Superstar violinist Nicola Benedetti and best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith have got starring roles in a new film made to bolster a bid to turn one of Edinburgh’s most prominent landmarks into a music school and concert hall.
The pair, two of the most successful Scots appearing at the Edinburgh Festival, were filmed expressing their support for a campaign which would see Scotland’s only independent music school take over the former Royal High School on Calton Hill.
The 19th century neo-classical building, designed by William Henry Playfair, has been at the centre of one of Edinburgh’s most bitter modern-day planning disputes in recent years. Heritage groups are opposing a proposed luxury hotel which would see modern extensions built on either side of the landmark.
A number of pupils from St Mary’s Music School, which would relocate from its long-time home in the west end if the campaign is successful, also feature in the film, Perfect Harmony. It has been released by the Royal High School Preservation Trust – formed three years ago to pursue a rival scheme to the hotel – ahead of a forthcoming public inquiry into the latest plans for the latter. Spectacular drone footage showing how the site, which has been lying largely empty since 1968, fits into the city’s historic landscape is featured, along with a fly-through showing how the existing building, which dates back to 1829, would be transformed inside.
In the film, McCall Smith states: “The old Royal High sits in an absolutely crucial part of Edinburgh’s cityscape. It was built at a time classical Edinburgh was being created. It was the embodiment in stone of the Scottish Enlightenment.
“It’s a magnificent example of Greek revivalist architecture. It’s also an example of Scotland’s educational endeavour. It’s very important to preserve that and very easy to ruin it.
“Scotland is a musical nation. We have a wonderful living music tradition. It is not elitist. It has deep roots in the Scottish psyche. Here a real chance for this city to further cement its international reputation as a great cultural centre. We have to be very careful what we do with that extraordinary heritage.”
Benedetti said: “For me, personally, the vision of Edinburgh’s future, which ties into Scotland’s future, should have culture and music so much at the heart of it. That is definitely demonstrated in the summer, but there is more we can do that is all year round and cross-generational, and more we can do in terms of locations being front and centre.
“The move of the music school could capitalise on that collective spirit enormously.”