The debate around the pros & cons of a new concert hall for London are complicated. On the one hand, it’s tempting to applaud any new investment in arts infrastructure. But spending almost £300m on what is essentially an extension to the Barbican seems like a very narrow option. How is this going to reach new audiences?
Is it really true that the Royal Festival Hall is not fit for purpose, and the Barbican Hall is merely serviceable (according to Simon Rattle)? Is this all about his ego, or that of the May or London? Or neither?
Another massive cultural investment in London of course opens up the whole ‘London v Regions’ debate yet again. Now, there are plans for another big venue in Manchester (again, I would suggest the need for this is debatable), but do these huge infrastructure projects actually increase audiences / engagement / participation? Or does it just provide a nice, shiny new building for already-connected people to show off to their friends?
Beyond the cost of the build, both venues will no doubt require heavy subsidy to keep them afloat. And at a time of extremely tight public finances, this surely means more money for buildings and less money for art and audiences.
Imagine what could be possible if £300m was found to invest in music education instead. Would that not have a more profound effect on the cultural wellbeing of the country?