Royal High School could become top concert venue

NEW public venues for world-class concerts would be created in one of Edinburgh’s most celebrated buildings if a music school is allowed to take it over, its backers have announced.

St Mary's Music School is trying to take over The Old Royal High School. Picture: Neil Hanna

The debating chamber created in the former Royal High School for a potential Scottish Parliament would instead become one of three performances spaces under a £15 million revamp planned for the building.

Revealing their vision for the first time for the A-listed landmark, the charitable trust pursuing a new home for St Mary’s Music School said it would be available for 12 months of the year for public events.

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However trustees admit their plans, which they insist are already “fully-funded”, will only be realised if the city council rejects controversial plans for a luxury hotel on the site.

Willie Gray Muir, chair of the Royal High School Preservation Trust, said the acoustics of the main assembly hall in the building were “extraordinarily good,” but would still need a significant refurbishment to make it suitable for high-quality concerts and “bring back its dignity.” Two side rooms will be fitted out with facilities for live performances, rehearsals, workshops and masterclasses.

Mr Gray Muir said the pupils of the music school would “effectively retreat” into the eastern portion of the site - including accommodation blocks for around 50 pupils - in the evening, freeing up the proposed concert spaces.

He added: “This produces some very exciting opportunities for both the public and the school which could have a profound benefit.

“There will be a chance - even during term time - to not only have concerts, recitals and masterclasses in these spaces, but for the children to experience them and meet up with world-class performers, and for the people of Edinburgh to come into the building for the first time. There is wonderful potential here.”

The local authority struck a deal with a developer five years ago to lease out the celebrated building for 125 years after plans to create a national photography museum collapsed due to funding problems.

However it was not until December of last year that the firms behind a £55 million scheme - Duddingston House Properties and the Urbanist Group - revealed they were in negotiations with “three of the world’s top hotel operators” to take the project forward.

The plans, designed by award-winning Glasgow architect Gareth Hoskins, have sparked controversy because they involve creating significant extensions onto either side of the original 1829 building.

Mr Gray Muir added: “We’re not in any way setting ourselves up in opposition to the hotel scheme. What we’re trying to do is offer an alternative if the hotel scheme doesn’t get planning permission. The council is clearly under contract but that is subject to planning consent.

“We feel we have found a use that is a viable alternative. It is absolutely not pie in the sky and the proposal is fully-funded from the outset, as we’ve been able to attract very substantial philanthropic funding from the Dunard Fund.”