Kings Place at King’s Cross

Written by: Michael Darvell

The first new concert hall to open in London in 25 years gets underway on Wednesday 1 October. Michael Darvell reports on a magnificent new arts complex at King’s Cross…

The first week’s events in the new Kings Place arts venue in York Way, King’s Cross comprise a five-day festival (1-5 October) beginning at 9 every morning with 100 metronomes striking time to György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique and 100 concerts throughout the building performed by 30 ensembles each performing three or four 45-minute concerts over the two halls, in total ten performances each day in each hall. There will also be a special performance in the new 420-seat concert hall.

Among those appearing in the five-day opening festival are Iain Burnside, the Brodsky Quartet, Chilingirian Quartet, The Classical Opera Company, Duke Quartet, Endymion, The London Chamber Music Society, Colin Matthews, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Royal Academy of Music, SPNM, Serious (the jazz promoter), London Sinfonietta and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, both ensembles now making Kings Place their London HQ. Exhibitions by Nicolaus Widerberg, Albert Irvin and Peter Randall-Page will be seen in the Pangolin London and Kings Place Gallery. Following the festival, a regular weekly series of programmes curated by a wide range of musicians begins with the London Sinfonietta and “Rock Music Rock Art”.

Chief Executive Officer of the project is property developer Peter Millican who said last December that “the concept for Kings Place was to create an architecturally inspiring, mixed-use development which without recourse to public capital funding would deliver a major new arts centre next to King’s Cross/St Pancras and offer something for the local community.” Well, at first glance it seems to have done that already. It is an amazingly attractive and functional building (designed by Dixon Jones Architects) allowing public access at all times. It is sited very near to the other main developments areas of King’s Cross such as the St Pancras International rail station, the UK home of Eurostar, while next door the Midland Hotel is being refurbished to bring it back to its former glory.

Nearby is the new Regent Quarter off Caledonian Road, housing restaurants and bars, while Caledonian Road itself, hitherto not one of the most attractive areas of London, is creating a new character for itself with businesses, bars and restaurants opening up. The Central St Martin’s art college is scheduled to move into the new Argent site opposite Kings Place in York Way, which will also house Sainsbury’s new headquarters. The area in general is pulling itself up by its bootstraps and in a few years’ time it won’t be recognisable as the old King’s Cross. Instead it will be one of the most vibrant districts in central London, and Kings Place will be partly responsible for aiding and abetting that new vibrancy.

As a Grade A commercial development with 26,000 square feet of office space, Kings Place has attracted high-profile tenants such as The Guardian and The Observer newspapers, Network Rail, Wolverine (the footwear company) and Logica (the IT and business services company). However, initially Kings Place is a marvellous space for music and the visual arts and designed to appeal to many types of performance, exhibition and education. The music, arts and restaurant areas are arranged around public spaces that form a central hub to the building. Visitors are welcome to come into the building and enjoy all its facilities including free access to the art galleries and modestly priced concerts in one of the most comfortable concert halls in the capital with its brilliant acoustics.

Set below ground level, Hall One is completely soundproof. The veneer used for the acoustics are made from a single 500-year-old German oak tree (called Contessa) which used to grow in an ancient hunting forest that now belongs to the local community. The tree has produced an acre of veneer to cover the panels, columns, roof coffers, the backs of the seats, the doors and the desks. Some of the wood has also been used for the panelling in Hall Two. This is a smaller, more flexible space catering for smaller groups with accommodation for 220 seated or 330 standing and it will also be available as a rehearsal space.

Other facilities include the St Pancras Room, an auditorium for speech programmes, seating 120. There are here further rehearsal spaces, recording and broadcasting facilities, two rooms for soloists, two general dressing rooms, a Green Room and teaching rooms. There is also The Music Base, offering shared office-space with desks for small music organisations. Pangolin London is a sculpture gallery plus sculpture windows on York Way, sculpture plinths for external sculpture around the rotunda, and a sculpture studio for artists in residence. Kings Place Gallery is an enclosed gallery on the gallery floor with extra hanging space in the atrium, also on the gallery floor.

Food and drink have not been forgotten and there are five outlets: the Green & Fortune 60-seat atrium café, the Rotunda Bar by the Regent’s Canal (Kings Place is sited next to the Battlebridge Basin), The Rotunda Restaurant with seating for 70, plus a Private Dining Space for up to 20, and The Battlebridge Room, which is available for conferences and other private events.

The music events planned for the next year include eight weeks of Beethoven recitals, one week per month, focussing on different instruments and musical forms, plus study days. There will be two weeks of performances by the London Sinfonietta, one week by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, a week of Fauré by the Schubert Ensemble, a week of Haydn and a week of Mozart operas by the Classical Opera Company, a week programmed by the Aldeburgh Festival, a week of performances by the Royal Academy of Music, two weeks of Norwegian jazz and a week of Paris jazz, chamber music from the Louvre, music from the ECM label and a week of Roald Dahl music at Christmas. Concerts are generally on Wednesday to Sunday, with a strand of chamber music programmed by the London Chamber Music Society on Sundays. Other strands are an evening of Words on Monday, programmes of poetry readings and general debates, while This Is Tuesday is devoted to experimental music.

Kings Place is the vision of one man, Peter Millican who, a decade ago, acquired a rundown and very unattractive Post Office building in York Way. Without any fuss and without having to go cap-in-hand to sponsors or the Lottery, he has managed to pull everything together. This is the culmination of his career in property and he is staying with it to make sure it is run properly. It’s his baby, he’s done it off his own bat and he can surely feel proud to have produced a major new building for London that will not only help to keep King’s Cross well and truly on the map, but also attract new audiences through its outreach programmes with schools and community groups. You cannot imagine any other organisation completing a building as good as this in such a short time. Peter Millican deserves all the praise he is bound to get and also deserves to succeed at the very highest level. Kings Place will surely prove to be another great asset for London musicians and audiences alike.

  • Kings Place is at 90 York Way, King’s Cross, London N1 9AG
  • Box office: 0844 264 0321
  • Tickets for the opening festival performances are £4.50 or £2.50 if booked online
  • Kings Place

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