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Larry Neild : Would the RLPO really move out of Hope St?

Size matters when you are a world class orchestra in an ageing hall that needs spending and space...

Published on February 15th 2010.

Larry Neild : Would the RLPO really move out of Hope St?

SHOULD Liverpool have a concert hall to rival Sydney Opera House and the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden?

“With regard to future rebuilding, if the opportunity arose we would look at alternative sites for a new concert hall, but Hope Street is a good location. However transport links and parking do cause problems”

The city missed a trick by abandoning Will Alsop’s Fourth Grace project down at Mann Island. Had it happened (but this is not the place to dwell on what might have been) it could well have rivalled Sydney’s own waterfront venue as one of the great, bold buildings of the world.

So we are left with an ageing Philharmonic Hall in Hope Street. Yes it’s a Grade II listed building designed by the much celebrated Herbert Rowse. It also has a capacity of just 1,700.

Almost 2,700 can fit into Sydney Opera House's main concert hall, while closer to home the official capacity of the Phil's nearest rival, Manchester's Bridgewater Hall, is 2,400. Covent Garden has more than 2,200 seats.

In council minutes released just last week, the hopes of Hope Street’s best known landmark were laid bare when chief executive at the RLPO Michael Eakin appeared before the council’s Cultural Assets Panel for a revealing question and answer session.

Culture year Lord Mayor Steve Rotheram fired the questions when Mr Eakin took the hot seat.

Rotheram: “What are the biggest problems with the Philharmonic Hall?”

Eakin: The biggest challenge is its age – 70 years old and the fabric needs money spent on it, around £5m when the last report was commissioned a few years ago.

“Bringing the building into the 21st century – the public facilities are not what are expected of a concert hall and access for the disabled is really poor. The dressing rooms are small, there is no practice space and they don’t have any educational area or space for corporate hospitality.

“With the right facilities audiences could be increased.”

Rotheram: “What is the vision for the organisation?

Eakin: “To be recognised as being the best in the country. We are widely recognised at national and international level and are receiving more invitations to travel. All of this is promoting our presence on the world stage and the good name of Liverpool.

“With regard to future rebuilding, if the opportunity arose we would look at alternative sites for a new concert hall, but Hope Street is a good location. However transport links and parking do cause problems. We would like to build across Caledonian Street, and if we could improve the facilities we would be world class. If it isn’t addressed in the future it will hold back further development and we will start to lose audiences and talent from among our performers.”

Asked about using the former art college building, Eakin said the RLPO had been in discussions with other land owners, including the owners of the former Trade Union Centre ( opposite the Phil).

Eakin said for him the best solution is building on the existing site or a totally new building.

Rotheram: How does the RLPO envisage the building developing over the next five years?

Eakin: “We’ll have to spend money quite soon as there are a number of health and safety issues. We have the vision and the plan for the redevelopment and the momentum to make it happen and we will need to be in a position to be ready to go when the finance becomes available.” (The RLPO has a development concept costing up to £40m).

“To make sure we keep our best musicians there must be clarity on the plans for the future. Vasily Petrenko has contracted to stay until 2015 and the realization of our plans for the future could be a key factor in his decision about any future commitment to the city.”

Rotheram: “What is needed for the future cultural provision in the city?”

Eakin: “My one wish would be to see concert hall facilities fit for the city. No other city can beat our cultural infrastructure, but there is no really good mid-sized 2,000-seat concert facility. The city is poorly served for opera and dance space.”

And that is where the story stands as far as Michael Eakin is concerned. The Philharmonic Hall is one of Liverpool’s great assets. The dilemma for the RLPO is do they stay in their current home with added improvements, or take the bold step of an all new venue?

Phil facts

  • The RLPO is the only such organisation in the country to run a hall and an orchestra.
  • There are 70 musicians on the payroll, performing 100 concerts a year.
  • Last year 100,000 people heard performances by the RLPO
  • RLPO plans more community work – putting musicians into Alder Hey Hospital as well as schools in Kensington.

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