Performers, composers, festival organisers and academics are throwing their weight behind the planned relocation of St Mary’s Music School into the Calton Hill landmark, which would also become home to a new concert venue.
World-leading percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Queen’s former composer, and Simon Frith, chair of the Mercury Prize judges, are among the big-name backers.
Other supporters include Richard Hillier, the headmaster of Yehudi Menuhin’s world-famous music school, where both Nicola Benedetti and Nigel Kennedy were taught, and Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Their backing has emerged just weeks after councillors threw out hugely controversial plans to turn the former Royal High School into a £75 million hotel targeting the world’s “elite” travellers.
A rival bid to take over the A-listed 19th century landmark emerged last spring when it was announced that American arts philanthropist Carol Grigor had offered to bankroll the new home for the music school.
A new trust formed to pursue the scheme later offered £1.5m to buy the building from Edinburgh City Council, which had agreed a lease with a developer for a proposed hotel development in 2010, subject to the firm securing planning permission.
The series of endorsements have been revealed just weeks after it emerged that Fergus Linehan, the director of the Edinburgh International Festival, had objected to the hotel scheme, branding it “kitsch and gimmicky”.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who was Master of Queen’s Music from 2004-14 and also founded the St Magnus Festival in Orkney, said: “The proposed development of this iconic building would celebrate the many achievements of St Mary’s Music School and its pupils and would blaze abroad Edinburgh’s commitment to Scotland’s young musicians and the country’s vibrant culture.”
Mr Frith, who has chaired the Mercury Prize since it was launched in 1992 and is also a professor of music at Edinburgh University, said: “This is a wonderful opportunity for the school and would make a major contribution to the musical life of Edinburgh and Scotland. It would also enhance the city’s architectural heritage. This is too good an opportunity to miss.”
In his message of support, Mr Hillier told St Mary’s: “We strongly support your exciting plans for Calton Hill – a fitting site for one of the jewels in Edinburgh’s cultural crown.”
Dame Evelyn, a triple Grammy winner who performed at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, tweeted: “Hugely excited by @stmarys_music plans at former Royal High School site. Massive opportunity for music and the arts in Scotland.”