'We have €78m to spend on the redevelopment - this is how the Irish public will benefit' - National Concert Hall chair Maura McGrath
The doors of the National Concert Hall are getting ready to close for up to two years while it undergoes extensive redevelopment, but its chair believes that the €78m proposed project is an opportunity to bring performance music outside the walls of the Earlsfort Terrace site.
Overhauling the NCH wasn't a live issue when Maura McGrath assumed the position of chair almost two years ago, but major fund allocation as part of Project Ireland 2040 has put in play a strategic masterplan that marks a major turning point in the vision and future of the body.
"Many proposals had been submitted as regards the need to develop particularly as regards the auditorium and the 500 seater recital hall but they were not successful," McGrath told Independent.ie.
"So we developed a realistic proposal; I'm a great believer in building allies and Simon Taylor (NCH CEO) has chapter and verse in what was required.
"We spoke to a lot of people, the head of Dublin City Council (DCC) and the OPW among them, and got a sense of what was required. We knew that people recognised the need [for development]. If there was no investment, things would become quite serious."
In April of this year, as part of the 'Investing in our Culture, Language & Heritage 2018-2027' scheme, Government set aside €78m for the OPW to commence works on the massive project, which has been split into three phases.
By 2023, the expectation is for the completion of a newly refurbished main auditorium accommodating 1,350 seats, an enlarged main foyer with access to historic marble stair cases and the construction of a new winter garden.
Also part of the masterplan is a 500 seat recital hall, the restoration of the 1865 block and a new NSO rehearsal studio. The Iveagh Gardens will also be reconnected with the main building.
With the responsibility of spearheading the strategic plan, and as a statutory body tasked with developing music in Ireland, McGrath is keen to justify the need of such a big spend.
"The environment has changed over the years and there are competitors out there so demands for excellence in performing live music of all genres has soared," she said.
"Key to this redevelopment is bringing the NCH beyond the physical walls of the building to the people of Ireland. We want the Irish public - as broad and diverse as it is - to know that they will benefit from this investment. The NCH is embracing new Irish music and musicians in all their forms."
With music, choral work and the arts a long standing passion, Maura has championed investment for the Arts in public policy for many years. Her belief is that investment in this area is investment in potential and possibility.
She shares the belief in the words of Joyce DeDonato: ‘Art unifies, transcends borders, connects the disconnected, eliminates status, sooths turmoil, threatens power and the status quo, and gloriously exalts the spirit’.
Preparation works are currently underway to enable the refurbishment of the NCH main auditorium, with phase two, which will be the refurb and extension of the main auditorium and ancillary facilities.
The doors of the NCH will be closed for a period of between 18-24 months during this phase and throughout phase three, which includes the work on the 500 seat recital hall; the Iveagh Gardens reconnection and the development of a programme, learning and participation centre.
"This hub will further enable our musicians visit a significant number of schools, centres and hospitals across the country. It will include workshops and encourage talented musicians who don't have the opportunity to perform to get involved."
Having grown up in the west of Ireland to parents that were involved in music, a father who was a teacher and a mother a shy musician, McGrath said that she brings music with her everywhere she goes.
Her term as NCH spans five years, which ends prior to the estimated project end point of 2023, but her preference is to stick with the project until it is complete.
"As a nation we have always been proud of our heritage and the different elements. For me, this project is about genuinely acknowledging the importance of music but a focus primarily for children in their development."