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Monday, 26 March, 2001, 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK
Concert halls' capital celebrations
Royal Festival Hall
The Royal Festival Hall: then and now
Two of the world's major concert venues are celebrating anniversaries this week.

On Monday, London's Royal Festival Hall announces its 50th birthday programme, which will be marked by a Gala Concert on 3 May followed by a weekend of music of all kinds.

London's Albert Hall is also celebrating - it will be 130 years old on 29 March.

The Albert Hall, conceived by Prince Albert, the Prince Consort after the Great Exhibition of 1851, is undergoing a major development project to improve its acoustics, audience comfort and exterior views.

Festival

The Royal Festival Hall is at the centre of the South Bank arts complex and was the first major building completed in Britain after the Second World War.

Royal Festival Hall
Completed 1951
Building took 20 months
Size 3,000 seats

It is the only lasting monument to the 1951 Festival of Britain and was the first post-war British building to be listed for preservation.

The construction was completed in twenty months - despite great shortages of building materials - and cost 2m.

British

Under the foundation stone, laid in 1949 by then Prime Minister Clement Attlee, are buried contemporary coins, a copy of the day's Times, and the full score of Benjamin Britten's music for the wedding of Lord and Lady Harewood.

The opening concert on 3 May 1951 was a programme of British music including works by Elgar, Purcell, Arne and Vaughan Williams.

The orchestra was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Malcolm Sargent.

SBC flag
The hall is part of the South Bank arts complex

The building's birthday celebrations will include huge photographs of the building then and now, a list of the 10,000 performers who have played at the hall, and an exhibition of the experience of attending an arts event.

The hall's birthday Gala concert will feature the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev with soloists including Angela Gheorgiou, Murray Perahia and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

In the following days there will be South African music, an organ recital, gamelan and a performance of the 1950s musical Guys And Dolls.

This year will see work on the entrances and public spaces of the hall to improve access and work on the hall's acoustics.

Prince Albert

The Royal Albert Hall was opened 29th March 1871, in the presence of Queen Victoria.

Royal Albert Hall
The Albert Hall has a unique shape

The project had been initiated by her consort Prince Albert, following the enormous success of the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in Hyde Park.

Captain Francis Fowke and General Henry Scott of the Royal Engineers designed and built the unique, elliptically-shaped hall using surplus funds from the Great Exhibition and money raised by the sale of 1,300 "permanent" seats.

Flying saucers

One feature of the near-circular design was a unique and lengthy reverberation time which proved troublesome to performers and speakers alike.

Various remedies over the years culminated in the famous "flying saucers" hung from the ceiling in 1969.

Royal Albert Hall
Completed 1871
Building took four years
Size 5,300 seats

Now acoustics specialists are reassessing the hall, and work to be completed in December 2001 should not only improve acoustics further but improve views of the restored ceiling cornices and decorative scrolls.

Proms

The Albert Hall is one of the country's best-loved venues, playing host to opera and ballet, tennis, rock, pop, schools concerts and massed choirs.

It is also the home of the world's biggest music festival, the BBC Proms.

Founded in 1895, consisting of more than 70 concerts over an eight-week period from mid-July to mid-September each year, the Proms have been run by the BBC since 1927, moving to the Royal Albert Hall in 1941 after Queen's Hall was destroyed in an air raid.

Another much smaller London venue, the Wigmore Hall, is also celebrating this year - it will be 100 on 31 May.

See also:

17 Feb 00 | UK
New look for South Bank
15 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Albert Hall opens daytime doors
17 Feb 98 | Sci/Tech
Water music at Albert Hall
26 Feb 01 | Entertainment
When Albert met Aida
21 Jul 99 | Entertainment
Festival Hall set for revamp
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