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Jan 9 / Simon

Rattle Hall is not dead in the water

January 2017, Opinion
Simon Tait
It looked like it was curtains for Rattle Hall – the Centre for Music – when the Chancellor changed his mind plan, Or rather, the new Chancellor changed the old Chancellor’s mind, and cancelled the Treasury grant of £5.5m to create a business case for the £278m Centre for Music, to give it its proper name. Having believed in the promise of the project and welcomed the positive results of a feasibility study, the government has now decided that, bluntly, it does not offer value for money for the taxpayer, and is therefore not affordable.
That feasibility study, also sponsored by Osborne, reported more than a year ago and the grant was seen as a green light for the project, with an opening in 2023. Now the government wants its money back, and we can assume there won’t be any more government bunce – maybe as much as £100m – as might have been hoped.
There are plenty who will agree with the u-turn. Some, like Julian Lloyd Webber, said the money would be better spent on music education – will it be? Others said it would be built in the wrong place, a much better site would be on the Thames opposite Tate Modern at Blackfriars as part of a new cultural hub with the Globe and Nicholas Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre. Then there was the argument that, as the home of the London Symphony Orchestra, the other four main London orchestras (if you count the BBC’s) would be disadvantaged. “London is already home to world class culture and music venues, from the iconic Royal Albert Hall to the Barbican Hall and the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre” a government spokesman said, laughable to anyone in the music-making business.
The whole issue arose a couple of years ago when Simon Rattle complained that there was nothing in London to match the modern halls of Europe, like Vienna and Amsterdam; then it was announced that he had agreed to be the LSO’s next music director, but that the new hall was not a condition of his taking the job. The LSO’s managing director, Kathryn McDowell, said the orchestra had to play in other cities just to find out how good they were. Then the Barbican, LSO, Guildhall School and the Corporation of London came up with the new plan. Also involved is the Museum of London’s long yearned for move to West Smithfield, vacating the London Wall site for Kenyon’s hall for a £150m development in Clerkenwell.
What Kenyon and McDowell are proposing is not just a concert hall. It would be built for the digital age, said the Barbican’s MD Nicholas Kenyon, with education facilities that would offer “immersive” experiences for London youngsters and communities, plus digital recording facilities. “As the study demonstrates, the Centre for Music is not just viable but could be transformative, significantly raising the profile and visibility of music and offering world-class arts and learning opportunities for all” he said when the feasibility report was published. “The elements are all there now to create a unique opportunity: we want to work with all our partners to shape and realise the vision in a way that can be inspirational for all”.
There is no reason for it not to go forward. The loss of the government money and its imprimatur will hurt but will not need to be fatal, especially if Brexit can awaken the interest an American billionaire, with the planners at liberty to name it after them. The project was started long before Osborne got involved, the feasibility study has been done and rendered a positive report, and the richest local authority in the country, the Corporation of the City of London, is still four-square behind it.