Rock concerts 'add years' to artworks

Rock concerts staged in the grounds of country homes are damaging works of art with sound vibrations which "age" them, Russian research reveals.

Scientists at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg have been examining how concerts by the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and others in the adjacent Winter Square have affected their collections over the past three years.

The unpublished findings, they say, could affect the future of rock concerts staged at stately homes. The preliminary results of the three-year study, being examined by the Grabar Art Restoration Institute in Moscow, show that every 10 concerts above 82 decibels add an extra year to the age of a work.

The study has implications for venues in Britain including Knebworth, Somerset House and Kenwood.

Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage, told The Independent that institutions across the world should be warned that high levels of sound can shave years off an artefact. "Early results say the level of sound in the rooms which look over the [Winter] Square cannot be more than 80/82 decibels. We are going to study this. I think it is a serious issue, not just for Russia," he said.

Mr Piotrovsky added that it was likely that buildings, books and statues were also being damaged by the concerts that take place in the grounds of country homes and galleries.

Such was his concern that he reached an agreement with the Rolling Stones to keep the noise down during their concert in Winter Square last year, in order to protect the 19th and 20th century works by the likes of Cezanne and Matisse housed in the palace's adjacent wings. In 2004, he said he was distressed when McCartney's concert shook the windows of the museum.

"The Rolling Stones concert was not over 85 decibels, which is quite loud. We have to concentrate the sound in a certain direction. We have our people measuring the sound during the concerts. If something goes over the limit then we can do something about it."

He added: "We have had some concerts that were terrible, with Russian rock groups. One or two concerts a year in the square is possible, not more. We understand it is a square but there must be limits. Five concerts of classical music are OK."

The implications for rock concerts held near British collections are being considered. Last year's summer concerts at Somerset House in central London, which houses the Courtauld Institute's collection including work by Cezanne and Van Gogh, saw performances by Amy Winehouse, Kasabian and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Ernst Vegelin, head of the Courtauld Gallery, said he will be taking a close interest in the Hermitage's work. "We have double-glazing here and sound doesn't register in the buildings, but it will certainly be interesting to see the research. Vi bration isn't good," he said.

English Heritage, which runs concerts over two months in the summer at Kenwood House in north London, said its concerts were held at no higher than 55 decibels and that they were situated 400 metres from the house.

Henry Lytton-Cobbold, who owns Knebworth, a grade II-listed house which has hosted concerts by Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, said the gigs' commercial success were crucial to the survival of the home.

The gigs are performed just outside the house, which Mr Lytton-Cobbold said was "part of the experience", but he did express concern over the effects on the fabric of the building, which has loose stucco features.

British music venues under the spotlight

*Kenwood House: Has works by Rembrandt, Turner, Reynolds, Vermeer – including The Guitar Player, left – and Gainsborough. The villa on London's Hampstead Heath has been holding picnic concerts for 55 years. It will host Rufus Wainwright and Van Morrison this summer.

*Somerset House: The Courtauld Gallery in one wing has impressionist and post-impressionist works along with sketches by Michelangelo. The Fratellis and Duffy are among artists who will perform this year.

*Knebworth: Having made its name in the 1970s hosting Led Zeppelin and Queen, it was chosen by Oasis to host their biggest concert in 1996 and by Robbie Williams in 2003 when he performed for 375,000 people. It has a permanent collection of Indian artefacts and a painting by Winston Churchill.