An ‘Extraordinary Venue’ Turns 150: Royal Albert Hall Unveils Anniversary Program

The Royal Albert Hall's auditorium.
J Collingridge
– The Royal Albert Hall’s auditorium.
Neil Warnock, global head of touring at UTA, told Pollstar, “I don’t think there’s another auditorium in the whole world that is like the Albert Hall.”

London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall has unveiled the initial program for the upcoming 150th anniversary celebrations. Pollstar spoke to the program’s curator Neil Warnock, UTA’s global head of touring.
The celebrations will begin on March 29, 2021, exactly 150 years since the building opened its doors, and continue into 2022. 
Looking forward to a year of celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall in 2021
Gideon Gottfried
– Looking forward to a year of celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall in 2021
From left: Craig Hassall, chief executive, Lucy Noble, artistic and commercial director, and Neil Warnock.

Government mandates in reaction to COVID caused the Royal Albert Hall to close its doors for the first time since the second world war. During 

Yesterday’s press conference, Dec. 3, the venue’s chief executive, Craig Hassall expressed his determination to not let that interfere with the Hall’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
“Since its opening, this extraordinary venue has borne witness to, and played a central part in, seismic cultural and social change. The interests, manners and social mores of the people may have changed, but this beautiful building and what it represents remains the same a century-and-a-half later: a meeting place, a reflection of contemporary Britain, and a home for exhilarating live performance and events of international significance,” he commented.
Hassall thanked “the whole creative industry, our dedicated staff and all of the artists involved for their support in announcing this programme today.”
Neil Warnock, global head of touring for UTA, is chairing the Hall’s anniversary committee. His first show as an agent representing his own act at the prestigious building was Deep Purple and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Sept. 24, 1969.
He’s lost count of how many times he’s been back since, either with one of his artists or as a fan.
Ella Fitzgerald.
– Ella Fitzgerald.
With the Count Basie Orchestra, in aid of The Prince’s Trust and The British Deaf Association. 7 March 1990.

“Looking back over 50 years, 600 times, easily,” he estimated, “I’m a very frequent visitor. Let alone coming in as a punter and being here for other shows. There’s so many wonderful artists that play here, and I just want to see them in this setup, under these circumstances only the Royal Albert Hall offers.”

Pollstar wanted to know whether Warnock, who has been touring the world extensively, has ever encountered a venue that was run in a similar way, or was comparable in terms of heritage and overall prestige.
“I suppose Radio City Music Hall in New York has got that feel, although that’s 6,500, a bit bigger in its overall structure. And the Lincoln Center in New York, I guess,” he answered, adding, “But neither one of them have got the connectivity that’s in the Albert Hall, because of its shape. The intimacy between the stage and the audience is so prevalent, such a big part of the occasion. 
“I don’t think there’s another auditorium in the whole world that is like the Albert Hall.”
The Royal Albert Hall receives no government funding whatsoever. It is funded by private individuals and entrepreneurs, who bought boxes and individual seats when the Hall was in financial straits in its early days (a fascinating story in itself). A lot of those seats and boxes are still owned by the same families who bought them 150 years ago. 
Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches.
Christie Goodwin
– Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches.
The band headlined an Albert Sessions concert at the Royal Albert Hall, March 31, 2016.

What also makes the Royal Albert Hall unique, according to Warnock, “is that this Hall is a registered charity, and yet they help other charities. It’s just a wonderful unique setup, how much they do for the local community here, within the three boroughs that they straddle.

“Whether it’s the Teenage Cancer Trust or Nordoff Robbins, or indeed other charities that are allowed to have the facilities of the Hall.”
The Royal Albert Hall announced the plans for its 150th anniversary almost exactly a year ago. Since then, “it’s been a great outreaching of love, up until we hit the early part of March. The conversations I was having with so many different artists from so many different walks of life, so much diversity, it’s so exciting. Everything we were talking about, the reactions we were getting, were 100% positive to everything we wanted to do,” Warnock recalls.
“What’s happened, of course, is that the pandemic has just thrown everything into a huge mixing machine. It has messed with everybody’s date sheets and lives, and we’re still not in a position of settlement,” he continued.
Dame Shirley Bassey and Gary Barlow performing at BBC Children in Need Rocks.
Andy Paradise
– Dame Shirley Bassey and Gary Barlow performing at BBC Children in Need Rocks.
The concert took place Nov. 12, 2009.

The unprecedented circumstances have “delayed a number of our announcements, but haven’t dimmed the enthusiasm of people who want to be here. It’s just a matter of finding dates,” said Warnock, who has no qualms admitting that, despite the positivity surrounding the celebrations, the current situation is a nightmare. 

“It’s been a nightmare not just here. It’s not just about the Albert Hall, it’s about the whole of our industry worldwide, of every concert hall, arena, festival, club and everything for the artist and the people who want to come to shows – it just has been absolutely dreadful, as we know,” he said. 
Warnock has been touring for more than 50 years. And even though he’s seen and done it all, he hasn’t met a challenge that came close to the one this industry is currently facing.
“We’ve lived through times where one nation goes into an economic slump, or there’s riots, or act of god problems in another country. That’s sort of local, meaning you can’t tour in that location. Now, we have a pandemic that’s absolutely worldwide, closed borders, closed federal states, we are working with multiple problems affecting the whole world. I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole 52, 53 years of doing it.”
Lianne La Havas.
Andy Paradise
– Lianne La Havas.
Performs at the Royal Albert Hall in her Albert Sessions concert. 14 March 2016.

During the press conference, Warnock paid tribute to all the artist that supported the Hall’s plans even in these uncertain times. “Their generosity is incredible, their creativity in the face of the pandemic is incredible. They are incredible, which is why I love the business I’ve been in all my life, and why the Royal Albert Hall, which has hosted so many music legends, is so very close to my heart.”

The Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary celebrations kick off with a special birthday concert, March 29, 2021. David Arnold, multi-award-winning composer of scores for Sherlock and five Bond films, has led a team of musicians on a year-long collaboration with hundreds of local schoolchildren, community members and the Chelsea Pensioners. 
The result is A Circle of Sound, a multi-media extravaganza intended to evoke “the spirit and history of the Hall,” according to the program announcement, which continues, “The 10-movement work will be performed by a full orchestra, joined by singers from the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, and a cavalcade of guest stars from the worlds of stage and screen.”
Other select program highlights include: 
– “Multi award-winning composer and musician, Nitin Sawhney, will curate Journeys – 150 Years of Immigration, a week-long festival celebrating the lives and contributions of immigrants over the last 150 years. The season will include a headline show featuring a new piece by Sawhney: a specially-commissioned oratorio for strings and choir. (29 September–6 October 2021)
– “The UK’s most popular contemporary choreographer, Matthew Bourne, returns to the Royal Albert Hall to create a spectacular new staging of The Car Man, his acclaimed take on Bizet’s smouldering opera, Carmen. (17–27 June)
– “Headline shows from musical icons and major contemporary artists across the anniversary season will include Patti Smith, Jon Hopkins, Gregory Porter, Tinie, Brian Wilson, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel and Alfie Boe. Alt-folk act This Is the Kit will perform in the ongoing Albert Sessions series, and run a workshop for local teenagers.
B&W photograph of the Royal Albert Hall.
Royal Albert Hall
– B&W photograph of the Royal Albert Hall.
Aerial view from Kensington Gardens, taken in 1955, showing the Albert Memorial.

– “For International Women’s Day, the Hall will host the world-renowned WOW – Women of the World Festival. This special headline show will also be streamed online, as Jude Kelly presents an evening of performance featuring a whole host of artists and speakers. (8 March 2021)

– “Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall will lead a new mentorship programme for young female artists.
– “Nile Rodgers will compose a pop anthem for the anniversary, with a full orchestra and singers from across the community.
“Oscar-winning composer, Michael Giacchino (Up, Rogue One), will create a new piece for the Hall’s famous Henry Willis Organ. It will be premiered at a special concert celebrating the organ, which was the biggest instrument in the world when it was played at the opening ceremony in 1871. It has since been immortalised on a Frank Zappa live record, heard on the soundtracks to the films Tron and Rollerball, and played by a host of classical and rock legends, including Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright.
– “The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hall’s associate orchestra, will present a series of celebratory concerts marking both the venue’s milestone and its own 75th anniversary. 
– “The Band of the Royal Marines will perform a new 14-piece chromatic fanfare as part of the Mountbatten Festival of Music, which in 2021 will be a virtual event recorded at the Hall. Competitors in the annual Brass Band Championships – held at the venue since 1945 and immortalised in the film, Brassed Off – will face off with an anniversary-themed piece. And a special edition of the Women’s Institute’s annual meeting at the Hall will welcome some notable surprise guests.”