Edinburgh Festival chief hails ‘transformational’ new concert hall

The first new concert hall to be built in the Scottish capital for 100 years will be “transformational” and “life-changing,” according to the two arts institutions it is set to be ­created for.

New designs for IMPACT Scotland new concert hall in St Andrew Square
New designs for IMPACT Scotland new concert hall in St Andrew Square

The 1,000-capacity New Town venue, which will also have a 200-seater “studio” theatre, will create both a flagship venue for Edinburgh International Festival concerts and a year-round home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

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They have predicted its Dunard Centre’s “world-class” design, facilities and acoustics, overseen by award-winning English architect Sir David Chipperfield, will allow the city to host a whole new range of concerts, artists and audiences throughout the year.

Named after American arts philanthropist Carol Grigor, who has pledged to underwrite the project via her Dunard Fund, secured planning permission on Wednesday, less than three years after plans were first revealed.

Now due to open in 2023, the £45 million venue – which also has £25m worth of backing from the Scottish and UK governments and the city council – is earmarked for a site tucked behind Royal Bank of Scotland’s historic head office building on St Andrew Square.

EIF director Fergus Linehan said: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help secure Edinburgh’s reputation as one of the world’s great creative and cultural capitals.

“Its state-of-the-art facilities, world-class design and exceptional acoustics will provide an outstanding environment for musicians of all kinds to perform to the widest possible community. Artistically and socially, it’s a truly transformational project for the Festival.

“There is the whole question of what a new world-class venue can do in terms of being in constant use every day of the Festival. You can turn it around from one thing to another very quickly, and also have the capacity to be able to run events in the main hall, the studio space and the foyer, all at the same time.

“We want to use this venue every day. We don’t want to spend two days getting a show ready for two performances. It’ll be an incredibly busy space.

“We’ll always use the Usher Hall and do those kind of concerts. A lot of the new developments in music don’t always lend themselves to an enormous space like that. If you’re talking about new composers, and digital or electronic work, they don’t really fit into that.

“It’s also about how you do music. If you go into a big venue like the Usher Hall it sort of creates different kinds of protocols that you have to observe. When you go into a really cool building designed by an amazing architect it becomes a really exciting place to be. It will makes it a lot easier for us to attract new and younger audiences.”

Mr Linehan insisted the new venue would not replace the Queen’s Hall, which already hosts a series of EIF classical concerts each year, adding that there was still a need to carry out a full refurbishment of Leith Theatre, reintroduced to the Festival programme last year after 30 years.

He added: “A venue for an evening concert of the highest possible standard for around 1,000 people doesn’t really exist in Edinburgh at the moment. In terms of music, the Festival is missing a couple of big colours off its palette.

“There’s also the really interesting question about where the heart of the Festival is at the moment and how that may change with the other developments happening around St Andrew Square.”

Gavin Reid, chief executive of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, said: “The impact of the new venue will be transformational.

“It will enable the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – along with many other organisations and individuals – to ­perform in one of the great concert halls of the world, thus attracting the most exciting talent to play in Scotland, and through our creative ­learning programme, involve as many people as possible from all over the city and beyond in something utterly life-­changing.”

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The ­economic and cultural benefits will be felt throughout Scotland.”