Usher Hall

Practice at the Usher Hall
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Practice at the Usher Hall

Located on Lothian Road in west-central Edinburgh, the Usher Hall remains the city's principal concert venue. The gift of whisky blender Andrew Usher (1826-98), who gave £100,000 for its construction in 1896, the baroque Usher Hall was built by J. Stockdale Harrison of Leicester and is now A-listed. The foundation stone was laid by King George V and Queen Mary in 1911 and the hall opened in 1914. On a triangular site between Gindlay Street and Cambridge Street, the building is round, with an ashlar frontage and low copper domed roof. The front is decorated with sculptures by W. Birnie Rhind, Crosland McLure and H.S. Gamley.

Today the hall is managed by the City of Edinburgh Council and has a seating capacity of 2200 or 2900 including a standing audience. The auditorium has superb acoustics and is one of the main venues used by the Edinburgh International Festival. Over the years it has hosted many notable performers, such as Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Elton John and Diana Ross. It has attracted some of the world's top orchestras and is the Edinburgh base of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The hall was the venue for the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Moira Shearer (1926 - 2006). It was also where Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) was awarded the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh in 1947. The hall is also regularly used by the Open University, Edinburgh Napier University, Queen Margaret University and Edinburgh College for graduations. It was also used in the past by Heriot Watt University and between 2015-16 by the University of Edinburgh, while the McEwan Hall was refurbished.

An extensive £9.75 million refurbishment in 2000 has introduced modern services and removable seating in the stalls. The following year the hall was the venue for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland because the Scottish Parliament was temporarily resident in the Church's Assembly Hall. A second phase of refurbishment (2007-10) cost £25 million and brought an education space and new backstage facilities, together with a controversial glass-fronted wing containing a café-bar, re-sited box office, hospitality spaces and extended office accommodation. A final phase of works created a pedestrianised area in front of the hall as a cost of £3.95 million.

The splendid organ was installed prior to the opening of the hall, constructed by Norman & Beard of London with a fine locally-built Spanish mahogany case. A three-year restoration was completed in 2003 in time for an inaugural recital by Dame Gillian Weir.

Immediately behind, on Grindlay Street, is the Royal Lyceum Theatre and also behind, on Cambridge Street, is the Traverse Theatre.

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