Against the backdrop of the most challenging conditions it has ever faced, the Royal Albert Hall has today unveiled the programme for its anniversary celebrations, which will begin on 29 March 2021 – exactly 150 years on from its opening – and extend into 2022.

The venue’s chief executive, Craig Hassall, has announced the plans – which include major new commissions, headline shows from music legends and anniversary editions of historic community events – while also revealing the completed restoration of the Hall’s historic façade, the result of four years’ painstaking work.

Speaking today, Mr Hassall said: “Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic, which has closed our treasured building to the public for the first time since the Second World War, we are determined to host a full celebration of our 150th anniversary.

“Since its opening, this extraordinary venue has borne witness to, and played a central part in, seismic cultural and social change. The interests, manners and social mores of the people may have changed, but this beautiful building and what it represents remains the same a century-and-a-half later: a meeting place, a reflection of contemporary Britain, and a home for exhilarating live performance and events of international significance.

“I want to thank the whole creative industry, our dedicated staff and all of the artists involved for their support in announcing this programme today.”

The Hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, and named in memory of her husband, Prince Albert, whose founding vision was for a venue that would both democratise and promote the arts and sciences.

In her introduction to the Hall’s anniversary book, published this month, Her Majesty The Queen, Patron of the Royal Albert Hall, pays tribute to her great-great-grandfather, writing: “Albert was a man of extraordinary vision and ingenuity, and, together with Queen Victoria, he shared his passion for the global arts, education and culture with the nation. I have been Patron of the Royal Albert Hall since 1953, and my family and I have enjoyed many events including the annual Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance, the Centenary of the Women’s Institute, and even my 92nd Birthday celebration. As it embarks on its next 150 years, I hope that the Royal Albert Hall will continue to thrive, and that many more people will have the opportunity to make their own memories of this wonderful building”.

Selected programme highlights:

  • The Hall will hold a special birthday concert on 29 March 2021 – 150 years to the day since its opening. David Arnold, multi-award-winning composer of scores for Sherlock and five Bond films, has led a team of musicians on a year-long collaboration with hundreds of local schoolchildren, community members and the Chelsea Pensioners. The result is A Circle of Sound, a multi-media spectacular that evokes the spirit and history of the Hall. The 10-movement work will be performed by a full orchestra, joined by singers from the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, and a cavalcade of guest stars from the worlds of stage and screen.
  • Multi award-winning composer and musician, Nitin Sawhney, will curate Journeys – 150 Years of Immigration, a week-long festival celebrating the lives and contributions of immigrants over the last 150 years. The season will include a headline show featuring a new piece by Sawhney: a specially-commissioned oratorio for strings and choir. (29 September–6 October 2021)
  • The UK’s most popular contemporary choreographer, Matthew Bourne, returns to the Royal Albert Hall to create a spectacular new staging of The Car Man, his acclaimed take on Bizet’s smouldering opera, Carmen. (17–27 June)
  • Headline shows from musical icons and major contemporary artists across the anniversary season will include Patti Smith, Jon Hopkins, Gregory Porter, Tinie, Brian Wilson, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel and Alfie Boe. Alt-folk act This Is the Kit will perform in the ongoing Albert Sessions series, and run a workshop for local teenagers.
  • For International Women’s Day, the Hall will host the internationally-renowned WOW – Women of the World Festival. This special headline show will see Jude Kelly CBE present an evening of performance featuring a whole host of artists and speakers. (8 March 2021)
  • Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall will lead a new mentorship programme for young female artists.
  • Nile Rodgers will compose a pop anthem for the anniversary, with a full orchestra and singers from across the community.
  • Oscar-winning composer, Michael Giacchino (Up, Rogue One), will create a new piece for the Hall’s famous Henry Willis Organ. It will be premiered at a special concert celebrating the organ, which was the biggest instrument in the world when it was played at the opening ceremony in 1871. It has since been immortalised on a Frank Zappa live record, heard on the soundtracks to the films Tron and Rollerball, and played by a host of classical and rock legends, including Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright.
  • The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hall’s associate orchestra, will present a series of celebratory concerts marking both the venue’s milestone and its own 75th anniversary.
  • The Band of the Royal Marines will perform a new 14-piece chromatic fanfare as part of the Mountbatten Festival of Music, which in 2021 will be a virtual event recorded at the Hall. Competitors in the annual Brass Band Championships – held at the venue since 1945 and immortalised in the film, Brassed Off – will face off with an anniversary-themed piece. And a special edition of the Women’s Institute’s annual meeting at the Hall will welcome some notable surprise guests.

The Hall’s anniversary will also be celebrated by other institutions. The Royal Mint will issue a £5 coin to mark the milestone, while Royal Crown Derby, has produced a commemorative tea set in a design inspired by the Hall’s architecture.

The Hall’s anniversary book, with a foreword from Her Majesty The Queen, is titled A Celebration in 150 Unforgettable Moments, and published this month by Ebury.