Liverpool Philharmonic Hall is a concert hall in Hope Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, England. It is the home of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade II listed building. It is not the original concert hall on the present site; its predecessor was destroyed by fire in 1933 and the present hall was opened in 1939. Next year we will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the opening of the new hall. Actually, the following year, 2015, will mark the 17th anniversary of the founding of the RLPO – the UK’s oldest surviving professional symphony orchestra!
Architect Herbert J. Rowse (inset) was commissioned by the Liverpool Philharmonic Society to design the new Philharmonic Hall following the 1933 fire that destroyed the original building. Rowse described the hall as ‘shaped like a megaphone with orchestra at the narrow end.’ Rowse also designed other Liverpool architectural landmarks including Martin’s Bank and India Buildings on Water Street and the entrance to the Mersey Tunnel. Considering he had no prior experience of acoustics, whatsoever, I think he did rather well!
The Liverpool Philharmonic Society was founded in 1840 but initially did not have a permanent concert hall. In 1844 the Liverpool architect John Cunningham was appointed to prepare plans for a hall. The initial requirement was for a “concert room” holding an audience of 1,500 which would cost at least £4,000 (£320 thousand as of 2013). Later that year the requirement was increased to a “new concert hall” to accommodate an audience of 2,100 and an orchestra of 250, plus “refreshment and retiring rooms”. Subscribers were invited to both buy shares and to purchase seats along the sides of the hall. The foundation stone was laid in 1846 and plans were made for Mendelssohn to write a cantata to be played in his presence at the opening of the hall. Mendelssohn did not live long enough to write the work.
The first hall, 1849
Interior of the first hall, 1849
The hall cost £30,000 (£2.45 million as of 2013) and was opened on 27 August 1849.The Times correspondent reported that it was “one of the finest and best adapted to music that I ever entered”. The correspondent described the interior:
The orchestra, on each side of which is a canopied box for the use of the committee or the directors of the concert, is at the east end of the hall, recessed under an arch, filled to the extremities by the instrumental and choral phalanx of executants, disposed semicircularly, with numberless bronze music-stands, each surmounted by a lyre. It has a most imposing appearance. A large organ, of simple but classic design, backs the orchestra. The length of the body of the hall, without the orchestra, is about 104 feet; with the orchestra, about 150 feet. The breadth cannot fall short of 100 feet. The form of the room is oblong. The boxes, 65 in number, are disposed on each side of the hall, under the galleries, which in their turn are surmounted by the brilliant line of gas-burners …. The entire body of the hall is divided into comfortable stalls which leave plenty of room to sit at ease, and have all the accommodation of arm chairs. Three doors for ingress and egress are disposed at each side of the hall, and there are divided by windows, fitted with perforated zinc for the purpose of ventilation. Two immense eliptic arches on each side of the hall, spanning nearly the entire length of the body, inclose the boxes and galleries, and give them the appearance of being recessed. The galleries are sustained by gilded pillars, which front the boxes, with scroll ornaments for capitals. At the west end of the building, opposite the orchestra, there are two galleries, one above the other. The roof is covered, and the covers are of stucco, perforated; the centre is flat, but elaborately ornamented and relieved. The boxes are very elegantly fitted … The hall is lighted in day-time by four large windows, two on either side.
A new organ was installed in the hall in 1930 at a cost of £2,000 (£90 thousand as of 2013). The concert hall continued to be the home of the society until a fire broke out during the evening of 5 July 1933. The hall was damaged beyond repair. It was insured and the insurers paid £84,000 (£4.42 million as of 2013) for the hall itself, £9,503 (£500 thousand as of 2013) for other assets, and £6,000 (£320 thousand as of 2013) for the loss of two years’ rental.
The building of a new hall was delayed by the demands of Liverpool City Corporation, which announced that it would not support the building of a venue suitable only as a concert hall. The corporation demanded an auditorium equally suited to cinema and theatre use. Controversy ensued with vocal opposition to the corporation’s stance led by the doyen of British conductors, Sir Henry Wood. A compromise was reached and work began in June 1937.
Herbert J. Rowse was commissioned to design a new hall on the site of the previous hall. Rowse’s design was in Streamline Moderne style. It incorporated an organ built by the Liverpool firm of Rushworth and Dreaper with a console which can be lowered from the stage. The hall was officially opened on 19 June 1939, and inaugurated the next day with a concert conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. The Manchester Guardian commented, “The magnificent compliment Liverpool has paid to the cause of music in England almost takes one’s breath away … a hall of great size, noble proportions, and up-to-date appointments … ready to take its place among the most eminent homes of musical culture in this or any other country”. The final cost of the hall was a little over £120,000 (£5.51 million as of 2013) and the architect was paid £6,869 (£320 thousand as of 2013). An extension was added to the rear of the hall which was completed in 1992, designed by Brock Carmichael Associates. A major refurbishment of the hall was carried out in 1995 at a cost of £10.3 million. This included the complete replacement of the fibrous plaster interior with concrete, carried out again by Brock Carmichael, working with the acoustic consultant firm Lawrence Kirkegaard Associates. Local violinist, John Frederick Clarke who was part of the famed RMS Titanic orchestra alongside the other band members who died during the ships 1912 sinking are all commemorated on a memorial plaque within Philharmonic Hall.
The hall is built with fawn-coloured facing bricks, and is mainly in three storeys. It has a symmetrical frontage with a canopied entrance flanked by semicircular stair turrets. Above the entrance are seven windows that are separated by piers surmounted by carved abstract motifs. Outside the hall, and separated from it, are two piers for the display of posters. The architectural historians Pollard and Pevsner and the author of the description in the National Heritage List for England agree that the design of the hall was influenced by the Dutch architect W. M. Dudok.
The windows above the canopy contain glass etched by Hector Whistler. Inside the entrance to the hall is a copper memorial to the musicians of the Titanic by J. A. Hodel, and on the landings are gilded reliefs of Apollo by Edmund C. Thompson. The interior of the auditorium is “sensuously curved”. On the walls on each side are incised female figures in art deco style that represent “musical moods,” also by Thompson. On the back wall above the platform is a kinetic structure, called Adagio, designed by Marianne Forrest in 1995.
The hall contains an organ built by Rushworth and Draper, with a console on a lifting platform that can be played on the stage or from the area below the stage, and a Walturdaw rising cinema screen.
The hall stages about 250 events each year, over 60 of which are concerts of classical music. The other shows include music of all genres, comedians, and films shown on the Walturdaw screen. Tours of the hall are arranged, and the hall can he hired for corporate or private events, including weddings.