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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 17:25 GMT
Royal orchestra offered church home
Vladimir Ashkenazy
Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts the Royal Philharmonic
London's Royal Philharmonic orchestra has been offered a permanent home - in a former church in the west of the city.

The RPO will be the only London orchestra with a settled base thanks to Cadogan Estates - one of the capital's biggest landlords - with which it has a creative partnership.

The orchestra has had a nomadic existence since it was established in 1946 by Sir Thomas Beecham.

Cadogan Estates proposes to convert the former 1,400-seat First Church of Christ Scientist, near Sloane Square, into an arts centre, combining a concert hall and art exhibition space.

Sir Thomas Beecham
Sir Thomas Beecham founded the RPO

It bought the building from Harrods owner Mohammed al-Fayed in 2000 after Mr al-Fayed was granted planning permission to convert the huge building into a private house.

Cadogan also sponsors the RPO to participate in the Holland Park Opera Festival in a deal that is worth 750,000 over three years.

Planning permission from Kensington and Chelsea council is still awaited for the project.

The RPO hopes to be able to move into its new premises after the summer of 2003, following the completion of necessary building works.

The stage will have to be enlarged to accommodate an orchestra, and the seating in the hall brought up to modern standards.

'Spectacular'

Religious worship last took place in the church in the late 1970s, but it has stood empty since 1996.

Cadogan's chief executive, Stuart Corbyn, described the building as "quite spectacular".

"We just thought it would be terrible to waste it," he said.

For its part, the RPO welcomed Cadogan's invitation and vowed to involve itself with the local community.

Ian Maclay, the orchestra's managing director, said: "To actually have a base of our own will be quite a massive step forward.

Byzantine

"I kept thinking there must be a catch to it - but there isn't."

At last, the RPO's administrative and musical functions could be brought together under one roof, he said.

The former First Church of Christ Scientist is a Grade II-listed building, made of Portland Stone and designed in the Byzantine style by Robert Chisholm.

Cadogan said the building work would involve very little structural alteration, and that the auditorium is already a huge space that is angled towards the stage in the fashion of most concert halls.

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