Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall on the northern edge of South Kensington, London, best known for holding the Proms concerts annually each summer since 1941. It has a capacity (depending on configuration of the event) of up to 5,272 seats. The Hall is a registered charity held in trust for the nation and receives no public or government funding.
Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world's leading artists from many 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 390 shows in the main auditorium, including classical, rock and pop concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestra, sports, award ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets. A further 400 events are held each year in the non-auditorium spaces.
The Hall was originally supposed to have been called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences by Queen Victoria upon laying the Hall's foundation stone in 1867, in memory of her late husband consort, Prince Albert who had died six years earlier. 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.
In 1851, the Great Exhibition (for which the Crystal Palace was built) was held in Hyde Park, London. 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. At some point, the Queen remarked that the Hall 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".
The Wine Society was founded at the Hall on 4 August 1874, after large quantities of cask wine were forgotten about in the cellars. A series of lunches were held to publicise the wines and General Henry Scott proposed a co-operative company to buy and sell wines.
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.
From 1996 until 2004, 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. Internally, the Circle seating was rebuilt in four weeks in June 1996 providing more leg room, better access and improved sight lines.
The largest project of the ongoing renovation and development was the building of a new south porch – door 12, accommodating a first floor restaurant, new ground floor box office and below ground loading bay. 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 loading bay with 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. 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.
Between 2002 and 2004 there was a major rebuilding of the great organ (known as the Voice of Jupiter), built by "Father" Henry Willis in 1871 and rebuilt by Harrison & Harrison in 1924 and 1933. The rebuilding was performed by Mander Organs and it is now the second largest pipe organ in the British Isles with 9,997 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.
In Autumn 2013, work began on replacing the Victorian steam heating system over three years and improving and cooling across the building. This work follows the summer Proms season during which temperatures were particularly high.
From January the Cafe Consort on the Grand Tier was closed permanently in preparation for a new restaurant at a cost of £1 million. The refurbishment, the first in around 10 years, was designed by consultancy firm Keane Brands and carried out by contractor 8Build.Verdi – Italian Kitchen was officially opened on 15 April with a lunch or dinner menu of 'stone baked pizzas, pasta and classic desserts'
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-inch-high (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."
Below the Arena floor there are two 4000 gallon water tanks, which are used for shows that flood the arena like Madam Butterfly
Amphi corridor on the ground floor, facing West from Door 6.
The Door 9 porch at night.
Second Tier corridor, facing West from Door 6.
Fluted aluminium roof and diffuser discs seen from the Gallery.
The glazed roof and vertical struts supporting the fluted aluminium ceiling, beneath the wooden floor.
Many events are promoted by the Hall, whilst since the early 1970s promoter 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, banquets, ballroom dancing, poetry recitals, educational talks, motor shows, ballet, opera, film screenings 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), tennis and even a marathon.
One notable event was a Pink Floyd concert held 26 June 1969, the night they were banned from ever playing at the Hall again after shooting cannons, nailing things to the stage, and having a man in a gorilla suit roam the audience. At one point Rick Wright went to the pipe organ and began to play "The End Of The Beginning", the final part of "Saucerful Of Secrets", joined by the brass section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (led by the conductor, Norman Smith) and the ladies of the Ealing Central Amateur Choir. A portion of the pipe organ recording is included on Pink Floyd's album The Endless River.
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, Vaughan 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 again in January 2014. In January and February 2011 and again in 2012 they presented Totem. From January–February 2013 and again from January–February 2015, the hall held performances of Koozå.
Classic Brit Awards
Festival of Remembrance
Institute of Directors
For 60 years the Institute of Directors' Annual Convention has been synonymous with the Hall, although in 2011 and 2012 it was held at indigO2.
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 is used annually by the neighbouring Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art for graduation ceremonies. Kingston University also held its graduation ceremonies at the Hall until 2008.
Films, premières and live orchestra screenings
The venue has screened several films since the early silent days. It was the only London venue to show William Fox's The Queen of Sheba in the 1920s.
The Hall has hosted many premières, including the UK première of Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen, 101 Dalmatians on 4 December 1996, the European première of Spandau Ballet's Soul Boys of the Western World and three James Bond royal world premières; Die Another Day on 18 November 2002 (attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip), Skyfall on 23 October 2012 (attended by Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall) and SPECTRE on 26 October 2015 (attended by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge).
The Hall has curated regular seasons of film-and-live-orchestra screenings since 2009, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Gladiator, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Matrix, West Side Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Back to the Future and the world première of Titanic Live in Concert.
Beyond the main stage
The Hall hosts hundreds of events and activities beyond its main auditorium. There are regular free art exhibitions in the ground floor amphi corridor, which can be viewed when attending events or on dedicated viewing dates. You can take a guided tour of the Hall on most days. The most common is the one hour Grand Tour which includes most front of house areas, the auditorium, the gallery and the Royal Retiring Room. Other tours include Story of the Proms, Behind the Scenes, Inside Out and School tours. Children's events include Storytelling and Music Sessions for 0 - 4 year olds which take place in the Door 9 Porch and Albert's Band sessions in the Elgar Room during school holidays. Live Music in Verdi takes place in the Italian restaurant on a Friday night featuring different artists each week. Late Night Jazz events in the Elgar Room, generally on a Thursday night, feature cabaret style seating and a relaxed atmosphere with drinks available. Classical Coffee Mornings are held on Sundays in the Elgar Room with musicians from the Royal College of Music accompanied with drinks and pastries. Sunday Brunch events take place in Verdi Italian restaurant and features different genres of music.
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.
James Last appeared nearly 90 times at the Hall over many years, making him the most frequent German performer to have played the venue.
Education & Outreach
The Hall's Education & Outreach programme engages 100,000 people a year. It includes workshops for local teenagers led by musicians such as Foals, Jake Bugg, Emeli Sandé, Nicola Benedetti, Alison Balsom and First Aid Kit, innovative science and maths lessons in partnership with Samsung, visits to local residential homes from the venue's in-house group, Albert's Band, under the 'Songbook' banner, and the Friendship Matinee: an orchestral concert for community groups, with £5 admission.
The Hall is managed day to day by the Chief Executive Chris Cotton and five Senior Executives; the Chief Operating & Financial Officer, Director of Operations, Director of Business Development, Director of Events and Director of External Affairs. They are accountable to the Council of the Corporation, which is the Trustee body of the charity. The Council is composed of the annually elected President, currently Mr Jon Moynihan OBE, 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 the Royal College of Music.
The Hall has won several awards across different categories. From 1994 to 1998 and in 2003, the Hall won 'International Venue Of The Year' in the Pollstar Awards. In 2004 and 2005 the Hall won 'International Small Venue Of The Year' in the Pollstar Awards. In 2006 to 2010, the Hall won 'International Theatre Of The Year' in the Pollstar Awards. The Hall has won International Live Music Conference Award for 'First Venue to Come Into Your Head' in 1998, 2009 and 2013. From 2008 to 2012 the Hall was voted Superbrands leading Leisure and Entertainment Destination. On 17 October 2012 the Hall won 'London Live Music Venue of the Year' at the third annual London Lifestyle Awards. The Hall won the Showcase Award for Teenage Cancer Trust and Event Space of the Year (non Exhibition), both at the Event Awards 2010. The Hall has been voted a CoolBrand from 2009 to 2013 in the 'Attractions & The Arts – general' category. In 2010 and 2011 the Hall won 'Best Venue Teamwork Award' at the Live UK Summit. The 'Life At The Hall blog won 'Best Venue Blog' at the Prestigious Star Awards in 2012 and the Prestigious Star Award Landmark in 2013.
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
A large mural by Sir Peter Blake is displayed in the amphi corridor of Door 12 at the Hall. Unveiled in April 2014, it shows more than 400 famous figures who have appeared on the stage.
In 1955, English film director Alfred Hitchcock filmed the climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much at the Hall. The 15-minute sequence featured James Stewart, Doris Day and composer Bernard Herrmann, and was filmed partly in the Queen's Box. Hitchcock was a long-time patron of the Hall and has already set the finale of his 1927 film, The Ring at the venue, as well as his initial version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, starring Leslie Banks, Edna Best and Peter Lorre.
Other notable films shot at the Hall include Major Barbara, Love Story, The Seventh Veil, The Ipcress File, A Touch of Class, Shine and Spice World.
In the song "A Day in the Life" by the Beatles, the 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 to turn you on.
The song "Session Man" by the Kinks references the Hall:
- He never will forget at all
The day he played at Albert Hall.
In some variants of "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball", Hitler's second testicle is mentioned to be in the Hall.
|London Buses||Royal Albert Hall 9, 10, 52, 360, 452|
|London Underground||Gloucester Road|
|High Street Kensington|