattle to start at the LSO, assuming he is going to start at all, which remains in question. How long does it take to build a world-class concert hall these days, especially in London? Rattle is turning 60 this year. Perhaps this hall, if it materialises, will be ready to open for his 70th birthday.

OK, call me cynical. But there is a pernicious history in this country - and other places, not least France and Spain - of spending a lot of dosh on putting strange buildings in strange places for non-artistic purposes at the expense of the content. You need to invest not only in arts venues, but in art itself.

That means you need to treat performers better. Which means, in turn, that you need not only to provide better pay and conditions for your artistic companies, which you do, but also you need to ensure that all schoolchildren have the chance to learn about the arts and try their hands at them, you need to stop charging the earth for advanced high-level training - for example, you cannot with one hand introduce astronomical tuition fees at specialist colleges and with the other grumble that only rich kids go into acting - and you need to create a culture in which the value of music and arts for all is not constantly sniped at, but instead is accepted as a natural part of a civilised society. Arts, politics and education need to indulge in some joined-up thinking. (Over at The Amati Magazine, our Young Artist of the Week, BBC's Young Musician of the Year 2012 cellist Laura van der Heijden, has some strong words on music education.)

Some commentators have suggested that we don't need a hall and we should simply prioritise our performers instead. I think we need both. In an ideal world, it shouldn't be either or.

Look, it'll be great if it happens. It really will. But please, get it right this time?