For classical music, that is. I can see why the Albert Hall is less than ideal — I’ve had many an awkward night there myself, even though I love the look of the place — but is it really necessary to invest millions in a state-of-the-art venue? The Telegraph’s Ivan Hewett has written a response that deserves to be read in full, arguing that acoustics aren’t quite as important as some people think. And he makes the equally important point that London already swallows up far too much of the country’s arts funding.
There’s something odd about pleading that London ‘needs’ a new concert hall, and in the next breath boasting that it’s one of the top two or three cities in the world for classical music. We can’t have it both ways. London’s eminence could not have been achieved, if the deficiencies of the Barbican and Royal Festival Hall were really as terrible as their detractors suggest. London’s fabulous musical vibrancy is a reminder that we shouldn’t get hung up on bricks and mortar. The same lesson can be drawn from the other arts in which the city has excelled. Whatever the factors were that made London a great crucible of theatre in Elizabethan times, having ‘state-of-the-art venues’ wasn’t one of them.
Great art and music is created by people, not buildings. There is also a touch of the ‘vanity project’ about the proposal for a new concert hall, that should make us wary. Spending many millions to build a hall 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. Londoners live in a great musical city already; their political masters don’t need to make an expensive gesture to prove it.
On An Overgrown Path has more on concert hall acoustics.