Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall: it was all in the name.

I went up to Manchester last week for a concert at the impressively modern Bridgewater Hall. I haven’t been back to the city for years but I lived there for a long time and my work meant that I got involved in the place’s musical culture, from native bands like The Stone Roses and Oasis to the Hallé
Orchestra. One of the quirkier moments of my career occurred whilst I was taking a documentary film-maker’s interest in the creation of a brand new concert hall to replace the historic but inadequate Free Trade Hall. I followed the build right from the beginning, at the drawings stage and often went round in a yellow hard hat to see the work in progress. Then, surprizingly, I was asked to sit on the “naming committee” for the new building.

I forget exactly who else was there, some people from the local orchestras, the Hallé and the BBC Philharmonic, representatives from the town hall and from the Royal Northern College of Music. Then there were the television guys, me and the well-known Manchester rock music impresario, television presenter and cultural icon, my old friend, the late Tony Wilson.

It was an energetic debate with a number of names hitting the ground early on before we settled for a shortlist of two – The Bridgewater Hall and The Barbirolli Hall. Tony, of course, was full of enthusiasm for Barbirolli, the great conductor, Sir John Barbirolli, who made the Hallé Orchestra world famous. I too supported the Barbirolli name having sung under his baton once as a student tenor in a performance of the Verdi Requiem, an evening that I shall never forget. We both, I suspect, revelaed our populist bias wanting to give it the name of one of the very few classical musicians that everyone would have heard of.

As you can tell, we lost the vote to wiser voices, well, I guess they were, who didn’t want the venue to be too associated with just one organisation, the Hallé . So the Bridgewater Hall it was to be, and it is a fine name and a fine thing to be named after the murkily romantic Bridgewater Canal that runs along behind it.

Whatever it is called, it is a great building with a splendid acoustic and I was proud to have been associated with it and very happy to visit it again last Thursday the first time since what was, I think, the opening concert some years ago when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim played Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

I was there for the exciting Danish violinist Nicolaj Zneider playing one of my favourite concertos, the Elgar, with an inspired Hallé Orchestra under their inspiring new conductor Mark Elder.

I was staying, in this now almost totally modern section of Manchester’s city centre, in a hotel immediately behind the hall. it was almost a concrete jungle but, nestled there was a throw back to another century, well the century before last in fact, and, I have to admit, an old haunt from my youthful days in the city.

The Briton’s Protection was always a “real” pub even when it sat in a rather down-at-heel but now demolished section of the city. It was only right that I should go back there after the concert for a pint of Manchester’s very own Boddingtons bitter and some animated conversation with some of the members of the orchestra after a thrilling evening of music. Some things never change. We even drank a toast to Tony Wilson and Sir John Barbirolli, great men both.

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