been a long haul, but after quarter of a century and almost
£3m, St George's has become a state-of-the-art concert
hall ready to take music lovers in Bristol well into the 21st
The man behind the internationally acclaimed venue is Jonathan
Stracey, the face and director of St George's for the last 12
In that time he has overseen a major revamp of the grade II
listed building, and a move away from purely classical artists
into a more eclectic mix, including jazz and world music.
St George's, as its name suggests, started life as a church,
and was designed in 1823 by Robert Smirke, designer of the British
Like the museum it was designed in a Greek neo-classical style,
with plenty of pillars and beautiful stonework.
Jonathan Stracey has been in charge for 12 years
was one slight problem though, the 45 degree slope that the
church was built on
meant a few changes had to be made:
The beautiful entrance is actually just a sham and concert-goers
need to enter the hall by the much humbler side entrance.
In the 1970s St George's, which is located in a small side
road off of busy Park Street, was one of many local churches
to be decommissioned.
A group of music lovers in the city was looking for a venue
for chamber music, at the same time as the BBC was looking
for a studio, and St George's was found to be the perfect
place for both.
"St George's greatest weakness is also its greatest strength,"
explained Jonathan Stracey.
"The relative invisibility of the building makes it challenging
to generate a profile in Bristol. We don't have passing trade
on this minor road.
"But it does mean it is very quiet. The BBC certainly
wouldn't have used us if there was a lot of street noise."
its humble beginnings the reputation of St George's has grown
George's audiences are renowned for attentiveness
Star performers from around the world, such as Sir Simon Rattle,
John Williams and Cleo Laine, now flock to the hall, both for
its wonderful acoustics, and its attentive audience.
Jonathan explained: "This building was designed for music,
the acoustics are something people instinctively notice when
they come in here - artists and audiences.
"Elvis Costello played here completely unplugged for only
the third time in his life and Bjork kept her microphone down
by her side for most of her concert, the acoustics are that
The acoustics could also play a part in the attentiveness of
the audience, as the unwrapping of a sweet wrapper can be heard
echoing around the 562-seater hall.
Classical pianist Andreas Schiff is renowned for walking off
stage if audiences are coughing too loudly, but had no problems
"When I saw him six months later he asked where had we
found the Bristol audience, they had actually listened!"
Under the careful eyes of English Heritage and the Arts Council,
and with the help of lottery money and outside funding, St George's
has been completely spruced up, just in time for its birthday
church crypt has been transformed into a cafe/bar, there's a
new roof and windows and for audiences fed up with the old,
uncomfortable church pews there is luxurious seating.
crypt cafe has been updated
Disabled access and facilities for both audience and performers
has also been drastically improved.
The most expensive work has been on updating the stage, which
now has a state-of-the-art hydraulic system worth £250,000.
As St George's celebrates 25 years of music - with a special
St George's Day concert, champagne, fireworks and Mozart - what
does the future have in store?
"Music itself continues to develop, along with performing
and presentation," said Jonathan.
"We'll continue to experiment and hope to introduce some
contemporary music and develop an educational programme."
As fireworks light the skies above St George's heralding the
start of a new era for the concert hall, music lovers can only
hope that the next quarter of a century will see this grand
old building play on.