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Exclusive: Would the RLPO really move out of Hope St?

Or can a world class orchestra stay put and still keep big stars? Larry Neild learns that the bigger you get, the more size matters

Published on February 15th 2010.

Exclusive: Would the RLPO really move out of Hope St?

SHOULD Liverpool have a concert hall to rival Sydney Opera House and the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden?

“With regard to future rebuilding, if the opportunity arose we would look at alternative sites for a new concert hall, but Hope Street
is a good location. However transport
links and parking do cause problems”

The city missed a trick by abandoning Will Alsop’s Fourth Grace project down at Mann Island. Had it happened (but this is not the place to dwell on what might have been) it could well have rivalled Sydney’s own waterfront venue as one of the great, bold buildings of the world.

So we are left with an ageing Philharmonic Hall in Hope Street. Yes it’s a Grade II listed building designed by the much celebrated Herbert Rowse. It also has a capacity of just 1,700.

Almost 2,700 can fit into Sydney Opera House's main concert hall, while closer to home the official maximium capacity of the Phil's nearest rival, Manchester's Bridgewater Hall, is 2,341. Covent Garden has more than 2,200 seats.

The hopes of Hope Street’s best known landmark were laid bare recently when chief executive at the Phil Michael Eakin appeared before the council’s Cultural Assets Panel for a revealing question and answer session.

Culture year Lord Mayor Steve Rotheram fired the questions when Mr Eakin took the hot seat.

Rotheram: “What are the biggest problems with the Philharmonic Hall?”

Eakin: The biggest challenge is its age – 70 years old and the fabric needs money spent on it, around £5m when the last report was commissioned a few years ago.

“Bringing the building into the 21st century – the public facilities are not what are expected of a concert hall and access for the disabled is really poor. The dressing rooms are small, there is no practice space and they don’t have any educational area or space for corporate hospitality.

“With the right facilities audiences could be increased.”

Rotheram: “What is the vision for the organisation?

Eakin: “To be recognised as being the best in the country. We are widely recognised at national and international level and are receiving more invitations to travel. All of this is promoting our presence on the world stage and the good name of Liverpool.

“With regard to future rebuilding, if the opportunity arose we would look at alternative sites for a new concert hall, but Hope Street is a good location. However transport links and parking do cause problems. We would like to build across Caledonia Street, and if we could improve the facilities we would be world class. If it isn’t addressed in the future it will hold back further development and we will start to lose audiences and talent from among our performers.”

Asked about using the former art college building, Eakin said the RLPO had been in discussions with other land owners, including the owners of the former Trade Union Centre ( opposite the Phil).

Eakin said for him the best solution is building on the existing site or a totally new building.

Rotheram: How does the RLPO envisage the building developing over the next five years?

Eakin: “We’ll have to spend money quite soon as there are a number of health and safety issues. We have the vision and the plan for the redevelopment and the momentum to make it happen and we will need to be in a position to be ready to go when the finance becomes available.” (The RLPO has a development concept costing up to £40m).

“To make sure we keep our best musicians there must be clarity on the plans for the future. Vasily Petrenko has contracted to stay until 2015 and the realization of our plans for the future could be a key factor in his decision about any future commitment to the city.”

Rotheram: “What is needed for the future cultural provision in the city?”

Eakin: “My one wish would be to see concert hall facilities fit for the city. No other city can beat our cultural infrastructure, but there is no really good mid-sized 2,000-seat concert facility. The city is poorly served for opera and dance space.”

And that is where the story stands as far as Michael Eakin is concerned. The Philharmonic Hall is one of Liverpool’s great assets. The dilemma for the RLPO is do they stay in their current home with added improvements, or take the bold step of an all new venue and all that it would bring?

Phil facts

  • The RLPO is the only such organisation in the country to run a hall and an orchestra.
  • There are 70 musicians on the payroll, performing 100 concerts a year.
  • Last year 100,000 people heard performances by the RLPO
  • RLPO plans more community work – putting musicians into Alder Hey Hospital as well as schools in Kensington.

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21 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousFebruary 15th 2010.

One hopes that if an extension is built, and this is far preferable to a move, that certain charlatan developers are kept away from it.

AnonymousFebruary 15th 2010.

Musical chairs? I don't think so. The hall is listed and therefore can't be demolished. Indeed a covenant says it can only be used as a concert venue. So if they build a new expensive and modern place what will they do with the existing hall? Remember the old Summer Pops was born because the Phil was closed for renovation work. They need an ongoing programme ensuring the hall remains open throughout. The problem is some of these arty people think of expensive projects as a 'toy'.Leave the place alone!

Sax & ViolinsFebruary 15th 2010.

Why should people living in the likes of Speke, Norris Green and Dovecot, as well as deprived Everton, receive a police service for which people outside these areas will pay shedloads?

Missing the boatFebruary 15th 2010.

Thanks! xx

Phil O'SteinFebruary 15th 2010.

Pull the place down and build it in Wirral. Most of the audiences come from over there or from posh Sefton, but those councils won't dig into their miserable pockets to support the RLPO. Why should people living in the likes of Speke, Norris Green and Dovecot, as well as deprived Everton, pay shedloads so the glitteratti can listen to a band.

Come on downFebruary 15th 2010.

Well I am not sitting in the choir stalls! (haughtily wanders through the boxes muttering "Do you know who I am?")

Gabriel MusesFebruary 15th 2010.

Since when does size matter? The Empire Theatre is often criticised for being a huge "barn" and that holds a comparable 2,200.Surely it is quality of acoustics that matter in a proper concert hall, not crowd-pleasing spectacle. Circuses for denim-clad lager louts belong in the grim Echo Arena, not the Philharmonic Hall.

Sid BonkersFebruary 15th 2010.

Come on down, last time I went to the Phil for a classical I bought a ticket to sit in the choir stalls, it's normal at many concerts!

Second stringFebruary 15th 2010.

I see the Daily Post are flagging this week-old story up as an exclusive today. Shame on them. Perhaps Livconf should ask for a tip fee.

EditorialFebruary 15th 2010.

Pedant points noted, Bonkers - one of them even changed. And although not the real thrust of the story, thanks for pointing it out

Missing the boatFebruary 15th 2010.

Yes, it has already accommodated plenty of people on the fiddle

DigFebruary 15th 2010.

It would be a tragedy to move away from it's current location. I don't see why they couldn't expand across Caledonia Street and possibly even join the building which Ego is in. Maybe even have an entrance between The Phil and the restaurant. The disruption to traffic would be minimal and I'm sure The Phil would be happy to stay where it is with larger premises and I'm sure Ego would be very happy to have a closer link to The Phil and everybody would be happy The Phil has stayed exactly where it is in the building we all love.

TourmanFebruary 15th 2010.

Young Man with a Horn you did not mention that the Sydney Opera House is also notorious for its bad acoustics, which cannot be said about The Phil

Music loverFebruary 15th 2010.

I can't think why the Phil would want more than 1800 people in. Yes, concerts with Vasily conducting are like big premiership games in popularity but half the time there are rattling empty seats. It's a programming issue. Why don't they just have the sell-out concerts play over two nights?

DigFebruary 15th 2010.

The talk amongst the musicians is that they are going to extend into the car park behind Ego although they don't know where the money is going to come from as they have been told The Phil is skint.

Come on downFebruary 15th 2010.

Why on earth would you want to sit the audience in choir stalls, Sid. Now stop being silly. Very interesting that the RLPO is a victim of its own success. But leave them where they are and expand round the back. The Phil is a treasure and part of the experience is the venue. Who'd want to sit somewhere anodyne like the Bridgewater Hall?

Pop TartFebruary 15th 2010.

Oh....... Missing the Boat, spot on Mr, or Mrs, or Miss in the pun?!!!!!!!!!!!!!

sid bonkersFebruary 15th 2010.

What a very poor comparison of capacities: the Phil has 1803 including choir stalls, which is the comparator data given for Manchester. And my understanding is that Eakin is not the CEO of the RLPO, but of the RLPS, the "O" being just one part of the Phil ...

East Lancs RoadsterFebruary 15th 2010.

The orchestra is a treasure and so is its art deco home so no moving it, please. Hope Street has become so vibrant in these last few years but it is largely built around the Phil and the Everyman, so no messing with EITHER

AnonymousFebruary 15th 2010.

Josephine Butler House would be a useful site for a RLPO extension.

AnonymousFebruary 15th 2010.

It would be huge mistake for the Phil to move away from Hope Street - especially after the many years of such hard work (and the vast amount of community energy) expended persuading the then-very-reluctant Council to get the Hope Street Quarter to look like and function as something very special.Also, the city has very belatedly, but nonetheless accurately, now realised that HSQ is an extraordinarily well-blessed 'knowledge quarter'. Moving all those very highly skilled Phil performers and arts people away from their home in Hope Street, just when we're beginning to understand the value of top-level skills all in the same place, looks mightily daft to me.So I really hope Michael Eakin will get all the support he needs to develop the amazing potential of the Phil - and most importantly its Orchestra/s - right where they need to be, in Hope Street.We all tend to take for granted what's on our own doorstep; let's open our eyes and realise that that unique location called Hope Street needs the Phil, and the equally special Phil and its musicians need Hope Street!If it ain't broke, don't meddle - a good dose of TLC is all that's required for the Phil.

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