Rattle’s Folly

Simon RattleThe celebrated conductor, Simon Rattle, comes next year to the Barbican in the footsteps of much-loved Colin Davis and highly-regarded Valery Gergiev, to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra.  Sadly his pleasure will not be unalloyed since, it would appear that he feels that the Barbican Hall – not least its acoustics – leaves much to be desired.

Now, in regard to acoustics, Simon is doubtless a perfectionist.  Most of us, though, would agree with the music critic of the Daily Telegraph who wrote that we do not go to concerts to listen to acoustics, but to enjoy the music.

Acoustics aside, Sir Simon Rattle is of the opinion that London and he and the LSO deserve something better – a new concert hall which is “state of the art.”

Londoners may feel though, short of the readies as we are, that we’re already well endowed.   In addition to our Barbican Hall we have the Royal Festival and mighty Albert Hall; Cadogan Hall in which the Royal Philharmonic is resident orchestra; Wigmore Hall – renowned for chamber music; Kings Place and the Guildhall School’s expensively new Milton Court; and a host of wonderful churches – not least the brilliantly restores – for the LSO – St Luke’s concert hall and rehearsal place.

How fortunate we are and it is because of these rich resources that Londoners, and people from all over the country, flock here in their hundreds of thousands to hear music of high quality.

Simon Rattle wants more.

He is, understandably, a persuasive man.  First he persuaded the LSO that they deserved a better home.  It did not take him long to win financial backing from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, despite his millstones of debt and having to axe expenditure in every department of the government.

The City of London needed no persuasion.  It bowed to what it saw as a threat.  After all a new concert hall could be built anywhere;  Blackfriars or King’s Cross for example.  The City Fathers must have seen their Barbican “arts hub” slipping away.  They could have faced down the threat by sprucing up the Barbican Centre and making life even better for the LSO – a perfectly feasible option and somewhat less expensive than a totally new concert hall.

They took fright, however at the possibility of losing both LSO and rattle, leaping into the arena with an offer of making the site of the Museum of London available to house a new “centre” not just a hall.  In this they were aided by the Museum’s wish to move from its iconic space to the Smithfield fringe.  People couldn’t find it complained the Director!

Let us for the moment ignore the other black marks against the scheme – the link under Thomas More House from the new structure via a bridge over the lake, the downgrading of the Barbican Hall and the introduction of a new and noisier clientele on the Lakeside Terrace.

But, one has to ask, where the millions, perhaps billions, are to come from.  The Chancellor has no money and neither has the City Corporation which, among its many cuts was the closure of the Guildhall bookshop to save £80,000.

I suspect the Corporation may be giving consideration to a raid on City’s Cash as the City’s private resources are called (the ones used to finance Epping Forest, the three City schools and the banquets given by the Lord Mayor to visiting Kings and Presidents.)

To use these special resources to build an unnecessary concert hall would seem to me to be unseemly.

Guest editorial by C. Douglas Woodward. Mr Woodward has lived in the Barbican since 1970 and was involved with City Government for 25 years including Chief Commoner. He was one of the founders and long time President of the City Heritage Society.