London’s new Centre for Music? Don’t hold your breath…

The delay to the London Symphony Orchestra’s planned new home is growing. And unrest in Iran could trouble a V&A show

Wanted: a philanthropist to cough up about £145m towards London’s proposed Centre for Music. For that amount – about half the total cost of what will be the London Symphony Orchestra’s new home – you’ll get naming rights. The plan for the centre was put forward in 2015, just as Simon Rattle was announced as the LSO’s new music director. It is to be built on the site of the existing Museum of London, at the western edge of the City – 500 metres from the Barbican, the LSO’s longtime base.

But only last Monday did the museum finally submit its planning application for its own new location, at the disused end of London’s Smithfield market. Assuming the City corporation gives the green light later this year to the stylish proposed design, the museum will begin the very complicated process of transforming the historic market buildings before it can move.

A recently submitted design for the new Museum of London.
A recently submitted design for the new Museum of London. Photograph: Museum of London

Bosses hope that the new £330m Museum of London – helped by generous dollops of cash from the corporation and the mayor – will open in 2024. Realists think 2026 is more likely, with an obvious knock-on effect on the Centre for Music, as only then will the latter be able to start the demolition of the museum, the radical transformation of the surrounding road and pedestrian systems, and its own construction.

The existing Barbican hall, which, with its wonderful wooden floors and luxury seats, is my favourite concert venue, would then be used for non-classical music and conferences. Opening date for the new centre, which will also be home for the Guildhall School of Music? I reckon 2030. At least the long-delayed Elizabeth line (Crossrail), with a station at nearby Farringdon, should be running by then.

Antique silver coin, Parthian empire, 147-191, Iran.
Antique silver coin, Parthian empire, 147-191, Iran. Photograph: imageBROKER/Alamy Stock Photo

There have been understandable worries about the V&A’s Epic Iran exhibition, opening in October, following the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani and the arrest of the British ambassador. Tehran was to have loaned about 40 objects. Yet cultural links between Britain and Iran have, over the past two tricky decades, overcome political problems.

Iran loaned to British Museum exhibitions in the 00s, before Neil MacGregor, the BM’s then director, and John Curtis, head of its Middle East department, famously took the museum’s emblematic Cyrus Cylinder for show in Iran in 2010.

Other UK museums have also had Iranian loans. And in April, the British Museum opens Rivalling Rome: Parthian Coins and Culture in collaboration with the National Museum of Iran. With Curtis, now chief executive of the London-based Iran Heritage Foundation, being involved in the V&A’s exhibition, ruffled feathers can be smoothed.

Tony Garnett .
The late, great Tony Garnett. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Tony Garnett died last week. Not a household name, but he was the greatest ever British TV drama producer and creator. His credits include Cathy Come Home, Up the Junction, Days of Hope, Law and Order, Between the Lines (the series about police questioning bent cops, and a precursor to Line of Duty), The Cops, Cardiac Arrest and This Life, the 90s series centring on a bunch of twentysomething lawyers. Plus the film Kes. An extraordinary record. He did however sometimes get up the noses of cowardly BBC apparatchiks, and rather pathetically, no senior BBC figure has given any tribute. A modest man, Garnett was always generous to younger people in the business. A prize or award should be given in his honour.


Richard Brooks

The GuardianTramp

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