Death of Louis Carus

Alan Clawley laments the passing Louis Carus and wonders what will replace the  Conservatoire’s Adrian Boult Hall.

Adrian Boult Hall

Adrian Boult Hall

I was sorry to read in the Post this week of the death of Louis Carus at the age of 84.

I never knew Mr Carus, but I do know and admire the legacy he left in the shape of the Conservatoire’s Adrian Boult Hall (ABH) after he became Principal in 1975.

The Birmingham Post’s Enda Mullen writes that Mr Carus was a renowned violinist and played a leading role in the creation of the 520-seat auditorium with outstanding acoustics, which can accommodate a symphony orchestra. The present Acting Principal Professor David Saint is reported as saying, ‘I well remember his excitement as we came to build the Adrian Boult Hall in the mid 1980s – a project which would not have been realised without his leadership and infectious enthusiasm.’

As a member of an amateur choral society I have a special interest in the ABH having performed there many times, most recently during Artsfest. So I have been keeping an eye on Argent’s plans to demolish it and build a new replacement a few metres away in the base of a generic commercial office block.

The plans indicate that the site of the ABH is needed by the Copthorne Hotel who want to replace the hotel that they already have on the site. Argent appear to accept this and to welcome the promise of a prominent new flagship building on the site.

But why does the Conservatoire accept the vague promises of something better? As is the way nowadays, a spokesperson for the Conservatoire, Dan Howard, in a Birmingham Post interview earlier this year, puts the best possible gloss on what is clearly considered inevitable. I quote Mr Howard’s sayings here because they are so out of tune with Louis Carus’s Obituary and with what I know personally of the outstanding qualities of the ABH.

He says, ‘the new hall would be better acoustic quality than the hall we already have. The new facility would also give us considerably better visibility. The ABH, bless it, we love it, but it is out of the way. What we are talking about is a concert hall with a front door to a walkway that has a footfall of 13 million people every year.

He claims that a new hall will offer many new opportunities to the Conservatoire. He says, ‘what this does do is allow us to widen the programmes of music we offer and to work much more closely with the Symphony Hall (SH) and the Town Hall (TH) to improve the overall music diet so while it will predominantly be for the students, it means that we will be able to do more. SH has a 3,000 capacity and the TH has 1,000 and the new concert hall will be around 500 [It is actually 520 now]. So it gives us a range of different music, making a very attractive offer to a wider audience’.

Mr Howard wastes no time regretting the loss of Louis Carus’s heritage. He says, ‘…while there is some fondness for the current building, the building heritage is unlikely to be a stumbling block for the project. I think we all look at the Conservatoire with some affection but it has already changed a number of times in its 125-year history, and this proposal is something that could last for another 125 years and we should take the opportunity in the squares and so on to celebrate the people behind the heritage.’

As for how the project would be funded, Mr Howard said that it would be worth every penny and ‘however the investment is framed what will emerge will be something great for the university and for the city’.

Some of these aspirations may be well-founded but it is hard for an observer to relate the flighty rhetoric to the reality. The developers propose to spend £8 million on the project whereas Birmingham University’s new Bramall Music Centre in Edgbaston cost £16 million. It is unclear whether the Conservatoire will be given the freehold of the new ABH or whether it will be a Private Finance Initiative in which the Conservatoire signs a lease and pays service charges over 35 years. Argent must repay their expensive loans and will be unlikely to provide more than a shell or to spend money on hiring acoustic specialists.

If I am optimistic I can believe that the University is capable of getting the best deal for students, staff and users of the hall, but I fear they are dealing with a smart developer who has all the cards in his favour and who enjoys the unconditional support of the City Council. Louis Carus, and his contemporary John Madin, belong to a generation of professionals which is now disappearing along with the legacies that they worked so hard to create.