Usher Hall is arguably the premier concert hall in Edinburgh, and it's the main venue for the Edinburgh International Festival. Widely agreed to have excellent acoustics, it's also the home of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. It sits just off Lothian Road in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, between the Royal Lyceum Theatre and the Traverse Theatre.
Usher Hall was completed in 1914 with funds provided by Andrew Usher, a wealthy whisky distiller and philanthropist. Its design was chosen in a competition, the brief for which was to be simple and dignified. It is a stunning example of the Beux-Arts style, which promoted simple neo-classical forms embellished by intricate carvings and rejected the more elaborate forms of Victorian Gothic architecture.
Inside Usher Hall — Photo courtesy of Usher Hall
The circular building is topped by a spectacular wide domed roof. To the front of the building, three ornately carved wooden doors nestle within a large arched doorway flanked by two soaring Edwardian lamp posts and double pillars. The pillars are topped by ornate classical sculptures, and further similar sculptures can be found on other pillars surrounding the structure.
During recent much-needed renovations to the hall, a new glass wing was added to the front to house the café and box office. The addition of a breath-taking spiral staircase to the interior, along with a number of lifts, had the desired effect of dramatically improving ease of access to the building.
The curved walls of this elegant edifice are lined with marble and decorated with a series of plaster panels depicting notable figures from the world of music (such as George Frideric Handel, Wolfang Amadeus Mozart and Johannes Brahms) and a number of notable Scots (such as Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Allan Ramsay) as well as Scottish monarchs.
The auditorium conforms to a horseshoe plan, with two curved balconies rising above the main seating area. It's a massive 117 feet wide and 60 feet high and has a capacity of 2,200 sitting and 2,900 standing.The focal point of the hall is the spectacular organ, which was renovated in 2002 and is now in fully working order.
Although the hall is perhaps best known as a venue for the performance of classical music during the Edinburgh International Festival, for which its acoustics make it particularly suitable, Usher Hall has also hosted everything from gigs by famous rock bands, soul acts and pop groups to readings by famous authors, lectures, plays and comedy acts.
Staying true to Andrew Usher’s hope that it would be a resource for all of the citizens of Edinburgh, it has also hosted school plays, performances by local unsigned bands and a wide range of family events.