Aberdeen’s Music Hall has been at the heart of the city’s cultural community for nearly 200 years. So when the cherished venue re-opened its doors after a two-year, £9 million refurbishment in December 2018, thousands passed through the hall’s impressive neo-classical pillars to see what had changed.
The category A listed Music Hall retains much of the character you would expect in one of Scotland's oldest and most historic concert halls, but so much more has been added. Alongside the historic main hall with its soaring organ pipes, natural light floods the new, modern bar and café after windows that had been part of the original design were uncovered. The giant statue of a youthful Queen Victoria remains in an alcove behind a vast floor-to-ceiling digital screen that bathes the Music Hall entrance with a dazzle of colour and light.
Lynn Hackett, customer services manager for the venue’s owner, Aberdeen Performing Arts (APA) started working at the venue 15 years ago.
“I remember the last concert before we closed,” she said. “I think I was the second last person to leave the building that night knowing I wasn’t going to be back in for two and a half years and it was going to look very different.”
She loved what she saw when the Music Hall reopened. In addition to the new, smaller performance and function rooms that widen the hall’s uses, her favourite new part is the change made to the front of the building that increase its accessibility to all. Ingeniously, the 19th Century marble staircase was cut through to retract and make way for a lift to the main floor.
“Of course, everyone can come in through the front door. But before we re-opened, the stone steps at the front of the building then the marble staircase at the entrance were inaccessible for a huge number of people. Now there’s the ramp at the front and the marble staircase retracts and turns into a lift. It has a wow factor and is accessible to everyone.”
She says she loves the variety of activity that happens at the Music Hall. “You can have an orchestra one night and Primal Scream on stage the next. Then a kids’ show or a community three-course gala dinner. That is what has kept me here for 15 years, the variety – you are constantly evolving and finding new ways to welcome people in.”
But what she missed most was an orchestra. Not just the full ensemble of brass, percussion, strings and woodwinds, but the sound of the audience reaction afterwards, amplified by the concert hall’s renowned acoustic properties.
“The full orchestra is what the Music Hall was originally created for,” said Lynn. “My favourite sound ever is at the end, when an orchestral audience stamp their feet as well as clap their hands. Because of the natural acoustic we have, it is such a big sound. That point of the night is just great.”
The ‘Stepping In’ event, which officially opened the refurbished venue, was a massive hit. Around 11,000 came through the door on a Saturday in December 2018 and the wonder is still being felt.
“We got such a great reaction from everybody as they came through the building,” she recalls. “I would say we are still in that period where we get to show people around. That is one of the bits I really enjoy, talking about the Music Hall and the changes we made. People really love it.”