Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leeds Town Hall

Leeds Town Hall was built between 1853 and 1858 on Park Lane (now The Headrow), Leeds, West Yorkshire, England to a design by architect Cuthbert Brodrick.

It is one of the largest town halls in the United Kingdom and as of 2008, it is the eighth tallest building in Leeds. The Town Hall was opened by Queen Victoria, highlighting its status as an important Victorian civic structure. It is a Grade I listed building.

With a height of 225 feet (68.6 m) it was the tallest building in Leeds from its construction in 1858 until 1966, when it lost the title to the Park Plaza Hotel, which stands 8 metres (26 ft) taller at 77 metres (253 ft).  I stayed in the Park Plaza and took this photo from the 18th floor.

It has held the title longer than any other building, a record 108 years. The distinctive clock tower, which serves for many as a symbol of Leeds as well as having become visually iconic of local government nationally, was not part of the initial design but was added by Brodrick in 1856 as the civic leaders sought to make an even grander statement.
The building's principal performance space, the richly decorated Victoria Hall, is the main venue for orchestral concerts in central Leeds. Its Concert Organ, one of the largest in Europe, is used for lunchtime organ recitals, many given by City Organist Dr Simon Lindley.  
I had an opportunity to hear this great organ as an accompaniment to a classic 1923 silent movie called "The Ten Commandments". 

This was Cecil DeMille's original production which preceded the epic 1956 version.  It was an unforgettable experience.  I made a brief recording of the organ playing the original score, which is notable for its unrelenting and chaotic dissonance that sounded phenomenal, though a bit nauseating at times.
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This performance was staged in conjunction with the Leeds annual Film Festival.  A learned appreciation, and funding, for the arts at the city government level is shamefully lacking in America. It is long past time for Americans to wake up to that fact.    

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