After a £14m makeover, Glasgow's City Hall - once famed equally for its splendid acoustics, drab municipal decor and dingily Victorian atmosphere - has re-emerged as a hugely attractive, state-of-the art complex. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, whose outgoing director, Hugh Macdonald, tirelessly nudged the city council into this brilliant redevelopment, will use the gleaming Grand Hall (comfortably seating 1,066) for rehearsals, broadcasts, recordings and concerts. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra moves back in for its Glasgow concerts, and a programme of glitzy solo performers (Ian Bostridge heading the line-up next month) will add lustre to the city's concert calendar. But there's more.
The adjacent Old Fruitmarket will house jazz, folk and the BBC SSO's more cutting-edge projects. A recital room, workshop spaces, studios and an administrative base for the BBC SSO and the Scottish Music Centre archive complete this cultural mecca in Glasgow's buzzing Merchant City quarter.
Light and airy, with its acoustics miraculously unimpaired - despite the virtual gutting of the auditorium - the Grand Hall was packed for the BBC SSO's first broadcast concert, conducted by Ilan Volkov. A new commission from its composer in association, Jonathan Harvey, appropriately titled ...towards a pure land, shimmered and twittered, fragments of melody and strands of harmony dancing weightlessly, the material tossed enticingly between a discreet string ensemble and the orchestra in full, glorious voice at the work's glowing extremes. Between this and a spectacular performance of Stravinsky's Firebird, Beethoven's Triple Concerto sounded forced in interpretation, and unsettled in both articulation and tuning. But the hall itself was the star of the evening.
Glasgow's other resident band, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, could be forgiven for feeling gloomy. Stuck in the soulless Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, the RSNO must despair of attracting vital audiences to its home.
GRCH has nothing of the glamour and little of the appeal of the City Hall - where the RSNO played weekly to capacity audiences from the late 1960s until 1990. Then the city fathers knocked up a "purpose-built" hall in time for Glasgow's European City of Culture Year. Fifteen years on, its diminishing audience rattling around in a 2,475-seater auditorium, the RSNO's collective heart must be in its mouth.