An ambitious £288m concert hall that was supposed to be “the Tate Modern of classical music” has been scrapped by the City of London Corporation, which said the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic made the plan impossible to complete.
The Centre for Music was billed as being an acoustically perfect 2,000-seat concert hall for the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) and would have had restaurants, commercial space and a smaller venue for jazz performances.
The City of London confirmed on Thursday, however, that the project had been axed.
“Members of the City of London Corporation’s policy and resources today agreed that, given the current unprecedented circumstances, plans for a centre for music will not be progressed,” a spokesperson said.
“Alternative proposals for the site, currently occupied by the Museum of London, will be brought forward over the coming months.”
Serious doubts about the venue’s future began to circulate when the LSO’s conductor, Simon Rattle, announced he was leaving the organisation in January to move to the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2023 for personal reasons.
Rattle was one of the driving forces behind the project, which he said would be the “great concert hall for our time” and would put London on the same level as other European cities with major landmark halls that have world-class acoustics.
The New York-based architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro had already revealed their designs for the centre, which the Guardian’s architecture critic, Oliver Wainwright, described as “a faceted ziggurat, rising from the roundabout site of the current Museum of London as an angular glass beacon”.
The decision will be another huge blow to an orchestral world already reeling from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that has left performers and venues out of work and in doubt about when audiences will be able to return.
Funding for the project has always been controversial, with critics and figures within government saying a concert hall of that scale and cost was not needed.
The government pulled its funding for the project in 2016. The former chancellor George Osborne initially backed the scheme and spent £5.5m on a detailed business case, but his successors decided it was too costly. At the time, a spokesperson for Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, called the decision to pull the money “a vote of no confidence in London from the government”.
The City of London announced additional funding for the project in March last year, which took its investment up to £6.8m. It said no public subsidy would be required for the centre’s running costs, but the private donations that were supposed to make up the huge shortfall in funding failed to materialise.
The loss of the venue will be a blow to those who feel London is still without a venue to rival those in cities such as Paris and Hamburg, which have spent heavily on controversial and over-budget concert halls. It will also leave classical musicians and technical staff without crucial work, as many struggle with post-Brexit visa rules when applying for work in the EU.
The City of London also announced it would invest in the Barbican Centre and “upgrade the 40-year-old complex”. It said the search for a world-class architect-led team to lead the project would be launched later this year.