Stars throw weight behind Edinburgh concert hall bid ahead of crunch decision

Violinist Nicola Benedetti, singer-songwriter Karine Polwart, musician and composer Donald Shaw and comedian Fred MacAulay have joined forces to back the creation of the first new concert hall in Edinburgh for a century ahead of a crunch decision by councillors this week.

Pictured is Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti. Pic: Jane Barlow
Pictured is Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti. Pic: Jane Barlow

They have predicted the 1,000-capacity New Town venue will be a “game-changer” for live music in Edinburgh and Scotland, a “fantastic opportunity” to build a major new venue from scratch and a “thriving creative hub” in the city.

They have been enlisted to back proposals for the Impact Centre, which will provide a new home off St Andrew Square for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) and the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) if it is given the green light.

Their support has emerged on the eve of a hearing into the proposed development, which is earmarked for a site behind RBS’s historic New Town headquarters on St Andrew Square. Work on the £45 million venue is expected to begin with months if councillors give the project the go ahead.

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    Comedian Fred MacAulay. Picture: Robert Perry

    Heritage bodies and business organisations have thrown their weight behind the proposed new venue, which already has £25m worth of support from the Scottish and UK governments, and the city council.

    The figurehead of the charitable trust spearheading the project on behalf of the SCO and the EIF last week warned the concert hall project was needed to ensure there was a proper balance between business interests and culture in the city in future.

    Sir Ewan Brown, chair of Impact Scotland, which announced its first plans for the project in November 2016, warned that Edinburgh faced being left behind by rival cities if it failed to press ahead with the new venue. He said the city’s world-leader reputation for its cultural festivals needed to be protected “by offering venues of a standard expected by today’s most sought-after performers and by audiences”.

    Polwart, who appeared in the EIF’s line-ups in 2017 and 2018, said: “Edinburgh is home to some beloved, historic, music venues. But, as a musician, I’m inspired by the vision of a beautiful new city centre space that’s engineered with contemporary performance and modern audiences in mind. My hope is it will become a thriving creative hub in which tradition and innovation can meet, as well as a buzzing civic space both for the people of Edinburgh and for artists and visitors from around the world.”

    Benedetti, a regular EIF performer, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to develop from scratch the creative spaces needed to bring together the education and enjoyment of music, in a welcoming atmosphere for audiences – whether you’re eight or 80.”

    Shaw, who performs with the band Capercaillie, said: “A new 1,000-seater venue is something to be celebrated. What Impact Scotland is proposing is a game-changer. Making such a high standard of acoustics available to so many musical genres will be an incredible gain for Edinburgh and Scotland.”

    MacAulay, who has been performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for nearly 30 years, said: “Edinburgh at festival time has played a huge part in my career, as it has for so many comedians.

    “While the eclectic range of venues used by the festivals will continue, this new venue will be a year-round draw for performers and audiences, as well as a key festival venue.

    “With all kinds of music, comedy, education and spoken word under one roof, we can look forward to a great creative space in the centre of Edinburgh.”

    The new concert hall has been opposed by the developers of a new hotel, retail and leisure complex, which is currently under construction on the site of the old St James shopping centre.

    Council officials have recommended approval for the project, saying it “would make a valuable contribution to the city’s cultural infrastructure and provide opportunities for use by the wider community”.

    Sir Ewan said: “We look forward to presenting the case for Edinburgh’s first purpose-built music venue in over 100 years to the committee. This is an opportunity for the city to raise its game in terms of cultural infrastructure and provide a world-class venue for the people of Edinburgh.”