Edinburgh to get £45 million New Town concert venue

The new concert venue will be built on a gap site behind the historic RBS head office on St Andrew Square.
The new concert venue will be built on a gap site behind the historic RBS head office on St Andrew Square.
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Edinburgh is set to finally get a new concert hall under plans to build a £45 million complex in the heart of its New Town.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is spearheading a bid to create a permanent new home just off St Andrew Square.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has spent years trying to secure a permanent home in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has spent years trying to secure a permanent home in Edinburgh.

The 1000-capacity venue, earmarked for a gap site behind the Royal Bank of Scotland’s historic head office, would be available for the Edinburgh International Festival each summer.

The venue will be also be designed to make it suitable for rock, pop, electronica, jazz, folk and chamber concerts, as well as dance events.

Other features will include rehearsal and recording rooms, conference and event spaces, and cafe, bar and restaurant facilities.

The SCO has joined forces with a new charitable trust, IMPACT Scotland, to draw up the plans for the “world-class arts centre,” which it hopes to unveil by 2020.

The project is being bankrolled by the Dunard Fund, a trust set up by American philanthropist Carol Grigor, one of the key backers of both the SCO and the EIF.

The SCO said the new building is being “located, conceived and designed” so as to complement, rather than compete with, the city-owned and operated Usher Hall.

However the plans for the new venue will inevitable raise new concerns about the future of the Queen’s Hall, in the south side, which is used extensively by the SCO and the EIF.

SCO chairman Colin Buchan said: “With this wonderful support from the SCO’s long-term supporter, Dunard Fund, this project provides a fantastic opportunity for the SCO to provide an open, welcoming and unforgettable audience experience in a much-needed mid-sized performance venue with stunning acoustics in the heart of Edinburgh.

“Not only will it provide our internationally renowned orchestra with a splendid new home, it will also enable the SCO to reach out in ways that have not been possible in the past.”

The board of the Queen’s Hall, which has been hosting concerts since 1979, welcomed the SCO’s announcement and said it would help to improve the city cultural infrastructure - but insisted they would be pressing ahead with their own refurbishment plans.

Chair Nigel Griffiths said: “The Queen’s Hall is proud to have been the home of the SCO for the past 37 years.

“We have just signed an agreement to host the orchestra for performances and rehearsals for another 5 years which will ensure that there is no disruption in the superb concerts we will continue to provide together for dedicated classical music fans, including the 12 concerts already penned in the diary next year.

“Now that the news of a proposed new concert hall has been made public it helps us to plan for the future of our own building.

“The Queen’s Hall is about to embark on a major fundraising exercise to refurbish and expand our facilities to celebrate our 40th anniversary in 2019, and to commemorate this historic building’s 200th anniversary in 2023.”

The new SCO project is earmarked for RBS-owned land surrounded by the new St James and Registers development in the east end of the city centre.

The Dunard Fund is to buy up an empty bank office building between the Harvey Nichols department store and the RBS headquarters, which it has owned since 1825.

RBS Scotland chairman Malcolm Buchanan said: “We’ve been a part of the fabric of Scottish life for nearly 300 years and this latest venture is a fantastic opportunity for us to play a major role in supporting the arts and education in Scotland.

“While we will be retaining our historic branch at 36 St Andrew Square we will be assisting in the build by making available the land around the building and 35 St Andrew Square to help make this project a reality.”

Plans for the venue have been revealed following mounting concern about the city’s ageing cultural infrastructure. The last major new venue to be built was the Traverse Theatre in the early 1990s. Edinburgh is believed to miss out on many major touring acts because it does not have enough medium-sized venues.

EIF director Fergus Linehan said: “It is very important to the future development of the festival that all our venues are of the best international quality.

“We would adopt the new complex not just for our much loved morning concerts but as one of our principal, all-day performance venues.

“It would also deliver creative learning and participatory opportunities, releasing individual potential and enabling local residents, as well as visitors, to share in the city’s remarkable artistic achievements.”

The Dunard Fund is already committed to bankrolling plans to transform the former Royal High School on Calton Hill into a new home for St Mary’s Music School.

A spokeswoman for the Dunard Fund said: “Edinburgh has long awaited an iconic, acoustically superb mid-sized performance hall and we are proud to participate in this exciting project. The new venue would not only benefit the city’s Festivals and the SCO, but would also be a magnet for international touring groups representing all aspects of the performing arts.”

Ken Walton, music critic at The Scotsman, said: “This is very interesting and exciting - it seems like exactly the right sort of venue in the right part of town.

“Not only will it provide the SCO with the facility it deserves, but also the EIF. I can see it being attractive to visiting orchestras and ensembles.

“I could also imagine the BBC SSO finding it potentially of interest as an Edinburgh venue more suited to its size and needs than the Usher Hall.”