Usher Hall marks reopening with Houston Symphony Orchestra performing Holst’s Planets Suite
Improvements to Edinburgh venue make it among 'world’s best concert halls'
When some plaster fell from the ceiling of Scotland’s grande dame of concert halls over 14 years ago, who’d have known it was the start of major redevelopment which has just reached completion and is celebrated in style on 10.10.10? Tackled in two phases, the challenge of bringing the early 20th century hall into the 21st century has had its difficulties. With preparations well underway for the official reopening, general manager Karl Chapman is unsurprisingly, ‘feeling delighted and relieved. We are really happy to be open, to have music back on in the hall and to be able to welcome audiences.’ As he says, ‘It has been such an elongated, stop-start process, as things that were wrong with the building meant additional delays.’
The list of improvements is a long one. ‘Access is much better now,’ says Chapman, ‘with the outside being levelled out all the way round and a great sense of openness. We’ve also got the glass wing, which houses the new cafe/bar and office space. These things were so tight before. The auditorium is huge, but the footprint is actually tiny.’ There are also improved backstage facilities, new external lighting, lifts to every floor and a helical staircase connecting all levels in place of the past practice whereby audiences in the cheap, but acoustically acclaimed, upper circle seats could only gain access by dingy stairways. ‘We’ve done very little to the auditorium,’ says Chapman, ‘as everyone said to leave it alone.’
For the Usher Hall’s first major own promotion in its newfound glory, the Houston Symphony Orchestra plays Holst’s Planets Suite accompanied by plasma-screened NASA images of outer space. ‘The Usher Hall is one of the world’s best concert halls,’ says Chapman. ‘It’s unique. After this, we’ll be looking forward to its 100th anniversary in 2014.’
Houston Symphony Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Sun 10 Oct