A brand new era for one of Scotland’s best-loved venues has begun, as the newly renovated and restored Aberdeen Music Hall, Scotland’s concert hall in the North-east, was once again filled with life, as musicians, artists, community groups and well-wishers came together to take part in a packed day of ‘Stepping In’ events and performances, celebrating talent and creativity in the North-east.
Aberdeen Performing Arts, Chief Executive, Jane Spiers, said: “We set out to create a fit for purpose, inspirational space for the next generation of artists and audiences. Finally the moment has come to say welcome back to the Music Hall, lovingly renovated, re-imagined and once again at the heart of cultural and community life. We are so proud to deliver the transformed Music Hall for the city. It has been a labour of love for the team over the last two and a half years.”
The historic city-centre building has been closed since April 2016, to undergo a £9 million transformation, led by the arts charity Aberdeen Performing Arts.
Aberdeen Performing Arts Chairman Craig Pike said: “It has been a hugely ambitious and complex project and what has been achieved is incredible thanks to a great team of committed professionals who believed in the project and have always gone the extra mile – our architects BDP, our contractor Kier Construction, project managers, Axiom and the determination and vision of the team at Aberdeen Performing Arts.”
The opening moment was marked by a special performance of the Travis hit ‘Sing’, performed by the Music Hall Community Choir and led by Travis frontman, Fran Healy, before Aberdeen Performing Arts Chief Executive, Jane Spiers and Chairman, Craig Pike, made things official by cutting into a giant Music Hall-shaped cake.
Jane said: “We chose ‘Sing’ because it is uplifting, iconic and all about the restorative power of music, so just perfect for this forever moment in a venue that has been the soundtrack to city life for nearly two centuries. We were delighted when Fran Healy accepted our invitation to join us.”
The Nevis Ensemble, Scotland’s street orchestra, played on the steps of the Music Hall as young ambassadors opened the doors to the public at 9.30am. During the day there were performances from Big Noise Torry who held their Christmas concert, a special performance of Emile Sande’s ‘Read All About It’ from Orchard Brae school for young people with additional support needs with Drake Music Scotland musician Abi Sinar, using new technologies, an intergenerational project led by Scottish Opera, performances from young people from Aberdeen Performing Arts youth theatre and Project Band, soundcollective, City Moves and there was a ‘Big Sing’ finale led by the Music Hall community choir.
The Music Hall has added a string to its bow with new exhibition and digital artspace. The first commission for the new floor to ceiling LED screen is ‘Meet Me at the Music Hall’ inspired by concerts and events down the years. ‘In Love in the Music Hall’ features 12 poems inspired by music, which have been illustrated by artist Andrew Cranston. The title of the exhibition is taken from a line in Scottish Machar Jackie Kay’s poem whose birth parents met in the Music Hal.
The ambitious project has seen the 200 year-old venue undergo extensive excavations below ground to create a new lower level and freed up space to re-organise and re-imagine within the existing footprint of the building. This single move has resulted in a new performance studio, Big Sky Studio, a new creative learning studio, the Tutti Studio, a new café bar, Coda, a new restaurant, Rondo, the new Stepping In digital artspace and a relocated box office and reception .
The Music Hall auditorium has been lovingly restored and renovated with new flooring, staging, seating, technical upgrades and refurbished artist accommodation backstage
Essential repair and maintenance work has included roofing, window, rewiring, replumbing, replastering and upgrades to heating and ventilation
The works have also included vastly improved access from street to seat including new lifts and ramps to allow everyone, including people with restricted mobility, to access all levels from basement to balcony for the first time in the building’s history.
Jane said: “We set out to create a more welcoming and inviting environment for artists and audiences. We have relocated box office, created a new reception, simplified circulation, brought more light in by revealing windows, replacing solid walls with glass and introducing feature lighting.”
BDP Architect Director, Bruce Kennedy, said: “Our interdisciplinary design team has enjoyed a five year collaboration with Aberdeen Performing Arts, culminating in the realisation of their ambitious vision to transform the Music Hall into an engaging contemporary arts venue. We identified a series of radical interventions that unlocked a strategic redesign of spaces and circulation, transforming the way that people move through and use the building, opening it up to become accessible and inclusive both physically and culturally. The sensitively-conserved heritage of the A-listed building has been enhanced by BDP’s architectural lighting specialists, whilst the contemporary design of new elements and spaces mirrors the civic quality of the restored historic interiors.”
The restoration and renovation of this historic building was carried out by Kier Construction Scotland and builds on their extensive expertise in listed buildings and cultural spaces.
The challenging and technically difficult restoration of this historic building was carried out by Kier Construction Scotland and builds on their extensive cultural expertise, where they are working on a number of heritage buildings including the redevelopment of Edinburgh College of Art and the world-famous Burrell Museum.
Kier Construction Scotland’s Area Operations Director Sean O’Callaghan, said: “We are proud to have successfully completed this highly rewarding heritage project. Restoring and refurbishing this 200-year-old, national treasure has posed some incredibly complex engineering challenges, however, our skilled and committed team has delivered innovative solutions to expertly execute this work. Throughout the project, we have deepened our relationships with the local supply chain to help create a wide range of employment opportunities in Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland. It has been a privilege for the entire team to unveil the new blueprint of this much-loved building.”
An ongoing fundraising campaign to help meet the cost of the project, has seen 34 investors, 20 business sponsors, 9 trusts and foundations, and 5 public sector partners pledge their support, as well as generous donations from people who wish to remain anonymous and countless volunteer individuals who have raised funds on behalf of the Music Hall – participating in Ride the North, the Great North Run, the New York Marathon, Loch Ness Swim, walked the Cowal Way, organised quiz nights and many other fundraising events.
Craig Pike said: “Every generous gesture and contribution has cemented our certainty that the Music Hall holds a special place in the hearts of the community. We are profoundly grateful to each and every person who has played a part. We’ve made lots of new friends and supporters along the way, many of whom don’t see their investment as a one-off and have made a long-term commitment to Aberdeen Performing Arts and to supporting the arts in the city.
Aberdeen City Council Co Leader, Councillor Jenny Laing said: “We were delighted to have invested £3 million in the redevelopment of the Music Hall as part our £1 billion transformation of the city’s infrastructure and it’s great to see our much-loved cultural landmark re-open its doors in its greatly improved form. The revamped Music Hall will join the redeveloped Art Gallery and the new £330m TECA complex in playing an integral part supporting the delivery of the city’s ambitious Aberdeen 365 event programme, a year round programme of world class events, festivals and performances which make the city a vibrant and exciting place to visit and experience.”
Celebrations continue on Sunday 9 December with guided tours of the Music Hall in the morning. There is a double celebration in the evening as hundreds of local youngsters take to the stage in the 50th anniversary Evening Express Carol Concert.
The formal opening will take place next weekend with two exclusive concerts in the magnificent surroundings of the newly transformed Music Hall. On Saturday, December 15th, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is joined by classical pianist Alice Sara Ott, and internationally renowned conductor Alpesh Chauhan. The programme includes Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite, Grieg’s beloved Piano Concerto, and Sibelius’ triumphant second symphony. And then on Sunday, December 16th, iconic Scottish band Texas will take to the stage led by Sharleen Spiteri performing some of their best-loved hits. The re-opening performances conclude on Thursday 20 December with the much-loved festive celebration from Phil Cunningham’s Christmas Songbook.
The opening season for the Music Hall kicks off in earnest in January, with acts such as Embrace, KT Tunstall, and The Vamps, all lined up to play the venue, as well as an RSNO Harry Potter concert, and comedians including Nish Kumar and Rhod Gilbert.
Tickets for all shows are available from aberdeenperformingarts.com, phone on (01224) 641122 or visit the Box Office at HMT, the Music Hall and The Lemon Tree.