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St George's - still slaying concert goers
St George's and the dragon THIS STORY LAST UPDATED:
23 April 2002 1521 BST

Champagne will be flowing at St George's hall as one of the city's most prestigious music venues celebrates its 25th birthday.
St George's and the dragon
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It's 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 century.

The man behind the internationally acclaimed venue is Jonathan Stracey, the face and director of St George's for the last 12 years.

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 Museum.

Like the museum it was designed in a Greek neo-classical style, with plenty of pillars and beautiful stonework.

Jonathan Stracey
Jonathan Stracey has been in charge for 12 years

There 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.

Chamber music

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."


St George's audiences are renowned for attentiveness
From its humble beginnings the reputation of St George's has grown and grown.

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 good."

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.

Andreas Schiff

Classical pianist Andreas Schiff is renowned for walking off stage if audiences are coughing too loudly, but had no problems in Bristol.

"When I saw him six months later he asked where had we found the Bristol audience, they had actually listened!" said Jonathan.

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 celebrations.

The crypt cafe has been updated
The 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.

Disabled access and facilities for both audience and performers has also been drastically improved.

Hydraulic stage

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.
"Elvis Costello played here completely unplugged for only the third time in his life."

Jonathan Stracey
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