Times 2 - UK (2020-10-16)

(Antfer) #1

6 1GT Friday October 16 2020 | the times

The Arts




Arts Council
England (ACE)
has done a good
job of distributing
the first batch of
smaller bailouts
(up to £1 million) to
arts organisations
reeling from Covid.
Nearly 1,400 have
benefited, with
surprisingly few
squeals from the 578
turned down, which
at least suggests that
the selection criteria
were fairly applied.
Yet one aspect of
the process stinks:
the requirement for
successful applicants
to “welcome this
funding on your
social media
accounts, website
and... newsletters”,
ostensibly to help
to “build a positive
to voice support
for culture”.
That’s horlicks.
This shoddy tactic
isn’t about building
support for culture;
it’s about muzzling
the government’s
many critics in
the arts world. It’s
the sort of fake
cheerleading that
artists had to do in
Stalin’s Russia if they
valued their careers.
Shame on ACE’s
bureaucrats for
going along with
it, but I guess they
value their careers
as well.


o many bad things are
happening to musical
life at the moment that
it’s a joy, and frankly
a relief, to write about
something wholly positive
and spectacularly life-
changing. Especially for
some of those teenagers brave enough
to be embarking, in this chaotic year,
on the full-time study of music.
Unheralded amid all the trauma of
the past seven months, the venerable
Royal College of Music — down the
steps from the Royal Albert Hall in
South Kensington — has completed
a £40 million transformation that has
doubled its footprint and provided it
with two new concert halls as well as
handsome new premises for a café
and the 15,000 musical artefacts
(including the earliest known guitar)
in its museum. And all this has been
achieved largely through donations
from private trusts and benefactors.
The sadness is that, because of
Covid, the grand opening of these
facilities has had to be postponed and
postponed again, even though building
work was completed (thank heaven)
four days before lockdown in March.
Given a guided tour earlier this month
by the RCM’s director, Colin Lawson,
I must have been one of the first
outsiders to set foot in the new areas.
That’s a huge pity because one
reason for building them was to
increase the general public’s access
to the college’s concerts and
masterclasses. It probably won’t be
until this time next year that they
are officially opened by the Prince of
Wales — the RCM’s president, and the
great-great-grandson of the Prince of
Wales (the future Edward VII) who
played a key role in inaugurating the
RCM in 1883.
That doesn’t matter. What counts is
that the RCM’s 900 students, although
hedged around by social-distancing
restrictions, are already starting to use
facilities that will enable this great
British teaching institution — the
place where Britten, Holst and
Vaughan Williams learnt their craft —
to stay competitive.
Competitive not just with its London
rivals, but with the lavishly endowed
conservatories of Vienna, Paris and
New York in what has become a global
scramble to woo the most promising
young instrumentalists, singers and

One of two new concert halls at the Royal College of Music, part of a £40 million transformation by John Simpson

It’s incredible that Simpson
has managed to squeeze into this
comparatively small area two new
concert spaces (a ravishing trellis-
panelled, 140-seat recital hall and
a 65-seat black box) as well as a
three-storey atrium and a gloriously
airy café, while ensuring that each
concert space is insulated from
extraneous noise by utilising
“box-in-a-box” layouts. He achieved
all that by digging nine metres down
from street level.
Even so, the three-year construction
process required miracles of ingenuity
— not least because, with the RCM
and the adjacent Imperial College
totally enclosing the site, every piece
of building material and equipment
had to be winched over the RCM roof
by giant cranes.
Yet the college’s transformation goes
a lot further than that. The entrance
hall with its fine mosaic floor has been
restored and made more welcoming.
And now that English National Ballet
has moved to its new headquarters in
east London, the RCM has been able
to buy ENB’s former home in Jay
Mews, just west of the Albert Hall —
thus taking possession once more of

its original Victorian concert hall
(visited by Tchaikovsky and Dvorak)
as well as adding 40 extra rehearsal
rooms and studios to its facilities.
In one sense the RCM’s
transformation could not have been
worse timed. At present much of its
teaching is, of necessity, being done
online, with many students and staff
not in the building. So the usual buzz
of virtuoso creativity — a hundred
different tootles and trills drifting from
a hundred different doorways — is
largely absent.
In another sense, though, the
symbolic impact of this visionary
project could not be more timely.
Coming at a moment when
government advertisements are
urging young performers to consider
retraining in “cyber security” or some
such faddish twaddle, it’s a gesture of
defiant hope — a confidence that,
however dark the future may look
right now, Britain’s musical life will rise
again. And when it does, it will need
world-class establishments such as the
RCM turning out world-class talents.
For what it’s worth, I share that
confidence, if only because the
alternative is too bleak to contemplate.

However dark the

future may look,

our musical life

will rise again

composers as well as the best teachers.
And for Britain’s music colleges that
competition will become much harder
after December 31, when they no
longer operate on a level playing
field with the EU conservatoires.
The RCM’s development was first
discussed in 2009, but daunting
fundraising challenges meant that
building didn’t start until 2017 (naming
rights are still available for the new
performing spaces, incidentally, if you
have the million or three to spare).
The original red-brick Victorian
building had two open-air quadrangles
in its centre. One was filled in 35
years ago by the Britten Theatre. It’s
in the other quadrangle that the new
project, designed by the architect John
Simpson, is located.

Richard Morrison the arts column

This world-class music college has become a gesture of defiant hope

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