£9m concert hall will be music to the ears

Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones

First published in News thisisoxfordshire: Photograph of the Author by , Oxford Times Chief Reporter. Call me on 01865 425434

MUSICIANS have welcomed the announcement of a new £9m concert hall for Oxford.

Architects have begun design work for the hall on the Woodstock Road, with space for a full orchestra.

The scheme – totalling £15m – which also includes a music school, is being put forward by St Edward’s School.

The school will launch a major fundraising effort at the RAF Club in Piccadilly on October 9.

If approved, the concert hall would be built on the former Lemon Tree restaurant site and neighbouring land currently occupied by Jack FM radio station.

The warden of St Edward’s, Stephen Jones, said: “The absence of a concert hall has been a long-standing problem for Oxford.

“The Sheldonian Theatre is a great building but uncomfortable for audiences.

“We want to create a 21st century concert hall in North Oxford.”

While it would be used for school performances, Mr Jones said it should be big enough to serve “as a major facility for the whole city.

“Young people are what the whole thing is really about.”

The £6m music school is expected to open in 2014 with the £9m concert hall to follow, possibly within five years, depending on fundraising.

Mr Jones said: “We needed to replace the existing music room, which is 50 years old.

“But there is room to build a concert hall attached to it.

“We want to attract international orchestras, but also young musicians from the university and Oxfordshire’s County Music Service.”

Local music groups welcomed the news. Michael Smedley, conductor of the 40-strong Oxford Pro-Musica Singers, said: “Down the years we must have heard of at least 15 proposals.

“Oxford needs some sort of concert hall and this would be fantastic for us.”

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Marios Papadopoulos, music director of Oxford Philomusica, said: “It would seem to be an exciting opportunity and, as a professional orchestra and arts promoter, Oxford Philomusica would welcome it.”

Lindsay Sandison, chairman of the City of Oxford Orchestra, said: “It would be wonderful if this went ahead.

“The acoustics at the Sheldonian are excellent but everyone hates the ghastly seating. This concert hall would be in a lovely area, although as a venue it would miss out on tourists.

“The key will be the availability of parking.”

The school said it recognised parking would inevitably be an issue. Mr Jones said: “We have some ideas as to how we might solve this.

“We have quite a lot of space on the other side of the Woodstock Road.

“But clearly we would talk to the city and the county at the time of application.”

Proposals to regenerate Oxford’s West End gave rise to fading hopes of a concert hall eventually being built at Oxpens.

A multi-million pound investment has seen St John the Evangelist Church in Iffley Road recently becoming an arts and concert venue.

St Edward’s enthusiasm for a concert facility has been bolstered by the success of the North Wall, completed in 2006, when a Victorian swimming pool and ancillary buildings were transformed into a 250-seat theatre.

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