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UK’s Royal Academy of Music renovated with £30m in donations

UK’s Royal Academy of Music renovated with £30m in donations

UK’s Royal Academy of Music renovated with £30m in donations
March 11
20:13 2018

The Royal Academy of Music will on Monday announce that philanthropists have donated almost £30m to the world-class conservatoire, enabling it to renovate its historic building in central London without any public funding.

The academy has completed a three-year project to overhaul its Marylebone Road home, which has involved gutting the Edwardian building.

The main theatre has been reshaped, increasing its capacity by 40 per cent to seat an audience of 300 people, and a new rooftop recital hall and recording studio have been added.

Following a public opening of the renovated building on Monday, people will be able to attend performances by some of the world’s most talented young musicians at a centre of excellence whose alumni include the conductor Sir Simon Rattle and pop star Sir Elton John.

The academy, founded in 1822, trains about 800 students from more than 50 countries in more than 20 musical disciplines.

Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, the academy’s principal, said that following the renovation project, the institution would now be able to perform works that had in recent years become impossible.

He recalled staging The Cunning Little Vixen, an opera by Leoš Janáček, in 2003 when space constraints in the old theatre forced the percussionists into the corridor — arrangements that health and safety regulations will no longer allow. “So we couldn’t have done that opera any more,” he said.

The academy’s main theatre. The project took three years to complete © Adam Scott

A bigger orchestra pit in the new theatre will expand the repertoire choice, to include works from early to modern opera as well as musical theatre.

“The theatre has been specifically, technically and acoustically designed to be able to take the intimate and the epic,” said Prof Freeman-Attwood.

Several of the philanthropists who donated to the overhaul gave seven-figure sums, although the academy declined to disclose their identities.

The new main theatre will be named after Susie Sainsbury, deputy chair of the academy’s governing body, following a donation by the Sainsbury family’s charity. Lady Sainsbury of Turville is married to David Sainsbury, a former Labour minister and party donor who also served as chairman of J Sainsbury, the supermarket group founded by his great-grandfather.

Other donors to the renovation project include the banker Sir Simon Robey and businessman John Burgess.

Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, the academy’s principal, said: ‘The theatre has been specifically, technically and acoustically designed to be able to take the intimate and the epic.’ © Chris Christodoulou

Prof Freeman-Attwood said: “We’ve done it entirely through private funding which, in terms of higher education, is extremely rare.

“People say it’s been really hard fundraising since 2008 — since the recession. Yes, it is. But, in other ways, it sharpens people’s minds about what they really value . . . People are looking for causes that they want to believe in.”

He added that if “you’ve got the right type of approach, philanthropy in this country can work”.

Prof Freeman-Attwood stressed his commitment to the highest musical standards at the academy and giving increased access to people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Having encountered repeated pressure to diversify the academy into other areas, he emphasised the importance of not diluting its “core mission . . . a supply line of excellence”.

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