Restored and re-imagined Aberdeen Music Hall to open to the public in December

Published: 25 Oct 2018

Aberdeen’s historic and much-loved Music Hall will re-open its doors to the public on December 8 with a joyful day of Stepping In community celebrations featuring a special appearance from Travis frontman Fran Healy leading the Music Hall community choir in a performance of the iconic song Sing.

The doors will be opened to the public at 9.30am with free entry all day and a packed programme of performances and activities from local communities across the North-east who have been participating in the award winning Stepping Out programme during closure.

Jane Spiers, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts, the charity behind the Music Hall transformation said: “We’re so excited at the prospect of stepping back into the hall and welcoming everyone through the doors.  It’s been a labour of love and a complete privilege to play a part in the history of such a national treasure.  ‘Stepping In’ is a celebration of all that makes the Music Hall great – and most of all it’s a celebration of people and communities in the North-east.

“It’s been a hugely ambitious and complex project and what’s been achieved within total costs of £9m is incredible, thanks to a great team of committed professionals who believed in the project and have always gone the extra mile – our architects BDP, contractor Kier, project management Axiom and the amazing Aberdeen Performing Arts Team.”

Aberdeen Music Hall is a vital and much loved part of Scotland’s cultural infrastructure and Creative Scotland is delighted to have supported the refurbishment through National Lottery funding- Iain Munro, Creative Scotland

The ambitious project has seen the 200 year-old venue undergo extensive excavations below ground to create a new lower ground floor, freeing up space for a new performance studio, new creative learning studio, new café bar, restaurant and re-located box office.

The works have also included significant excavations and interventions to improve access from street to seat including new lifts and ramps to allow everyone, including people with restricted mobility, to access all levels from basement to balcony for the first time in the building’s history.  The entrance to the Music Hall has been transformed with a floor to ceiling video screen exhibiting digital art.

The Music Hall auditorium has been lovingly restored with new flooring, staging, seating, decoration.  Essential repair and maintenance work has included roofing, window, rewiring, replumbing, replastering and upgrades to heating, ventilation and backstage facilities.

Iain Munro, Acting Chief Executive, Creative Scotland, commented: “Aberdeen Music Hall is a vital and much loved part of Scotland’s cultural infrastructure and Creative Scotland is delighted to have supported the refurbishment through National Lottery funding.  Our revenue funding to Aberdeen Performing Arts will also help invigorate the new space with more diverse programming, youth activities and music education, and outreach hubs will attract fresh audiences and improve overall music provision for local artists and audiences.

“The revitalisation of the Music Hall comes at a time of step change in ambition for the cultural offer in the city.  Huge congratulations go to Jane Spiers, the APA Board, staff, City Council and all those involved for their energy, ambition and determination to ensure that the Music Hall continues to play a key role in placing the community and culture at the heart of the city centre regeneration.”

Councillor Jenny Laing, Council Co Leader, Aberdeen City Council said: “We were delighted to have invested £3 million in the redevelopment of the Music Hall as part our £1 billion transformation of the city’s infrastructure and it’s great to see our much-loved cultural landmark re-open its doors in its greatly improved form.

“The revamped Music Hall will join the redeveloped Art Gallery and the new £330m TECA complex in playing an integral part supporting the delivery of the city’s ambitious Aberdeen 365 event programme, a year round programme of world class events, festivals and performances which make the city a vibrant and exciting place to visit and experience.”

Celebrations continue on Sunday 9 December with guided tours of the Music Hall in the morning. There is a double celebration that evening as hundreds of local youngsters take to the stage in the 50th anniversary Evening Express Carol Concert.

The formal opening will take place the following weekend with two exclusive concerts in the magnificent surroundings of the newly transformed Music Hall. On Saturday, December 15th, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is joined by stellar classical pianist Alice Sara Ott, and internationally renowned conductor Alpesh Chauhan. The programme includes Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite, Greig’s beloved Piano Concerto, and Sibelius’ triumphant second symphony. And then on Sunday, December 16th, iconic Scottish band Texas will take to the stage led by charismatic singer Sharleen Spiteri performing some of their best-loved hits.

The re-opening performances conclude on Thursday 20 December with the much-loved festive celebration from Phil Cunningham’s Christmas Songbook featuring the legendary Scottish musician joined by singers Karen Matheson and Eddi Reader, and instrumentalists John McCusker, Kris Drever, Ian Carr, Kevin Macguire and a special guest brass band.

Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: Aberdeen Music Hall has delighted, educated and entertained audiences for decades. Its fascinating history is tightly interwoven with the social history and cultural traditions of Aberdeen.

“Thanks to players of The National Lottery, this well-loved treasure has been transformed. Its historic beauty shines through while providing a contemporary, cultural experience for visitors of all ages. I am delighted that it will again take its cultural place in the community bringing joy to all those who visit it.”

Craig Pike, Chair of Aberdeen Performing Arts said: “We are supremely grateful to all of our business partners, public sector partners and the many, many individuals who raised funds on our behalf, without whom we would never have made it to this point.  Without your generosity there would be no Music Hall transformation and no Stepping Out projects. I am also immeasurably proud of the commitment, dedication and hard work of the team at Aberdeen Performing Arts.”

The Music Hall will remain open throughout December before the first full season gets underway in January 2019.

Tickets for the four re-opening concerts go on sale at 9.30am on Friday 26 October, and are available in person at His Majesty’s Theatre or The Lemon Tree, by phone on 01224 641122, and online at They are the Evening Express Carol Concert on Sunday 9 December, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on Saturday 15 December, Texas on Sunday 16 December, Phil Cunningham’s Christmas Songbook on Thursday 20 December and the guided tours on Sunday 9 December at 10am, 11am and 12pm. Entry to the Stepping In events on Saturday, December 8 is free and tickets are not required.

Background: The Music Hall Transformation is spearheaded by local charity Aberdeen Performing Arts, which has operated the venue since the charity’s inception in 2005.  Aberdeen Performing led the fundraising campaign, the construction project and the community engagement programme during closure. The Music Hall is owned by Aberdeen City Council.

The Transformation: The Music Hall Transformation is an ambitious plan to upgrade the A-listed concert hall. It is an ingenious re-imagining of the space, and will offer smooth access from street to seat, with a new performance space, new creative learning studio, new café bar, new restaurant, new reception and box office, new meeting spaces – all within the existing footprint.

Stepping Out: The Music Hall ‘Stepping Out’ programme picked up the prestigious  ‘Making A Difference’ Award at the 2018 Northern Star Business Awards in September for outstanding contribution to community life. Stepping Out projects include Music Hall Babies, the Music Hall Young Ambassadors, Music Hall community choirs, Drake Music at Orchard Brae School, Scottish Opera Spinning Songs and Your Hall Your Story which has resulted in the creation of a new Music Hall archive.

Timescale: APA handed the keys over to contractor Kier in October 2016 after a series of closing events with contract competion anticipated in Autumn/ Winter 2018

Funding: APA has put £1.5million of its own charitable reserves into the pot. Other funders include:  Aberdeen City Council, Creative Scotland, Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Enterprise, The Robertson Trust, Historic Environment Scotland, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, The Maple Trust, The Wolfson Foundation, The Hugh Fraser Foundation, The Binks Trust, ASPC, Mackies, Knight Property Group, Aberdeen Inspired, Nexen, Apache, BP,  Aberdeen Standard, Craig Group International, Ryden, Tenaris, Stena Drilling, Optimus, Exceed, United Supplies, Kier Contractor and other generous benefactors who wish to remain anonymous.

Ambassadors: A host of supporters have signed up to support the cause to bring a world-class concert hall to the North-east. Aberdeen’s own, international superstar Emeli Sande is one such Ambassador, Dame Evelyn Glennie, the world’s first solo percussionist and world-class classical violinist and Nicola Benedetti have also pledged their support, along with local business and civic leaders and high profile performers and influencers, from Sir Alex Ferguson to Vladimir Ashkenazy, Billy Connolly to Bill Bailey and 3 poets laureate, Liz Lockhead, Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay.

History: In 1820, the foundation stone for what would become Aberdeen’s Music Hall was laid by renowned architect Archibald Simpson. The building was known as the Assembly Rooms – a meeting point for the great and good. Many years later, in 1858, architect James Matthew added an auditorium to the rear of the building, and it was opened as the Music Hall. The launch was marked with a speech from His Royal Highness, The Prince Consort, who spoke to a crowd of 2,500 people.

The Henry Willis Organ, a main feature of the auditorium and reputedly one of the best in Scotland, was played for the first time in 1859, with Willis himself at the keys.

In the decades that followed, the Music Hall gained a reputation as one of the country’s finest halls, famed for its clear acoustic. Over the years it welcomed acts such as Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Halle Orchestra, Billy Connolly and more recently, Emeli Sande. Winston Churchill, Clement Atlee and Mikael Gorbachov were all granted the Freedom of the City at the Music Hall, and it has been the stage for thousands of Aberdonians as they perform, graduate, and even get married! It is undeniably one of Aberdeen’s foremost cultural assets.

Since 2005, the venue has been run and operated by local arts charity, Aberdeen Performing Arts. It welcomes 300,000 visitors through its doors annually for performances, readings and celebrations. In 2016, APA closed the doors of the Music Hall for an extensive and much-needed renovation. The transformation is the most comprehensive work carried out in the building’s history. It demonstrates APA’s commitment to maintaining and protecting the heritage of this unique building – but the Music Hall is about more than bricks and mortar.

It is a national treasure with decades of wonderful history behind it, and its place at the heart of community and civic life is unassailable. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has a connection with Aberdeen who doesn’t have a story to tell about the Music Hall – a prize giving, graduation, great concert or school orchestra.