University unveils images for St Cecilia’s Hall

An artist's impression of how the interior of the revamped university museum will look. Picture: contributed
An artist's impression of how the interior of the revamped university museum will look. Picture: contributed
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WORK to create a “world-class museum of music” in the heart of the Old Town will begin within months.

Edinburgh University bosses said they were aiming to “break ground” in autumn next year and have unveiled new images of how the museum will look once the £6.3 million revamp of St Cecilia’s Hall in the Cowgate is complete.

The overhaul of the internationally significant collection of early keyboard and plucked string instruments – billed as the musical equivalent of London’s Globe Theatre – will involve the creation of a harpsichord-shaped entrance designed to draw visitors from the Royal Mile, a 40 per cent expansion of gallery space and improved acoustics.

A redesign of the building’s main concert hall to restore its original oval shape – allowing musicians to perform on a raised stage or surrounded by audiences – is also included.Jacky MacBeath, head of museums at Edinburgh ­University, said: “At the moment, it’s a building for people in the know. We want to change that completely.”

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 and citterns.

University museum leaders said the revamp would also boost outreach work.

“We’ve been working on a programme of activities – ­concerts, workshops, a rolling programme of exhibitions, with some curated by community groups,” said Ms MacBeath. “This building is in a part of the Cowgate that wouldn’t usually be regarded as the most attractive area of the city.

“We hope that this will help with its regeneration.”

Leaders at Canongate Youth Project said talks had taken place with university bosses about increasing the involvement of youngsters from deprived neighbourhoods in Dumbiedykes and St Leonards.

Vicki Ridley, youth project manager, said St Cecilia’s could become an Edinburgh version of the world-famous El ­Sistema music education system in Venezuela, which has set up youth orchestras and training programmes in some of the country’s poorest communities.

She said: “I welcome anything that’s new and ­different, and something that offers young people more choice, especially around music.”