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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
Festival Hall hits 50
Royal Festival Hall
The Royal Festival Hall: Then and now
London's Royal Festival Hall celebrates 50 years since its inaugural concert on Thursday with a royal gala attended by HRH The Prince of Wales.

The concert opens with the premiere of a fanfare by Sir Harrison Birtwhistle, commissioned as a birthday gift to the Hall by the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Valery Gergiev then conducts the resident Philharmonia Orchestra with soloists including soprano Angela Gheorgiou, baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and pianist Murray Perahia.

And a weekend of music follows which celebrates the diversity of modern music as well as Britain's classical tradition.

Royal Festival Hall
Completed 1951
Building took 20 months
Size 3,000 seats
10,000 performers have played there
By contrast the opening concert on 3 May, 1951, was an all-British affair, including works by Elgar, Purcell, Arne and Vaughan Williams.

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


The Royal Festival Hall was the first major building completed in Britain after World War II.

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 20 months - despite great shortages of building materials - and cost 2m.

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

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 2001 celebrations continue on Friday when Elvis Costello, Nick Cave and David Thomas play live in Total Meltdown, a celebration of the hall's Meltdown series, one of Britain's foremost contemporary music events.

Peter Maxwell Davies
Maxwell Davies visited Antarctica for inspiration

Composer Peter Maxwell Davies will conduct the premiere of his new Antarctica Symphony on Sunday.

He has said that the symphony, his eighth, will be his last.

It was commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra as a sequel to Ralph Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antarctica.

Last symphony

Maxwell Davies actually travelled to Antarctica as a guest of the British Antarctic Survey to research the work.

The link with Ralph Vaughan Williams also represents a link to the Festival Hall's first concert, which also featured the composer's work.

The building's birthday celebrations also 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.

This year will also see a major fund-raising campaign and work on the entrances, public spaces and acoustics of the hall.

Opening of the Royal Festival Hall in 1951
Description of the foyer by the BBC's Wynford Vaughan Thomas
King George VI unveils a commemorative plaque
Commentary by the BBC's Wynford Vaughan Thomas
Dedication by the Archbishop of Canterbury
"This hall dedicated to music, should be first dedicated to God"
Robert Mathew and William Allen
The Royal Festival Hall's architect and consultant discuss the building's design
See also:

17 Feb 00 | UK
New look for South Bank
15 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Albert Hall opens daytime doors
03 May 01 | New Media
Festival of Britain to go online
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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