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Arts: Concert Hall for London

Volume 760: debated on Tuesday 24 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with those involved in the planning of the proposed new concert hall for London.

My Lords, the Government have spoken to a range of interested parties about the proposed new concert hall, including the Greater London Authority. The Chancellor recently announced £1 million of funding to support a feasibility study into the new concert hall, which will report back in the autumn. Work on the study is already under way.

With Crossrail opening in 2018, thereby making access to central London far faster than on much of the London Tube network, instead of the Government sponsoring a feasibility study into yet another concert hall in London, why not build a new international concert hall on a site on the Crossrail route that is accessible to Heathrow and on land that is far cheaper than in central London? May I suggest building it in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead? Surely, the Home Counties deserve their share of major projects, following upon Crossrail?

My Lords, every major city in the world has a concert hall within the centre of the city. London and the United Kingdom are in need of a new concert hall in the capital city. The acoustics here are poorer than in all our competitors, and that is why the new hall is likely to be in central London.

Is my noble friend aware that the last five years have been halcyon years for music in London? One can look at who has been put forward for the Young Musician of the Year, the social policy of the Royal Opera House and all the events taking place in the parks of London. Are the Government not right to look at their policy and prepare properly to ensure that we have one of the best international concert halls in the world?

My noble friend is of course absolutely right. We need a concert hall that is comparable to those in Berlin, Vienna and Paris. The only way to get that is by re-examining this issue, which we are doing, along with Sir Simon Rattle, the GLA, the Barbican and the London Symphony Orchestra, so that we have a concert hall of international standing.

My Lords, I have some experience of superb acoustics, having sung in Australia’s most iconic building—the world heritage Sydney Opera House. I was a top tenor in the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir at the time. Might I invite the Minister to consider a joint project for a concert hall on the £18 billion Nine Elms Lane development around the American embassy and Battersea Power Station? There are plans for shopping malls and two new Tube stations, but the area risks being a cultural desert—although the developers claim that there will be a modest theatre and Damien Hirst is threatening the site with an art gallery. I declare an interest as a resident of Nine Elms Lane.

My Lords, I am sorry to have missed my noble friend’s performance in Sydney. They are still talking about it down under. One reason why the site being looked at is in the City is the strong possibility of City sponsorship, which should not be ignored. However, I am sure that the feasibility study will look at matters in the round and consider my noble friend’s remarks.

My Lords, I welcome the prospect of a new, state-of-the-art, large concert hall in London, not least because I went to a concert at the magnificent new Philharmonie in Paris last month. However, I question whether this is the best way to spend hundreds of millions of pounds promoting our musical culture. Will the Minister seek to ensure that the funding for any such hall comes primarily from private sources, and that public funds are focused on national initiatives such as the Government’s laudable national plan for music education, benefiting students and schools right across the country?

The noble Lord is right to say that this is not an either/or question; it is important that we focus money on music education as well. We have been doing that with the music hubs, and that is an important part of the equation. Clearly, the feasibility study will look at all aspects but that will certainly include trying to lever in a significant amount of private money. However, I repeat that we need somewhere of national significance.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music. The Minister did not mention concert halls a bit closer to home in Birmingham and Manchester, which are world-class. It must surely be sensible to have an equivalent concert hall in the centre of London. At this stage of proceedings, it would be very helpful if he could give an indication of the likely cost of such a concert hall.

The noble Lord is quite right: there are concert halls of great standing outside London. He mentioned two; there is also, of course, the Sage in Gateshead. That is why we need somewhere in the capital city that is comparable to those great centres. The feasibility study is, of course, to look at the cost; I am not in a position at this stage to give any indication of what that will be.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria asked Sir Henry Cole to handle the building of a memorial in a concert hall? He appointed a captain in the Royal Engineers, whose previous design achievement had been the creation of a portable bath for use on active service. When the captain died, Sir Henry asked the Queen whether she would be satisfied if he replaced the captain with another officer. The Queen said she was perfectly happy, but she thought perhaps it might be wiser if the rank was a major.

I was not aware of that, noble Lords will be surprised to hear. I thought my noble friend was going to talk about the Royal Albert Hall, in which case I would have said that we need to recapture that breadth of vision.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister might have sympathy with the view that has been expressed that there is not much point building a new, expensive concert hall in London if cuts mean that poor children cannot afford either music lessons or instruments. I would also like to ask the Minister whether the feasibility study will take into account the views of London’s many orchestras, including the several BBC orchestras, and not just the LSO.

The noble Baroness is right to mention the importance of catering for disadvantaged children, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, as well. The point is that the music hubs are catering for disadvantaged children. If noble Lords look at Manchester and Coventry, that is exactly what is happening. I absolutely agree that we need to ensure that that is the case.