World-renowned museum and concert venue wins £76,500 redevelopment funding

Museum curator Darryl Martin with a lute
Museum curator Darryl Martin with a lute
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A DRIVE to transform a flagship music institution has hit the right note – after lottery chiefs supported an application for nearly 
£1 million in grant funding.

A £6.5m revamp of St Cecilia’s Hall – home to an internationally significant collection of early keyboard and plucked string musical instruments – would “future-proof” the institution for decades and turn it into a leading international centre for display, performance and teaching.

Confirmation the project has won £76,500 in first-round Heritage Lottery funding as part of a wider £900,000 application was today hailed by collection owner Edinburgh University.

John Scally, the university’s director of library and collections, said: “The St Cecilia’s Hall Redevelopment will restore and transform this unique building and make its internationally recognised collection available to the wider public from Scotland and beyond.”

Built in 1763 and named after the patron saint of music, St Cecilia’s is the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland and the third-oldest in the world.Among its rare instruments are harpsichords, virginals, spinets, organs and fortepianos – some around 400 years old – as well as harps, lutes, citterns and guitars.

Mr Scally also said the work would involve merging the St Cecilia’s collection with its Reid Hall counterpart to create a major new Cowgate “destination”.

He described the project as the music equivalent of “the Globe Theatre in London”, and said: “It will future-proof the hall for the next 200 years and should be seen in the context of the rich cultural offering you would expect from a busy world capital. That offering is possible because we make space for and cherish the smaller institutions, and it’s that which gives Edinburgh the range which attracts so many people to the city.”

Among the many proposed features is a unique metallic gate, shaped like a harpsichord, which will be visible from the High Street and will help guide visitors to the main entrance.

As well as improved acoustics and sound-proofing, the plans would see the main concert hall redesigned to take it back to its original oval shape – allowing musicians to perform on a raised stage or surrounded by audiences.

Mr Scally said a 40 per cent expansion of gallery and exhibition space would enable museum bosses to display important objects from later periods, such as instruments made by saxophone inventor Adolphe Sax.

“This will be a place for the specialist and the generalist,” he said.

“It’s not just about instruments from centuries ago – we also want to get famous rock guitars as well. I’d love to see a Ritchie Blackmore guitar in there, for example.

“We want St Cecilia’s to offer a special, once-in-a-lifetime experience to all who visit it.”

Lottery chiefs said they were “delighted” to be able to support the project.

Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in Scotland, said: “The University of Edinburgh’s collection of musical instruments is regarded as one of the finest in the world.

“St Cecilia’s Hall will have new life breathed into it as people explore the music that Scots have made over the centuries, while its new modern gallery will ensure the collection is kept safe for future generations.”