VIOLIN sensation Nicola Benedetti has entered the debate over Edinburgh’s world heritage site – by calling for a rival music vision for the city’s former Royal High School to be backed instead of a luxury hotel.
The classical star said she could not imagine a “better use” for the Calton Hill landmark than creating an “a new iconic home” for Scotland’s only independent music school there.
St Mary’s Music School would relocate to the old Royal High, which has been lying largely empty since 1968, from the west end if it can win the support of the city council, which owns the building.
It is locked into a long-term lease agreed nearly six years ago with developers who signed up the Hong Kong-based Rosewood hotels chain for the project only for its controversial designs, including two six-storey extensions, to be rejected in December.
Ms Benedetti’s intervention has emerged days after it was revealed that Unesco had raised “strong concerns”over the quality of new developments and the state of conservation in Edinburgh.
Key advisers have told the world heritage body that the proposed hotel, which was to be targeted at the world’s “elite” travellers, should not be approved because its design would have a “major and negative impact” on Edinburgh’s world heritage site.
The former BBC Young Musician of the Year said the alternative vision proposed for the old Royal High – which includes the creation of a major new concert hall for the city – would create a “Scottish centre for musical excellence in the heart of the capital”.
Ms Benedetti, one of the star attractions at the Edinburgh International Festival in recent years, has become the most high-profile figure yet to back the St Mary’s bid to relocate to the A-listed building.
It has also won the support of composer Sir James MacMillan, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, author Alexander McCall Smith and Simon Frith, chair of the Mercury Prize judges in recent months. EIF director Fergus Linehan has been among the strongest critics of the hotel proposal.
Ms Benedetti’s endorsement for the proposed relocation has emerged just weeks ahead of a visit by 30 pupils at the school to see Ms Benedetti perform with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
She said: “As someone who benefited from a specialist music education, I fully support these plans for a new iconic home for St Mary’s Music School. What better use could be imagined for this historic site than a Scottish centre for musical excellence in the heart of the capital? It would represent a substantial investment in Scotland’s international contribution to the arts.”
Dr Kenneth Taylor, head-teacher at St Mary’s, said: “Nicola Benedetti is not only an exceptionally talented musician but also a great example to Scotland’s young aspiring musicians.
“I’m delighted and grateful that Nicola has lent her support to the school for the proposed move to the former Royal High School building.
“We believe the move would represent a substantial boost to the arts in the capital, Scotland and internationally”