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Partially thanks to Hitchcock and Bob Dylan, the Royal Albert Hall is one of the most famous concert halls in the world. A century and a half after its inauguration by Queen Victoria, the multifunctional culture palace hosts everything from the symphony orchestra to rock musicals.
In The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Doris Day screamed so loud that she even drowned out the London Symphony Orchestra. The blood-curdling climax of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller takes place in Royal Albert Hall. The villain of the film is plotting to shoot a foreign head of state from one of the boxes. The cold-blooded murder is planned during the bombastic closing notes of the Storm Clouds Cantata, so the audience cannot hear the shot. Only our heroine can avert impending doom as the sounds of the orchestra reach a crescendo.
Doris Day’s bone-chilling scream saves the head of the state and the murderer is caught. All’s well that ends well. The 12-minute long scene that was filmed with Hitchcock’s trademark precision confirms the image of Royal Albert Hall as the most beautiful concert hall in London - to great joy of the board. The Beatles and The Kinks have sung the praises of this monumental building, books have been written about it and the arched corridors exude history.
Exactly as Prince Albert had intended. After the 1851 World Fair, the Prince Consort of Queen Victoria envisioned a permanent building where the people could enjoy art and science and be surrounded by the best schools and museums. Unfortunately Prince Albert didn’t live to see the result as he died in 1861, 6 years before the construction of the concert hall was started. Today, the concert hall is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. The Royal Albert Hall holds a special place in the hearts of most Londoners and the many artists who have performed here.
Since its inauguration in 1871, the Royal Albert Hall has carefully built an impeccable reputation. The greatest artists in the world have performed here: conductors such as Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan; orchestras like the Dutch Koninklijk Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Wiener Philharmoniker; and also pop acts such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and more recently Coldplay and Stereophonics. The Eurovision Song Contest was broadcast from the concert hall in 1968, the first European live broadcast in colour. And since 1941, the venue has hosted the annual Proms, the largest classical music festival in the world.
So much more than music. For 20 years, the Miss World pageant was held here. The most important film screenings, such as the world premieres of the Bond films Die Another Day (2002) and Skyfall (2012) were attended either by Queen Elizabeth or the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall. The Royal Albert Hall also serves as a sports arena; many basketball games, badminton and boxing matches have taken place here, and in December you will even find a tennis court here. The first sumo wrestling championship outside of Japan was held here in 1991, and in the summer of 2015 masked Mexican lucha libre wrestlers entered the arena.
Of all the legendary concerts that have taken place here, Londoners will vividly remember the one by Bob Dylan. In 1965, Dylan performs for the first time at the Royal Albert Hall. He is 23 years old and has just released his 5th studio album. He is hugely popular and shines in the London spotlights. A year later he returns, but things go very differently. The concert consists of 2 parts: before the break an acoustic set, as the audience expects from him, followed by an electronic set. The second part doesn’t go over well with Dylan’s British fans. People boo him and a renegade fan calls the singer “Judas!”. Another fan yells out: “I will never listen to you again!”
“I don’t believe you, you’re a liar,” is Dylan’s reply and he orders his band to play Like A Rolling Stone extra loud. Bob Dylan Live 1966 - The Royal Albert Hall Concert became his most famous bootleg album. Decades later it turned out that the illegal recording hadn’t been made in London but in Manchester. Nevertheless, the Judas incident granted the Royal Albert Hall a mythical status as ‘the Holy Grail of Rock & Roll’. It would take 47 years before Dylan returned to the stage, in 2013, to a unanimously positive response. In October 2015 he will play a tribute to Frank Sinatra – and all 5 concerts sold out fast.
Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall regularly got out of hand. 1971 was a low point. Out of the 23 pop concerts that were held that year, only one took place in an orderly fashion. After the British band The Nice burned the American flag, management took a drastic decision: pop and rock were banned. Frank Zappa with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Bryan Ferry with a 15-piece band, and the rock musical “Tommy” starring Rod Stewart, Richard Harris and Ringo Starr were all cancelled. It was a huge financial loss and the ban was short lived.
To learn all the ins and outs, book a guided tour. The 1-hour Grand Tour takes you through the entire concert hall, including the impressive grand hall and the ‘Royal Retiring Room’, the Queen’s private room. The Secret History Tour will reveal some stories known only to insiders, the Inside Out Tour focuses on the architecture, while the Behind The Scenes Tour takes visitors backstage. There is also an afternoon tea with champagne or you can enjoy a complete dinner. With a choice of 6 restaurants and 14 bars, a concert is easily transformed into an evening out.