The Full Score
Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room return in style
Southbank venues reopen; Nelsons loses Superbowl bet
A er two years of refurbishment, the Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall (QEH) and Purcell Room are set to re-open. On Monday 9 April, the Chineke! orchestra will be welcoming audiences to the iconic Brutalist venues with a concert at the QEH featuring Britten’s The Building of The House overture, Daniel Kidane’s Dream Song and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4.
It’s a programme that looks both back and forwards – it was Britten who conducted the opening concert when the QEH first opened its doors back in 1967, while Dream Song will be a world premiere. And Chineke! itself has a special association with the venue, having performed its first ever concert there shortly before the builders arrived in 2015.
Following the re-opening concert, life gets rapidly back to normal at the two halls, with over 100 events scheduled over the next two months, and no fewer than 32 new works to be premiered in that same period, including Intrada by Harrison Birtwistle. In May, pianist Pierre-laurent Aimard will curate a three-day Ligeti in Wonderland festival.
‘We’ve tried to pay a nod to the heritage of the venues,’ says Gillian Moore who, as the Southbank Centre’s director of music, is also responsible for the Royal Festival Hall. ‘So audiences will hear things such as Steve Reich’s Di erent Trains, which had its world premiere here almost exactly 30 years ago, plus also Schubert’s Trout Quintet, which was performed by Daniel
Barenboim, Jacqueline du Pré and others in the 1960s. And then we also have Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, as it was staged here in 1973. Both of the venues have always been places where not only has innovation been important, but so has a wide range of music and the arts – it is certainly not just about classical music.’
Given the Southbank’s listed status, the refurbishment has largely involved significant functional improvements rather than aesthetic change – the halls themselves will look much the same. During the venues’ two years out of action, concerts that would have normally been programmed there – such as chamber music and solo piano recitals – have instead been staged at nearby St John’s Smith Square. That’s been fine, says Moore, but as a concert programmer she is going to welcome having her full range of performing spaces at her disposal again: ‘It has felt like having at least one limb missing. Having all the venues back gives you the scope to go from the very small to the very huge. We’re thrilled to be back.’
A memorable debut: Wayne Marshall conducts Chineke! at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2015