Written by: Douglas Cooksey
A new London concert-hall and a new home for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is announced
People are used to attending Book Launches but rather less so to attending one of a new Concert Hall, especially one located in the heart of London. The Champagne inauguration on 16 June 2004 of Cadogan Hall as a new concert venue is an extremely welcome development on London’s music scene; it is also especially timely given the impending 18-month closure of the Royal Festival Hall beginning in July 2005.
Conveniently situated within 100 yards of Sloane Square tube (and immediately visible to one’s right as one leaves the station), Cadogan Hall is 100 years old this year, having originally started life as a Christian Scientist Church. However anything less ‘churchy’ or more opulent could scarcely be imagined, not that one expects anything hair-shirt at the lower end of Sloane Street!
Following what appear to have been some quite Byzantine property manoeuvres involving Mohammed al Fayed and the Earl of Cadogan, the hall has now undergone an extensive and extremely elegant refit, re-emerging as the London headquarters of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (a full residency is scheduled for October). Cadogan Hall will be used, and is being used, for concerts, recordings, rehearsals and community work. As a recording studio it seems mercifully quiet given its central location, although the extremely efficient air-conditioning needs to turned off during actual performance, as the celebratory concert demonstrated.
Held in the beautiful surroundings of a small clubhouse immediately below the main concert hall, this launch got things off to a good start and was attended by the great and the good. It was followed by a short concert – Finzi’s Romance for Strings and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra – both conducted by Christopher Warren-Green, and various show-songs led by David Firman with Mary Carewe and Michael Dore, which enabled us to sample the versatility of the auditorium.
The hall itself is a jewel and a delight – light and airy with an excellent acoustic. Seating around 900 people the ground floor is raked so that sight-lines are excellent and there is a horseshoe balcony running the entire circumference of the hall from which I suspect the sound of a symphony orchestra in full cry will be more comfortable. On this occasion under Warren-Green the climaxes of Young Person’s Guide were distinctly overwhelming.
With the impending closure of the Royal Festival Hall, if the Royal Philharmonic is smart – and its management is certainly commercially astute – there will be swift moves to establish Cadogan Hall as a regular London concert venue, not just for the RPO but for complementary musical organisations and performers. Every time anyone visits the hall, be it for a Royal Philharmonic concert or for another musical event, it will benefit the Royal Philharmonic.
Besides its enticing location – far preferable to the wastelands surrounding the Barbican – Cadogan Hall is ideal for a wide range of purposes where there is currently a real gap in the market. For example, whilst London’s main halls may be suitable for larger events and whilst the Wigmore is a wonderful chamber-music hall, Cadogan is ideal for those in-between groups currently marginalised.
The hall’s size and its cool elegance make it a near ideal location in which to hear a classically-sized orchestra – the English Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and the wonderful but inexplicably neglected New Queen’s Hall Orchestra – as well as for semi-staged productions of 18th-century opera (where the hall’s sophisticated lighting would come into its own) . More spacious than Wigmore Hall, it would also be ideal for piano and vocal recitals, string quartets, and larger-scale chamber music, especially at lunchtimes. London’s excellent student orchestras – from the Guildhall School, Royal College, and Royal Academy of Music – might put on concert series here; ensembles that deserve greater visibility. Such a series in Cadogan Hall’s sympathetic surroundings might help to create a younger audience for classical music, especially if it were part of the RPO’s outreach programme.
Cadogan Hall is an exciting development in London’s musical life, and one to follow with enthusiasm.