Birmingham Symphony Hall

UKB1 2EA Birmingham



As early as 1918, the City Council began buying up land in the Broad Street area, with the idea of building a grand Civic Centre, which was to include a large concert hall. However, the great Depression of the 1920s put paid to this scheme. Meanwhile, the Town Hall was beginning to feel its age, and in 1926 part of the ceiling collapsed. During the repairs, the conductor of the Orchestra, Adrian Boult, began to agitate for a new concert hall. “Don’t worry, Mr Boult” he was assured, “you’ll get your new concert hall before you leave Birmingham.”

As well as a venue for classical music, Town Hall was always very much a focus of cultural and community life in Birmingham. Since its earliest days it was used for political speechmaking and debate, in the 1950s it embraced the emerging jazz scene, and most famous pops bands from the 1950s onwards performed there. Civic and community events such as the annual Festival of Remembrance, public lectures and graduation ceremonies were always an integral part of its life. Its fabric deteriorating, it became clear that if the Town Hall were to close it would leave the city centre without a venue to host concerts, cultural and public events.

Symphony Hall is built to a traditional ‘shoebox’ shape, a design which dates back to the great halls of the late 19th century (acoustically-acclaimed halls such as Vienna’s Musikverein, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam are constructed to this shape). Russell Johnson had used this shape before with great success and for Symphony Hall he refined this still further.

One design innovation is the reverberation chamber – a 12,700 cubic metre void which is equivalent to about 50% of the volume of the Hall itself. It envelops the platform end of Hall in a U shape and links with additional chambers that run along the sides of the Hall at high level. A series of huge, concrete doors each weighing one tonne, opens from the Hall and can be adjusted to create the required degree of ‘echo’.

The visually striking acoustic canopy suspended above the stage can be lowered to about 10 metres above the platform effectively creating a smaller space to focus the sound of a small number of players. Conversely, for a symphony orchestra, an expansive sound is achieved by raising the canopy to the roof, often used with the reverberation chamber.

For events using amplification, a series of acoustic panels situated around the Hall are utilised in conjunction with a huge curtain of tightly woven fabric which is hung from ceiling to floor at the rear of the platform. These absorb much of the sound energy, reducing the reverberation so that amplified music and speech can be heard more clearly.

Further performance flexibility can be achieved by removing the front three rows of seats in the Stalls and either replacing them with further staging to form a larger platform area, or sinking them below ground and forming an orchestra pit. The wooden bank of staging on the platform (the ‘risers’) can also be moved off stage to create a large flat stage suitable for dance, pop concerts or conference presentations.

Music Program

Ilan Vokov conducts Bach and Bruckner
Camerata Salzburg and Nicola Benedetti play Mozart
Last Night of the Spring Proms
Lunchtime Organ Concert - Thomas Trotter
Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony
Andrew Manze conducts his lyrical Second Symphony plus music by Vaughan Williams and Beethoven with pianist Steven Osborne.
Good Friday Bach St Matthew Passion
Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream
Czech Philharmonic perform Mahler