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Eight reasons to love the controversial new Birmingham Conservatoire

After a raft of criticism for new plans, the dean overseeing the new Birmingham Conservatoire spells out why it is a step forward

New plans for the Birmingham Conservatoire have come in for yet more criticism , prompting owner Birmingham City University to respond. Here, dean of faculty David Roberts gives eight reasons to love the new building

Soon after the opening of the new Library of Birmingham, I overheard this conversation in Brindleyplace:

“What you think of that new library then?”

Shrug.

Sniff.

“I was bit underwhelmed, really.”

I was reminded of that exchange when I read some of the comments on the design of the new Birmingham Conservatoire. As Malala Yousafzai said of the library, it’s what happens on the inside that counts.

Look at Symphony Hall. We’re proud of it not for what it looks like, but how it works and – especially – how it sounds. It’s the equal of any concert hall on the planet.

So, here are eight reasons why the new Birmingham Conservatoire is, from the inside out, such a huge improvement on anything the city has had before:

1. It will have twice the number of performance spaces as the current building. As well as replacements for the Adrian Boult Hall and the Recital Hall, there will be a specialist jazz venue: the first in Birmingham since Ronnie Scott’s closed on Broad Street. Then there’s the experimental performance space, a black box that will take small-scale live action, music and media. This will support the brilliant work being done by our composition department, which has won recent accolades for its staff and students in BBC Music Magazine and The Sunday Times.

2. The new concert halls will have a much higher degree of acoustic treatment, to help coax the best sounds from our young musicians.

3. The corridor acoustics will be far better too. It’s nice to visit the current Conservatoire and hear a trombone booming from one room and a piano sounding heights of rapture from another, but not if you’re trying to practise the harp between the two.

4. There will be a much bigger live room for recording, to take larger ensembles.

5. The recording studios will be of a much higher specification. We’ve been advised on these by one the country’s leading experts.

6. There are more private practice rooms. That may not mean a lot to some readers, but it’s vital for students.

7. A specialist suite of chamber music rooms will be double-height for improved acoustics. Our strings provision is flourishing, with world-renowned Professors of Violin, Viola and Cello. Recently we hosted an International Viola Competition which drew contestants from across the world.

8. The whole building will be fully digitised and linked to the University’s spectacular suite of Media facilities, creating the technological environment students need for 21st century music education and enterprise. No other UK conservatoire, Royal or not, will have such advantages.

This building will be the pride of the city. Visit the new Birmingham Conservatoire when it opens in 2017 and feel the warmth of its embrace. No sniffs and shrugs: no one should be the least bit underwhelmed.

David Roberts is dean of faculty at Birmingham City University

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