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Chetham's School of Music unveil multi-million pound Stoller Hall

PUBLISHED: 13:09 25 February 2017

6th form string quartet students in The Stoller Hall at Chetham's School of Music

6th form string quartet students in The Stoller Hall at Chetham's School of Music

Archant

The Stoller is a superb new concert hall for Chet's students to perform in and a venue for established artists too, writes Robert Beale.

The Stoller Hall at Chetham's School of MusicThe Stoller Hall at Chetham's School of Music

When Chetham’s School of Music opened its new £36m, six-storey home in Manchester in 2012, just one part of its original dream was missing. Inside, on the left of the public entrance to the building in Hunts Bank, opposite Victoria Station, there was a sealed-off, gaping chasm.

This was the four-level space reserved for a 480-seat, state-of-the-art concert hall – which would not only befit the largest specialist music school in the country but also provide a new mid-size auditorium in central Manchester.

Now the dream is complete. The Stoller Hall – named after its chief benefactor, Sir Norman Stoller – is about to open its doors to the public.

Sir Norman is an Oldham-born businessman and philanthropist who has donated to a variety of causes in the North West of England for more than 40 years.

Richard Hartwell, general manager of The Stoller Hall. Photo by Sara PorterRichard Hartwell, general manager of The Stoller Hall. Photo by Sara Porter

General manager of the new hall, Richard Hartwell, said: ‘He contacted us out of the blue early in 2015, when the school was geared up for a decade of grafting to raise the money to complete the hall. We told him how much was needed, he gave us the money – and work began.

‘Arup UK were in charge of the acoustic design, working with Stephenson STUDIO, the architects of the original building.’

The hall is opulently furnished, with 480 square metres of wood panelling, and its 482 seats are on two levels. The front four rows are movable, allowing them to be lowered beneath the auditorium so that the stage can be extended from 8 to 12 metres depth.

There are 17 electronically-operated acoustic banners and an acoustic curtain, plus an adaptable baffle at the rear of the stage, allowing the acoustics of the hall to be adjusted for any performance purpose. Theatre equipment includes 45 stage lights, with 25,000 metres of cabling. The hall incorporates a 31-tonne steel frame and 588 tonnes of concrete floor, and has its own £130,000 Steinway Model D grand piano. It’s hoped that all 302 Chetham’s students will be able to perform there in its first year of operation, but it will also have a full programme of public events from professional performers, adding to Manchester city centre’s cultural kaleidoscope.

6th form string quartet students rehearse in The Stoller Hall at Chetham's School of Music6th form string quartet students rehearse in The Stoller Hall at Chetham's School of Music

‘The total project cost has been £8.7m,’ says Richard Hartwell. ‘The Garfield Weston Foundation gave a donation of £750,000, and almost all the rest has come from Sir Norman Stoller.

‘The vision we have is for this to be a world-class venue for both performance and learning. There’s no other hall in the area like it: the Bridgewater Hall may be similar in acoustic design and technical facilities, but of course it’s five times larger.

‘The hall also gives students new opportunities to develop their abilities. Our previous large performance space, the Whiteley Hall, was like any other school hall: putting a symphony orchestra in there was not a perfect experience.

‘Another educational benefit is in having visiting artists to come and perform here, in a way that they weren’t able to before. They’ll come to perform and then stay to teach.

‘The Northern Chamber Orchestra and Manchester Camerata both want to be involved, though we have no official residencies by ensembles yet, but I very much hope to see that. Gwilym Simcock is our artist-in-residence for the opening season, and he’ll be working with our big band, as he has in the past.

‘We’re trying to give the hall its own identity: yes, it’s part of Chet’s, but it’s a public venue as well. There will be some people who just want to come to a concert here and go home again – but others will be enthused by the school and will want to get involved. Audience development is a massive part of our strategy: it’s crucial to the business plan.’

Some highlights of STOLLER HALL’S OPENING SEASON

The first public event in The Stoller Hall will be a free one: Radio 3’s In Tune will broadcast live from the hall at 4.30pm on Friday 21st April, with music, interviews and conversation (tickets available from the BBC).

This kick-starts the opening weekend, with a concert by Gwilym Simcock, Thomas Gould and Mike Walker following at 8pm. At 11.15am on Saturday 22nd April, composer Michael Betteridge directs young musicians from across Greater Manchester in a piece written for the occasion called From the Ground Up, and at 3.30pm the Navarra String Quartet perform, continuing (alongside their Schubert and Beethoven) a Chetham’s cycle of all the Shostakovich quartets.

The official Opening Celebration Concert is on Sunday 23rd April at 4pm, when Stephen Threlfall conducts Chetham’s students with alumni soloists Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano and daughter of actor Kevin Whately) and pianist Paul Lewis, and then Sir Mark Elder conducts an orchestra of Chetham’s alumni, staff and friends.

On 8th May Manchester Camerata and Chetham’s join forces for an exploration of the music and culture of the tragic Terezín concentration camp, with a focus on the incomplete Nonet of Rudolf Karel.

On 12th and 13th May film composer and accompanist Neil Brand for a masterclass, discovery afternoon for children, and a showing of the 1927 silent film Beggars of Life plus late-night concert featuring music from The Dodge Brothers (with film critic Mark Kermode on bass guitar, harmonica and vocals).

Full and further details on stollerhall.com/whats-on

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