Something like £100,000,000 was spent 'refurbishing' the Royal Festival Hall. Not the organ though, it seems, as they just wrote to me asking for money for that. It's a couple of years now since they re-opened and maybe it's time to dwell on what they did.
I used to avoid the RFH on the grounds it was tatty and the acoustic was terrible. It's a little less tatty (though they bought a carpet which was a replica of the old one and which, now it's already quite dirty, just looks like the tatty old one) but the acoustic is just as dire.
Really they could have spent the money on a new concert hall with modern acoustics. Instread the preservationists got to work insisting that the **** old acoustic be 'preserved' if slightly 'reinforced'. It's dire. I won't pretend I can't believe that a quango of posh duffers and their circumambient yes-persons could have come up with such a failure - in our culture none of us expect any different. A lot of the money they flushed away was from public sources. It's par for the course, but what a loss to the rest of us who never got a single free champagne lunch out of it.
It seems insane that the Barbican Hall, not even designed as a concert hall and with a notably bad acoustic is still ten times better than the RFH, a purpose-built concert hall (and physically a dump which is rammed down our throats as part of our 'architectural heritage' - thanks a lot, m'lud) with a £100,000,000 upgrade.
Word to the wise - if you feel obliged to go, sit only in the front, centre block. The sides and especially the rear are as dull as ever and you will strain to hear. A violin soloist might as well be on the moon. Notably, the few times I went after the refit, many of these inferior seats were left empty. The audience has learned quickly. Even the music journalists complain and their complimentary seats always fall in the narrow band where you can hear somethng. Even the seating - which lines up one head behind another, instead of in the gaps, obstructing vision - was not altered but replaced by a historical replica of the original failed layout.
Who will answer for this fiasco? And when will London get a viable, purpose-built concert hall?