The Observer view on Simon Rattle’s call for a new London concert hall | Observer editorial

Applause for the charismatic conductor’s plea for a new music venue

Simon Rattle and his Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra have thrilled us with their UK residency, which ends tonight after sellout concerts and a project for 100 mixed-ability young musicians from every Greater London borough. The rumour that Rattle is considering the post of chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra when he leaves Berlin in 2018 merely contributed to the heady excitement.

London is regarded as a cultural centre of the world. For many, it has come as a rude shock to hear Rattle call for a new concert hall for the capital. The Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican, to name existing major venues, have their strengths and characters. They are symbols of their era: mid-Victorian enlightenment, 1951 Festival of Britain optimism and late 20th-century philanthropy and ambition.

Now the city needs a new state-of-the-art centre for music. The chancellor, the mayor of London and the City of London Corporation should unite behind the scheme, with Rattle as the charismatic figurehead. He already has a good track record: Symphony Hall Birmingham was built under his CBSO watch and rivals the best.

A building of this kind would draw top international orchestras as well as tourists. The arguments for it being within the City walls are powerful, not least because of the need for City of London Corporation backing. This geographic location, too, would open a cultural window on to east London and the former 2012 Olympic park.

Such an endeavour, which would cost in the region of £200m, must truly serve the growing audience for classical music not only for London but nationally. It must be built to match the digital age so that the finest music-making can be shared with the rest of the UK and beyond. It must be set up for creative education projects, of the kind Rattle is so masterly at spearheading. When Paris opened its new Philharmonie last month the cry went up: “Why not London?” Now is the moment.

Observer editorial

The GuardianTramp

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