Inside the new extension at St George’s Bristol, as seen from the stairs up to the Glass Studio.

STAFF at St George’s Bristol had just hours to prepare before they opened the doors of the new £6.3million extension on Thursday (September 6) to welcome two of the world’s leading young musicians, a star conductor, an orchestra, plus a sell-out audience of more than 500.

The team at the independent concert hall received handover from the construction firm Midas Group on Wednesday (September 5) following a one-year build programme.

Although the new bar is open for audiences, the team at St George’s has some work still ahead of them before the grand vision is fully achieved. Final touches include installation of the beautiful glass sculpture ‘Apollo’ – designed by Bristol-based international artist Luke Jerram – completion of the Café Bar kitchen and heritage displays, and landscaping.

The ‘Season Opener’ on Thursday 6 September featured a starry line-up of musicians in a performance of Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Prokofiev. Violinist Nicola Benedetti recently featured in the BBC Proms and was winner of the prestigious title ‘Young Musician of the Year’ in 2004. Cellist Laura Van Der Heijden received the accolade in 2014 and was joined by rising star conductor Alpesh Chauhan and Bristol Ensemble orchestra.

Designed by award-winning architects Patel Taylor, the pavilion-style extension:

  • Improves the audience, visitor and artist experience;
  • Offers multi-purpose spaces for performances, education workshops and venue hire;
  • And provides step-free access.

Additional work has included restoration of the dramatic flight of steps at the front of St George’s, originally built in 1823 as a Georgian church in the neo-Classical style, and heritage displays within the crypt telling ‘Our Story’.

This ambitious and bold project, named ‘Building A Sound Future’, will enable St George’s, a registered charity, to secure its financial sustainability through venue hire and the Café Bar, which will soon be open for extended and daytime hours throughout the week and weekend.

St George’s also relaunches this season as a creative space for music and ideas, giving people the opportunity to get under the skin of music and music-making, drop into rehearsals and discover what makes musicians tick.

Music and event highlights during the autumn/winter season include:

  • Ex-frontman of folk giants Bellowhead Jon Boden with Sacconi Quartet performing Elvis Costello’s The Juliet Letters on September 7;
  • Folk band Northern Flyway with exquisite birdsong, film and projections on September 20;
  • ‘Season Celebration’ with pianist Christian Blackshaw and Soloists of the Berliner Philharmoniker on September 21;
  • Grammy-nominated jazz artist Stacey Kent on October 25, and six-times winner of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Karine Polwart on November 1, plus Transglobal Underground’s Natacha Atlas on November 8;
  • St George’s inaugural Bristol Keyboard Festival, from October 30 to November 7, covering pianos, synthesizers and a harpsichord, a theatrecital on Debussy, plus music to live screened illustration;
  • Performance poetry with UnFold, a Lyrix Organix production, plus talk from Dizraeli;
  • Resident orchestras Chineke!, Aurora and the OAE;
  • Philosopher in Residence Julian Baggini with The Philosophical Times, plus the return of the popular Lunchtime Concerts.

Chief Executive at St George’s Bristol, Suzanne Rolt, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming tonight’s audience into our new extension – a stunning contemporary architectural addition to our well-loved Georgian concert hall.

“Famed for attracting the very best classical, jazz, folk and world music artists, we are now just weeks away from finalising all the works and becoming a world-class venue.

“We are grateful to everyone who has helped make this possible, and given their support to this bold and ambitious project. Completion is tantalisingly close, and in the meantime we have a season featuring a stellar list of classical, jazz, folk, world, and spoken word artists, as well as family events and our very own Philosopher in Residence.”

Audience members are urged to use the venue’s Great George Street entrance, to avoid the builders’ equipment still on site, unless they have access needs.

Funding for the project has come from Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, and Bristol City Council, as well as major and individual donors.