Royal Albert Hall
|Royal Albert Hall|
The Royal Albert Hall from Kensington Gardens
|Address||Kensington Gore, South Kensington, London, SW7 2AP|
|Country||England, United Kingdom|
|Inaugurated||29 March 1871|
|Height||135 feet (41 m)2|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y.D. Scott of the Royal Engineers|
|Main contractor||Lucas Brothers|
|1 - Victorian London: Royal Albert Hall
2 - Royal Albert Hall, London
The Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall on the northern edge of South Kensington, in the City of Westminster, London, England, best known for holding the annual summer Proms concerts since 1941. It has a capacity (depending on configuration of the event) of up to 5,272 seats; standing areas and stage specifications can change this. The Hall is a registered charity held in trust for the nation and receives no public or central and local government funding.
Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world's leading artists from several performance genres have appeared on its stage and it has become one of the UK's most treasured and distinctive buildings. Each year it hosts more than 350 events including classical concerts, rock and pop, ballet and opera, sports, award ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets.
The Hall was originally supposed to have been called The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed by Queen Victoria to Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when laying the foundation stone, as a dedication to her deceased husband and consort Prince Albert. It forms the practical part of a national memorial to the Prince Consort – the decorative part is the Albert Memorial directly to the north in Kensington Gardens, now separated from the Hall by the road Kensington Gore.
- 1 History
- 2 Design
- 3 Events
- 3.1 Regular events
- 3.1.1 Royal Choral Society
- 3.1.2 BBC Proms
- 3.1.3 Tennis
- 3.1.4 Classical Spectacular
- 3.1.5 Cirque du Soleil
- 3.1.6 Classic Brit Awards
- 3.1.7 Festival of Remembrance
- 3.1.8 Graduation ceremonies
- 3.1.9 Institute of Directors
- 3.1.10 English National Ballet
- 3.1.11 Teenage Cancer Trust
- 3.1.12 Film premières
- 3.2 Regular performers
- 3.1 Regular events
- 4 Management
- 5 Mislabellings
- 6 Pop culture references
- 7 Transport links
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
In 1851, the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park, London, for which the Crystal Palace was built. The exhibition was a great success and led Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, to propose the creation of a permanent series of facilities for the enlightenment of the public in the area, which came to be known as Albertopolis. The Exhibition's Royal Commission bought Gore House and its grounds (on which the Hall now stands) on the advice of the Prince. Progress on the scheme was slow and in 1861 Prince Albert died, without having seen his ideas come to fruition. However, a memorial was proposed for Hyde Park, with a Great Hall opposite.
The proposal was approved and the site was purchased with some of the profits from the Exhibition. Once the remaining funds had been raised, in April 1867 Queen Victoria signed the Royal Charter of the Corporation of the Hall of Arts and Sciences which was to operate the Hall and on 20 May, laid the foundation stone. The Hall was designed by civil engineers Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y.D. Scott of the Royal Engineers and built by Lucas Brothers. The designers were heavily influenced by ancient amphitheatres, but had also been exposed to the ideas of Gottfried Semper while he was working at the South Kensington Museum. The recently opened Cirque d'Hiver in Paris was seen in the contemporary press as the design to outdo. The Hall was constructed mainly of Fareham Red brick, with terra cotta block decoration made by Gibbs and Canning Limited of Tamworth. The dome (designed by Rowland Mason Ordish) on top was made of wrought iron and glazed. There was a trial assembly made of the iron framework of the dome in Manchester, then it was taken apart again and transported to London via horse and cart. When the time came for the supporting structure to be removed from the dome after re-assembly in situ, only volunteers remained on site in case the structure dropped. It did drop – but only by five-sixteenths of an inch. The Hall was scheduled to be completed by Christmas Day 1870 and the Queen visited a few weeks beforehand to inspect.
The official opening ceremony of the Hall was on 29 March 1871. A welcoming speech was given by Edward, the Prince of Wales; Queen Victoria was too overcome to speak although she did comment that it reminded her of the British constitution.
A concert followed, when the Hall's acoustic problems became immediately apparent. Engineers first attempted to solve the strong echo by suspending a canvas awning below the dome. This helped and also sheltered concertgoers from the sun, but the problem was not solved: it used to be jokingly said that the Hall was "the only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice".
Initially lit by gas, the Hall contained a special system where its thousands of gas jets were lit within ten seconds. Though it was demonstrated as early as 1873 in the Hall, full electric lighting was not installed until 1888. During an early trial when a partial installation was made, one disgruntled patron wrote to The Times newspaper declaring it to be "a very ghastly and unpleasant innovation".
In 1936, the Hall was the scene of a giant rally celebrating the British Empire, the occasion being the centenary of Joseph Chamberlain's birth. In October 1942, the Hall suffered minor damage during World War II bombing but was left mostly untouched as German pilots used the distinctive structure as a landmark.
In 1949 the canvas awning was removed and replaced with fluted aluminium panels below the glass roof, in a new attempt to solve the echo; but the acoustics were not properly tackled until 1969 when a series of large fibreglass acoustic diffusing discs (commonly referred to as "mushrooms" or "flying saucers") was installed below the ceiling.
Renovation and redevelopment
1996 - 2004
During this period the Hall underwent a programme of renovation and development supported by a £20 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable it to meet the demands of the next century of events and performances. Thirty "discrete projects" were designed and supervised by architecture and engineering firm BDP without disrupting events. These projects included improving ventilation to the auditorium, more bars and restaurants, new improved seating, better technical facilities and more modern backstage areas. The largest project was the building of a new south porch – door 12, accommodating a restaurant, new box office and below a new delivery area. Although the exterior of the building was largely unchanged, the south steps leading down to Prince Consort Road were demolished to allow construction of an underground vehicle access and accommodation for 3 HGVs carrying all the equipment brought by shows. The steps were then reconstructed around a new south porch, named The Meitar Foyer after a significant donation from Mr & Mrs Meitar. The porch was built in a similar scale and style to the three pre-existing porches at Door 3, 6 and 9: these works were undertaken by Taylor Woodrow Construction. The original steps featured in early scenes of 1965 film The Ipcress File. On 4 June 2004, the project received the Europa Nostra Award for remarkable achievement. The East (Door 3) and West (Door 9) porches were glazed and new bars opened along with ramps to improve disabled access.
Internally the Circle was rebuilt in four weeks in June 1996 providing more leg room, better access and improved sight lines. The Stalls were rebuilt in a four-week period in 2000 using steel supports allowing more space underneath for two new bars. 1534 unique pivoting seats were laid – with an addition of 180 prime seats. The Choirs were rebuilt at the same time. The whole building was redecorated in a style that reinforces its Victorian identity. New carpets were laid in the corridors – specially woven with a border that follows the elliptic curve of the building in the largest single woven design in the world.
The works included a major rebuilding of the great organ, built by "Father" Henry Willis in 1871 and rebuilt by Harrison & Harrison in 1924 and 1933. The current work was performed by Mander Organs between 2002 and 2004 and the organ is now again the second largest pipe organ in the British Isles with 9,999 pipes in 147 stops. The largest is the Grand Organ in Liverpool Cathedral which has 10,268 pipes.
During the first half of 2011, changes were made to the backstage areas to relocate and increase the size of crew catering areas under the South Steps away from the stage and create additional dressing rooms nearer to the stage.
During the summer of 2012 the staff canteen and some changing areas were expanded and refurbished by contractor 8Build.
From January to May the Box Office area at Door 12 underwent further modernisation to include a new Café Bar on the ground floor, a new Box Office with shop counters and additional toilets. The design and construction was carried out by contractor 8Build. Upon opening it was renamed 'The Zvi and Ofra Meitar Porch and Foyer.' owing to a large donation from the couple.
The Hall, a Grade I listed building, is an ellipse in plan, with major and minor axes of 83 m (272 ft) and 72 m (236 ft). The great glass and wrought-iron dome roofing the Hall is 41 m (135 ft) high. It was originally designed with a capacity for 8,000 people and has accommodated as many as 9,000 (although modern safety restrictions mean that the maximum permitted capacity is now 5,544 including standing in the Gallery).
Around the outside of the building is a great mosaic frieze, depicting "The Triumph of Arts and Sciences", in reference to the Hall's dedication. Proceeding anti-clockwise from the north side the sixteen subjects of the frieze are: (1) Various Countries of the World bringing in their Offerings to the Exhibition of 1851; (2) Music; (3) Sculpture; (4) Painting; (5) Princes, Art Patrons and Artists; (6) Workers in Stone; (7) Workers in Wood and Brick; (8) Architecture; (9) The Infancy of the Arts and Sciences; (10) Agriculture; (11) Horticulture and Land Surveying; (12) Astronomy and Navigation; (13) A Group of Philosophers, Sages and Students; (14) Engineering; (15) The Mechanical Powers; and (16) Pottery and Glassmaking.
Above the frieze is an inscription in 12 in (300 mm) terracotta letters that combines historical fact and Biblical quotations: "This hall was erected for the advancement of the arts and sciences and works of industry of all nations in fulfilment of the intention of Albert Prince Consort. The site was purchased with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of the year MDCCCLI. The first stone of the Hall was laid by Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the twentieth day of May MDCCCLXVII and it was opened by Her Majesty the Twenty Ninth of March in the year MDCCCLXXI. Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine. The wise and their works are in the hand of God. Glory be to God on high and on earth peace."
Many events are promoted by the Hall, whilst since the early 1970s Raymond Gubbay has brought a range of events to the Hall including opera, ballet and classical music. Some events include classical and rock concerts, conferences, ballroom dancing, poetry recitals, education, motor shows, marathons, ballet, opera and circus shows. It has hosted many sporting events, including boxing, squash, table tennis, basketball, wrestling (including the first Sumo wrestling tournament to be held in London as well as UFC 38 (the first UFC event to be held in the UK) and tennis.
Benefit concerts in include the 1997 Music for Montserrat concert, arranged and produced by George Martin, an event which featured artists such as Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler, Sting, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney,  and 2012 Sunflower Jam charity concert with Queen guitarist Brian May performing alongside bassist John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, drummer Ian Paice of Deep Purple, and vocalists Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper.
On 2 October 2011, the Hall staged the 25th anniversary performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, which was broadcast live to cinemas across the world and filmed for DVD. Lloyd Webber, the original London cast including Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford, and four previous actors of the titular character, among others, were in attendance - Brightman and the previous Phantoms (aside from Crawford) performed an encore.
On 24 September 2012, Classic FM celebrated the 20th anniversary of their launch with a concert at the Hall. The programme featured live performances of works by Handel, Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Parry, Vaughn Williams, Tchaikovsky and Karl Jenkins who conducted his piece The Benedictus from The Armed Man in person.
Royal Choral Society
The Royal Choral Society is the longest running regular performance at the Hall, having given its first performance as the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society on 8 May 1872. From 1878 it established the annual Good Friday performance of Handel's Messiah.
The BBC Promenade Concerts, known as "The Proms", is a popular annual eight-week summer season of daily classical music concerts and other events at the Hall. In 1942, following the destruction of the Queen's Hall in an air raid, the Hall was chosen as the new venue for the proms. In 1944 with increased danger to the Hall, part of the proms were held in the Bedford Corn Exchange. Following the end of World War II the proms continued in the Hall and have done so annually every summer since. The event was founded in 1895, and now each season consists of over 70 concerts, in addition to a series of events at other venues across the United Kingdom on the last night. In 2009, the total number of concerts reached 100 for the first time. Jiří Bělohlávek described The Proms as "the world's largest and most democratic musical festival" of all such events in the world of classical music festivals.
Proms (short for promenade concerts) is a term which arose from the original practice of the audience promenading, or strolling, in some areas during the concert. Proms concert-goers, particularly those who stand, are sometimes described as "Promenaders", but are most commonly referred to as "Prommers".
Tennis was first played at the Hall in March 1970 and the ATP Champions Tour Masters has been played annually every December since 1997.
Classical Spectacular, a Raymond Gubbay production, has been coming to the Hall since 1988. It combines classical music, lights and special effects.
Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil has performed several of its shows at the Hall beginning in 1996 with Saltimbanco, a show which returned in 1997. In 1998 they had their UK première of Alegría and returned in 1999. After a few years away they returned in 2003 with Saltimbanco. Their European première of Dralion was held at the Hall in 2004 and returned in 2005. 2006 and 2007 saw the return of Alegría whilst 2008 saw the UK première of Varekai, which returned in 2010 marking 25 years of Cirque du Soleil. Quidam returned to London (but a first for this show at the Hall) in 2009 and will again in January 2014. In January and February 2011 and again in 2012 they presented Totem. In January and February 2013, the Hall held the UK première of Koozå.
Classic Brit Awards
Festival of Remembrance
The Hall is used annually by Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art for graduation ceremonies. Kingston University also held its graduation ceremonies at the Royal Albert Hall until 2008.
Institute of Directors
English National Ballet
Since 1998 the English National Ballet has had several specially staged arena summer seasons in partnership with the Hall and Raymond Gubbay. These include Strictly Gershwin, June 2008 and 2011, Swan Lake, June 2002, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013, Romeo & Juliet (Deane), June 2001 and 2005 and The Sleeping Beauty, April – June 2000.
Teenage Cancer Trust
Starting in the year 2000 the Teenage Cancer Trust has held annual charity concerts (with the exception of 2001). They started as a one off event but have expanded over the years to a week or more of evenings events. Roger Daltrey of The Who has been intimately involved with the planning of the events.
The Hall has screened several films, including the UK première of 101 Dalmatians on 4 December 1996. It has had two James Bond films; the royal world première of Die Another Day on 18 November 2002 attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip and the royal world première of Skyfall on 23 October 2012 attended by Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The Hall held its first 3D world première, of Titanic 3D, on 27 March 2012, with James Cameron and Kate Winslet in attendance.
Eric Clapton is a regular performer at the Hall, it having played host to his concerts almost annually for over 20 years. In December 1964, Clapton made his first appearance at the Hall with The Yardbirds. It was also the venue for his band Cream's farewell concerts in 1968 and reunion shows in 2005. He also instigated the Concert for George, which was held at the Hall on 29 November 2002 to pay tribute to Clapton's lifelong friend, former Beatle George Harrison. Since 1964, Clapton has performed at the Hall almost 200 times, and has stated that performing at the venue is like "playing in my front room".
Shirley Bassey has appeared many times at the Hall, usually as a special guest. In 2001, she sang happy birthday for the Duke of Edinburgh's 80th birthday concert. In 2007, she sang at Fashion Rocks in aid of the Prince's Trust. On 30 March 2011, she sang at a gala celebrating the 80th birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev. In May 2011, she performed at the Classic Brit Awards, singing Goldfinger in tribute to the recently deceased composer John Barry. On 20 June 2011, she returned and sang Diamonds Are Forever and Goldfinger, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as the climax to the memorial concert for John Barry.
The Hall is managed day to day by the Chief Executive Chris Cotton and four Senior Executives. They are accountable to the Council of the Corporation who are the Trustee body of the charity. The Council is composed of the annually elected President, currently Mrs. Anthony Travis, 18 elected Members (either corporate or individual seat owners) and five Appointed Members, one each from Imperial College London, Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, British Museum of Natural History and Royal College of Music.
A famous and widely bootlegged concert by Bob Dylan at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 17 May 1966 was mistakenly labelled the "Royal Albert Hall Concert". In 1998, Columbia Records released an official recording, The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert, that maintains the erroneous title, but does include details of the actual location. Dylan closed his European tour at the Hall on 26 and 27 May 1966; these were his last concerts before he was in a motorcycle accident. It was several years until he toured again.
Another concert that was mislabelled as being at the Hall was by Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR). An album by CCR titled The Royal Albert Hall Concert was released in 1980. When Fantasy Records discovered that the show on the album actually took place at the Oakland Coliseum, it retitled the album The Concert.
Pop culture references
In the song A Day in the Life by the Beatles, Albert Hall is mentioned. The verse goes as follows: "I read the news today, oh boy / four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire / and though the holes were rather small / they had to count them all / now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall / I'd love you turn you on."
In some variants of Hitler Has Only Got One Ball, Hitler's second testicle is mentioned to be in the Albert Hall.
|London Buses||Royal Albert Hall 9, 10, 52, 360, 452|
|London Underground||Gloucester Road|
|High Street Kensington|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Royal Albert Hall.|
- Official site with timeline
- Read a detailed historical record about the Hall
- Architecture of the Hall from the Royal Institute of British Architects
- Royal Albert Hall at Structurae
- Royal Albert Hall Survey of London entry
- Albert Hall (Victorian London)
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