When you step inside the doors of Queen Elizabeth Hall you’re stepping into what many performers and concert-goers might consider a hallowed space. Some of the most interesting, creative and influential people alive have appeared on its stages during the past half a century and we like to think even after they have gone, they leave something behind in the ether.
The list of names is, quite simply, incredible. Pink Floyd. Deep Purple. New Order. Jimi Hendrix. Arthur Lee. Stéphane Grappelli. Roy Ayers. Pam Ayres. Janet Baker. JK Rowling. Walter Mosley. Jung Chang. Irvine Welsh. Joyce Grenfell. Adrienne Rich. Toni Morrison. Doris Lessing. Joanna Newsom. John Betjeman. WH Auden. Ted Hughes. Allen Ginsberg. Judy Collins. Arlo Guthrie. Willard White. Daniel Barenboim. Jacqueline du Pré. Benjamin Britten. Peter Pears. Alfred Brendel.
You get the idea.
As we welcome audiences through the doors once again, we’ve searched through our archives to highlight just a few of the exciting moments and brilliant artists whose presence might just still be felt next time you visit.
4 March 1967
This golden couple of British music gave the very first jazz performance in Queen Elizabeth Hall, just three days after the venue was officially opened. It marked a clear statement of intent: this was not just a venue for classical, but for all kinds of music, and Laine and Dankworth were to return to Southbank Centre numerous times. Jazz was very much at the forefront of Queen Elizabeth Hall’s early programme, and the same year also saw performances from the Oscar Peterson Trio and Coleman Hawkins.
6 June 1968
Southbank Centre has a long history of presenting music and performance from Asian artists this was the first appearance here by the beloved sitar and surbahar player Imrat Khan. He has returned numerous times to our stages, including a Queen Elizabeth Hall concert on 30 October 2006 to celebrate the Maestro’s 70th birthday. He was joined at this special occasion by his four sons: Nishat, Irshad, Wajahat and Shafaatullah, each of whom is a respected musician in his own right.
10 October 1969
The act originally scheduled for Queen Elizabeth Hall on 10 October 1969 was McHenry Boatwright. But this gig was cancelled and replaced with an event called Changes ’69 – Humble Pie and Friends. Who was on the bill? Love Sculpture, Samson and some guy called David Bowie… it was just a few months following the release of his single Space Oddity. He was back again the following month in Purcell Room for An Evening with David Bowie in Company with Junior’s Eyes. The rest, as they say, is history.
25 June 1973
Tubular Bells is one of the best selling albums of all time and a landmark in instrumental music. It was written and recorded by Mike Oldfield in 1972-73 and released in May 1973 on Richard Branson’s Virgin Records.
Oldfield famously played the majority of instruments on the record, so a live performance was always going to be a challenge. Nonetheless, a concert was scheduled in June at Queen Elizabeth Hall, featuring Oldfield along with Mick Taylor, the then Rolling Stones guitarist. Rumour has it Oldfield, who had just turned 20, was so nervous about this show that he was close to cancelling, but that Branson helped change his mind by offering Oldfield a Bentley if he went through with the performance. And not just any Bentley either, but one that had previously belonged to Mary ‘Those Were the Days My Friend’ Hopkin. It was a worthwhile investment by Branson – it was this LP and performance that really put Virgin Records on the map.
2 November 1988
Steve Reich is one of the world’s most loved contemporary composers and we’re proud to have a long association with him. One of a number of Reich pieces to receive its premiere here was Different Trains, in November 1988. The work draws on the composer’s experiences as a young child travelling by train between his mother’s home in Los Angeles and his father’s home in New York, and on the experiences of European Jews who were transported by train during the Holocaust. Kronos Quartet gave the premiere of the piece, to great acclaim, and Different Trains is being revived this year as part of our reopening programme.
11 & 12 May 2002
Cross-arts collaborations are in the fabric of our artistic programme, but this event was particularly exciting. Choreographer Akram Khan teamed up with composer Nitin Sawhney and sculptor Anish Kapoor to create Kaash, a work merging Hindu mythology with astrophysics. It was Khan’s first full-length work and it featured five dancers, and it was a big success, touring the world as well as transferring to Sadler’s Wells in London for a run.
For the third WOW - Women of the World festival we welcomed artists including Angelique Kidjo, Julie Walters and Jenni Murray, as well as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and activist Alice Walker. Famous for her novels The Colour Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker was here to talk about the documentary Beauty in Truth, directed by Pratibha Parmar. In a conversation with Mariella Frostrup following the screening, Walker joked that it had been ‘wonderful to see my former husband’.
15 September 2015
Chineke! is the first professional orchestra in Europe comprising mostly of Black and minority ethnic musicians and they gave their first ever performance on the stage of Queen Elizabeth Hall – the final event before we closed our brutalist buildings for extensive renovations. The concert was one of the most exciting in the classical season, with the orchestra receiving an ovation before it had even played a note. So it’s fitting that when we reopen the hall again this year it will be Chineke! who take to the stage first.
Queen Elizabeth Hall reopens following a two year programme of refurbishment on 9 April with a packed programme of events already lined up, including our new regular late night live-music event, Concrete Lates.