Musicians back plans for Royal High music school

SCOTLAND'S only independent music school has revealed support from a host of industry figures for its bid to take over one of Edinburgh's most celebrated buildings.

An artists impression of the St Marys Music Schools next home
An artists impression of the St Marys Music Schools next home

Performers, composers, festival organisers and academics are throwing their weight behind the planned relocation of St Mary’s Music School into the former Royal High School on Calton Hill, which would also become home to a new concert venue.

World-leading percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Queen’s former composer, and Simon Frith, chair of the Mercury Prize judges, are among the big-name backers.

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Other supporters include Richard Hillier, the headmaster of Yehudi Menuhin’s world-famous music school, where both Nicola Benedetti and Nigel Kennedy were taught, and Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Their backing has emerged just weeks after councillors threw out hugely-controversial plans to turn the former Royal High School into a £75 million hotel targeting the world’s “elite” travellers.

A rival bid to take over the A-listed 19th century landmark emerged last spring when it was announced that American arts philanthropist Carol Grigor had offered to bankroll the new home for the music school.

A new trust formed to pursue the scheme later offered £1.5m to buy the building from the City of Edinburgh Council, which had agreed a lease with a developer for a proposed hotel development in 2010, subject to the firm securing planning permission.

The series of endorsements have been revealed just weeks after it emerged that Fergus Linehan, the new director of the Edinburgh International Festival, had objected to the hotel scheme, branding it “kitsch and gimmicky”.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who was Master of Queen’s Music from 2004-14 and also founded the St Magnus Festival in Orkney, said: “I strongly support the enlightened proposal to restore the former Royal High School as a home for St Mary’s Music School.

“It is essential that we continue to invest in the future of specialist music education in this country.

“The proposed development of this iconic building would celebrate the many achievements of St Mary’s Music School and its pupils and would blaze abroad Edinburgh’s commitment to Scotland’s young musicians and the country’s vibrant culture.”

Frith, who has chaired the Mercury Prize since it was launched in 1992 and is also a professor of music at Edinburgh University, said: “This is a wonderful opportunity for the school and would make a major contribution to the musical life of Edinburgh and Scotland. It would also enhance the city’s architectural heritage. This is too good an opportunity to miss.”

In his message of support, Hillier told St Mary’s: “We strongly support your exciting plans for Calton Hill – a fitting site for one of the jewels in Edinburgh’s cultural crown.”

Dame Evelyn, a triple Grammy winner who performed at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, told her Twitter followers: “Hugely excited by @stmarys_music plans at former Royal High School site. Massive opportunity for music and the arts in Scotland.”

Professor Sharkey said: “I have long known of the excellence and importance of St Mary’s since I was Director of Music at the Purcell School [in London] in the 1990s.

“We needed to move premises back then to achieve all of our educational goals for our pupils and St Mary’s now finds itself in a similar position.

“This new site would allow them to achieve their vision and serve the arts in Scotland.”