Usher Hall soars into 2010 with opening of new wing

Visitors to Edinburgh's number one concert hall will see a whole new side to the venue as the Usher Hall unveils its magnificent new wing to the public.

Usher hall exterior

From Thursday 25 February, people will be able to explore the beautiful new addition to the grade A-listed building, which completes the second phase of a major refurbishment of the Lothian Road concert hall. Inside the glass-fronted wing, they will discover a new cafe/bar, a bigger and better box office area, topped by new hospitality spaces and re-sited and extended office accommodation.

The Usher Hall's refurbishment was made possible with the support of funding from the Scottish Arts Council, Scottish Executive Cities Growth Fund, Scottish Enterprise, Heritage Lottery Fund, private donations, trusts and foundations.

Councillor Deidre Brock, Culture Leader for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: "We are very excited to be unveiling this dazzling new wing at our much loved Usher Hall, now looking sensational after its refurbishment. Audiences have been flocking to the venue in their thousands since we reopened for the Edinburgh International Festival's opening concert and this event to unveil the brand new wing is the penultimate step towards the completed project in the summer. The Phase III landscaping works, which are progressing well, will really be the icing on the cake.

"This Administration is strongly committed to providing excellent facilities and opportunities to make culture as accessible as possible for all our residents and visitors, and our investment in the Usher Hall is a significant step towards this goal.

"We are grateful to all our funding partners, including the Scottish Arts Council, Scottish Enterprise and the Heritage Lottery Fund, for their assistance in helping us create a concert hall fit for the 21st century."

Since it reopened for the Edinburgh International Festival last August, audiences have been enjoying greatly improved facilities inside the Usher Hall itself, including:

  • better disabled access throughout the building

  • lift access to all floors

  • increased cloakroom and washroom facilities

  • new and improved bars on all levels.

Currently, the final phase of work is ongoing - these landscaping works adjacent to the Usher Hall will create a pedestrianised, flexible space which will revitalise the area and lend it an appealing, 'arts quarter' ambience.

Iain Munro, Co-Director of Arts, Scottish Arts Council, said: "The Scottish Arts Council's National Lottery investment in this project was aimed at developing a world-class venue, with improved access for audiences with disabilities as well as outstanding facilities for the professional artists who make the Usher Hall such a pleasure to visit. We are delighted that our investment has helped secure the future of the Usher Hall into the 21st century and beyond."

Pamela Woodburn, director of business infrastructure at Scottish Enterprise, said: "Edinburgh is a key tourism destination for Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival is an event and brand that is recognised worldwide. The Usher Hall is the venue for the most prestigious concerts held during the EIF and therefore plays a key role in the economic success of Edinburgh's festivals programme."

Colin McLean, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund, Scotland, which awarded the Council a grant of £846,000 towards the Usher Hall refurbishment, said: "Our grant was an important piece in the funding package that helped complete the successful restoration of one of Edinburgh's most loved historic buildings. It will let more visitors than ever gain easier access to this outstanding venue, allowing them to enjoy concerts, performances and other contemporary cultural events in a building with a long and proud heritage."

Phase I of the Usher Hall refurbishment project was completed in December 2000 (cost: £9.75m). This provided the Usher Hall with new mechanical and electrical installations, upgrades to the fabric of the auditorium and internal spaces, a new stage and provision of removable seating to allow promenade concerts.

The second phase of work (c £25m) has provided:

  • A dedicated education space;

  • Enhanced protection of the Hall's acoustics;

  • Improvements to access and circulation, with free movement throughout the building, a new staircase to link all floors from ground level, lift access to all floors and the creation of level access to the Hall by means of a stone plinth (the "Podium");

  • A new wing housing a café/bar, a new box office area, additional hospitality spaces and re-sited and extended office accommodation;

  • Expanded toilet and cloakroom provision (allowing increased audience capacity); and

  • Refurbishment and extensions to the dressing rooms and other backstage facilities (in space created by re-siting the offices).

The main construction works commenced on site on 19 March 2007. From the 19 March to the 8 August 2007 the contractor completed the first stage of work to the exterior of the hall, piling foundations and digging the basement to support the new glass wing, as well as carrying out internal demolition work to construct new backstage facilities. The building was returned to the Usher Hall management for the 2007 Festival to take place, with some temporary facilities to accommodate performers and audiences. At the end of the 2007 Festival the site was handed back to the contractor to allow the major elements of the construction work to take place.

Development plans were updated following the discovery of a range of difficulties with the construction site. A dig into the basement in September 2007 revealed that foundations would need to be reinforced to support the new glass wing and the finding of unexpected rock formation resulted in structural engineers ordering deeper pilings to ensure the integrity of the building.

Phase III (Public Realm works) is currently under way. These landscaping works adjacent to the Usher Hall will create a pedestrianised, flexible space which will revitalise the whole area and lend it an appealing, 'arts quarter' ambience, thanks to the ease of access it will afford to the Usher Hall and the Traverse and Lyceum Theatres. This phase (cost: £3.95m) is scheduled to be finished before the festival this year and work is progressing well.

The Usher Hall is delighted to be running regular public tours of the building to look at the art works newly installed in the Hall, on loan from the City Art Centre's nationally recognised collection. Among the works on show are paintings by Sir William Gillies and his lifelong friend John Maxwell, Leon Morrocco, Victoria Crowe and William Stewart MacGeorge.

Since its beginnings, when Andrew Usher made his historic gift of £100,000 to the City of Edinburgh in July 1896 to found a concert hall, the Usher Hall has become one of the most outstanding concert halls in the world. A landmark in the heart of Scotland's capital, it stands for the highest level of musical and civic participation and for the best part of a century it has hosted some of the greatest concerts and events in the city. It has been at the centre of the Edinburgh International Festival since 1947 and boasts a world-envied acoustic. Fiona Maddocks, Chief Music Critic of The Observer, remarked earlier this year that: "Scotland boasts no more venerable a venue than the Usher Hall".

With over 200 shows a year, the Usher Hall is proud to offer a truly diverse range of music and entertainment. The Usher Hall is also home to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and has been the centre piece for the Edinburgh International Festival since 1949. Some of the top acts already confirmed for 2010 include:

  • African Soul Rebels

  • Kate Rusby

  • Rokia Traore

  • Jamie Cullum

  • Rufus Wainwright

  • Crowded House

  • Nicola Benedetti

  • Mark Watson

  • Michael Bolton

  • Ray Davis

  • And many more still to be confirmed... Watch this space!

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