The Case for a New Concert Hall in Adelaide

A much talked about topic amongst Adelaide’s musical community is the need for a new concert hall.

We have the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra increasingly talking up its need for a hall of its own, and with justi fication. Its concerts are split between the Town Hall and Festival Theatre, but for a variety of now widely known reasons, neither completely answers its needs.

A purpose built 1,500-seat auditorium is what the ASO has set its sights on – a thoroughly modern concert centre with  first-class acoustics, full foyer facilities and ample parking. Not only would such a building serve as the orchestra’s new home, it would also be able to house smaller chamber and piano concerts – whose venue requirements are also insu fficiently met in this city.

We have two venues that are large enough for symphony concerts, and the most interesting immediate idea is to modify the Town Hall’s interior to accommodate a signi ficantly bigger orchestra than it currently can.

The ASO is currently exploring this. “We would like to explore how the Adelaide Town Hall layout could be recon figured to accommodate large forces. That work has not commenced, however,” says its managing director Vincent Ciccarello. A curved stage to increase its e ffective width beyond 16 metres could be one way – but we don’t know yet.

Fairly and squarely though, the orchestra wants an entirely new hall, and thinking on this is already well advanced.

“The ASO is operating on the basis that while it would be the primary or ‘anchor’ tenant of a purpose-built concert hall,” Ciccarello says. “While we are yet to undertake detailed modelling, we believe that a seating capacity in the order of 1,500 would be about right. Some of the non-negotiable aspects would be that the space should be acoustically fit-for-purpose with optimal sonic properties for full symphony orchestra as the minimum specification.”

“The stage would need to accommodate a full-size symphony orchestra capable of playing all the orchestral repertoire. Therefore, it should be able to fit some 120 players, plus a choir. While an organ would be an obvious plus, it would not necessarily need to be built in. There should be appropriate piano lifts and stores, dressing and assembly rooms.”

The ASO already has ideas about location. “ There are a number of sites currently under consideration, all with di fferent merits,” says Ciccarello. “The ASO’s preference is for a concert hall to be a focal point of a range of musical activity, ideally co-located with music education facilities.”

The cost could be in the region of $200-$300 million, thinks Adelaide architect Anton Johnson, whose design for the Ngeringa Arts Cultural Centre at Mount Barker has been much praised by musicians. “Foremost it would have to be a beautiful building. It has to be a venue that the rest of the country is jealous about, and it has to have a sense of quality that makes it stand head and shoulders over the others”.

“It really needs to be accessible too, so the general public has a feeling of not being intimidated by the arts,” he says. It could incorporate smaller performance spaces for audiences of 150-250 in a cocktail environment, he thinks, along with a lawned amphitheatre for outdoor events.

Also in favour of a new hall is Douglas Gautier, CEO and artistic director of Adelaide Festival Centre, although he believes it has to wait until the $90 million upgrade to the AFC is completed, and Her Majesty’s Theatre is boosted to a planned 1,500-seat capacity.

“I’d love to have a third shell here, a music venue right alongside the Festival Theatre,” says Gautier. “ That’s an aspiration we all have in this city, and it’s consistent with our UNESCO bid to recognise this city as a centre for music. But in the interim we all should realise that there should be a balance between existing venues. This is about infrastructure, but it is also about the great ensembles that perform in this city. The orchestra is front and centre of that”.

It is not just about the ASO, either. A host of Adelaide’s chamber and recital presenters want to see a dedicated music centre with space for smaller, more intimate concerts – especially with the demise of Elder Hall’s valuable Perspectives series.

Hilary Kleinig of Zephyr Quartet says: “ There is dire need for a smaller-to-medium sized venue with concert piano, screen, lighting facilities and seating flexibility that allows ensembles to do what they want. The fact that Adelaide has been dubbed by UNESCO as a music city and we don’t have any dedicated music spaces just seems ridiculous to me”.

Something along the lines of the Midlands Arts Centre might be ideal, suggests Cheryl Pickering, who chairs Chamber Music Adelaide. “Basically everything is in one hub, including a cinema and education courses. It serves as a magnet for everyone – people are coming to the venue for a number of reasons”.

A recital room with up to 350 seats could have a small footprint but add considerable prestige to the city, thinks Guy Barrett, who runs the Morgans International Piano Series. “Great cities have great music venues,” he says.

Quincy Grant of The Firm favours a smaller, 150-200 seat auditorium – “you’d have a lot of healthy business,” he reckons. “A new concert hall could go along with the Oval and new hospital to represent a new century and new confidence. The ‘we can’t afford it’ mantra is end-of-argument thinking. It is really about setting priorities.”