Saturday, November 04, 2006

Watford Town Hall - £10

Julian Lloyd Webber’s recent article in the Telegraph draws attention to the plight of Watford Town Hall, which is facing closure. In describing the singular importance of the hall as one of the finest classical music recording locations he risks underrating the importance of the venue to the wider community. The hall's demise can't simply be written off as just another sign of waning cultural elitism: anyone who sits back, content to see the destruction of one of the finest classical music acoustics will, in this case, be complicit in abetting the death of one of the most egalitarian public venues in Europe.

The Town Hall, built in 1939 and grandiloquently renamed in 1995 as The Coliseum, has been home to a broad spectrum of public events, from International boxing fixtures to classical music concerts, not to mention, innumerable prestigious recording sessions. Not only does it remain one of the finest acoustic music venues in the world, but, in its heyday, it underwent nightly transformations for wedding receptions, rock concerts and hip hop championships. Now in need of complete renovation the hall's future is under threat.

Despite being located in less than auspicious surroundings, it's ideally situated for development as a major regional arts centre. And according to a review commissioned by the local council,

“taking the lowest projected average per annum from Target Group Index analysis for the UK as a whole then, within a radius of only 12 miles, the potential attendances for classical music are 612,964. At the current capacity of 1,437 seats, this would in theory be enough for the hall to operate at 115% of capacity for 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year,”
which doesn’t seem too bad to me. However, the pursuance of such goals is apparently beyond the means of Watford Borough Council and the development of the hall as a major artistic centre “falls outside existing Arts Council Strategy.” A change of strategy is obviously beyond the bounds of imagination.

Classical CD Review claims that Dorati’s 1959 Firebird was the first recording to be made in Watford Town Hall but there seem to be well-documented references to earlier sessions - such as these Maria Callas tracks - which were recorded there in September 1954. An even earlier anecdotal reference to the hall’s use as a concert venue [featuring the late, daredevil, Sir Malcolm Arnold], can be found among Robert Meyer’s excellent Musical Reminiscences. While the hall has acted as a studio for many thousands of orchestral recordings, more recently it has also been used for a number of prestigious film score recordings including Lord of the Rings.

The Coliseum was already under threat of closure two years ago when it was reprieved by a contract with the BBC Concert Orchestra. But now that the orchestra is set to relocate to the BBC’s new Music Centre at White City, the threat re-emerges.

Watford Musical Heritage, a charitable organisation founded by Jonathan Brett – who is also the director of Classic Concerts Trust and English Classical Players - is charged with the preservation of the Hall. As the website makes clear, the aim

“is to generate a capital sum to provide an annual income with which to fund musical projects”, which would require

“an investment of just £10 for each of the 4 million people who live or work within easy reach of Watford.”

Watford is a Borough Council with an elected mayor and 36 councillors (Liberal Democrat majority) The elected Mayor is Dorothy Thornhill – email

To hire the Colosseum, email: or telephone Andy or Pat on +44 (0)1923 278954.


Blogger Guthry Trojan said...

Strangely enough, Robert Meyer continues his Musical Reminiscences by mentioning Maria Callas's recording in Watford Town Hall in his most recent posting.

Thursday, November 09, 2006 11:41:00 pm  
Anonymous Julian Scott said...

I recorded the orchestral sections of the Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies for Athens 2004 at Watford Town Hall (co-incidentally, I discovered via your blog, almost 50 years, to the month, after Maria Callas (who also featured as a recording in the Opening Ceremony) recorded in the same venue!

Lets hope this fantastic venue remains available for performance and recording rather than the sad fate that would befall it at the hands of developers.


Julian Scott

Friday, November 10, 2006 1:57:00 pm  

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