Massey Hall makes a musical comeback with £25m refurbishment

What’s behind Massey Hall’s rejuvenation? A £25m project to reinvigorate the neglected East End concert venue certainly looks timely, with ambitious plans to install a roof and install a café; it will also provide free access to the venue for the first time in its 100-year history.

Restored: the roof of Massey Hall. Photograph: Sarah Lee

Rumours that the hall was up for sale have dogged its supporters since last year when it was initially leaked that its future was up in the air following a £29m deficit recorded by its operator (The Bridge Project). No news of closure has followed, but instead an overhaul has been announced in collaboration with the New York-based developers The Rudin Company.

The hall will host live orchestral music and big-name concert-goers – their decision to relocate to the East End and away from central London now seems like good timing – but it will do so in a much smaller, quieter environment, preserving much of the 300-seat venue’s history while also protecting its bones in the process. Its list of repairs reads like a treasure trove of beautiful treasures, from the grime-caked grated seats, to the invisible plaster floorboards and the vaulted ceiling that still shows traces of the first period it was constructed.

Past and present: the material art inside Massey Hall. Photograph: Sarah Lee

Inside, a conservation room on the second floor offers a fascinating insight into the performers of old and their memorabilia, such as the original leaden Elvendale pipe organ, a memorial to a school musician who was hanged for a fatal accident just before the 1892 opening. However, the office and backstage area don’t appear to have been preserved at all; the sparse reception, details of how the first night went, etc, have been buried by recent renovations.

Sounds of yesteryear: a hoard of instruments found at Massey Hall. Photograph: Sarah Lee

A new café with a focus on small plates will also put more legroom back into the auditorium. The café will be restricted to a small percentage of seats, but you can hear sounds of you can hear people moving around at other points, before you take your seat. Perhaps it could even mean the hall can set aside some of the subsidized seating that can make a hugely affordable event into one you wouldn’t turn down for a quid?

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