ACT News

Culture war brews over Wig & Pen's move to ANU's Llewellyn Hall

A culture war is brewing over plans by the popular inner-city pub, the Wig & Pen, to relocate from its Civic location to the ground floor of the Australian National University’s School of Music.

The Wig & Pen has struck an agreement with the head of the music school to move into the foyer of Llewellyn Hall when its current home at the Canberra House is redeveloped into a residential and retail hub.

However, a number of long-term subscription holders to the Canberra Symphony Orchestra said they were deeply concerned about the noise and traffic a wine bar set-up would bring to the rarefied concert space.

Music-lover Carole Sladen said “the use of the School of Music’s premises in this way beggars belief”.

While Miss Sladen said she was “too old to be intimidated” by younger crowds enjoying a drink, she had wider concerns that a pub was not an appropriate venue in a school which took more than 10,000 children through its doors each year.

“It is difficult to reconcile the activities of the school, which include inter alia, its ground floor recital rooms and performing halls open to the public for concerts, with those of a pub, thus opening the possibility of students, many of them at school or primary school age, to be in the company of pub patrons in various stages of inebriation,” Miss Sladen said.

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“There is also the noise factor - loud rock music plus the sound of brewery machinery - which will disrupt the activities of the school.”

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s chief executive Henry Laska said he did not want to comment until he had been informed about a formal decision on the Wig & Pen’s location – which is reportedly planning to open in September.

“Certainly, we would want assurances that the pub would not impact on the performance space,” Mr Laska said.

He also questioned whether it would impact on parking availability for symphony patrons – with major performances currently putting pressure on parking in the area.

Another major hirer of Llewellyn Hall, Musica Viva, declined to comment.

But the School of Music’s head Peter Tregear said there was no question that every consideration would be given to the venue’s primary musical role and significance.

“The hall wins out over the bar, no question,” Professor Tregear said.

“If there was any sort of clash, such as if the bar had a band night and the symphony was on, there is absolutely no question the core business of Llewellyn Hall is the symphony.

“It would be a game changer. And of course we will be conducting our due diligence on the architectural and acoustic issues which might arise from putting any commercial venture in proximity to a fine concert hall”.

Professor Tregear said it appeared the building’s solid concrete construction made it feasible for a brewery to share the space.

More importantly, he said the “wine bar, not beer hall” would attract new audiences to the symphony and music performance in Canberra.

"This is exciting. Isn’t it about time we got Llewellyn Hall speaking to the modern community? We have arts centres which were built as fortresses and the Melbourne Arts Centre has just spent $130 million smashing itself open to allow for wine bars and restaurants. This should be no different," he said.

"Canberrans would be quite churlish to see it as anything other than positive development. And if I was running an orchestra, I don’t want to alienate my traditional audience but I’d certainly relish the chance to attract another audience."

Professor Tregear said performance and music experience would be demystified for students and young people patronising at the Wig & Pen within the confines of the School of Music.

“Maybe some of these patrons may consider coming through the doors of a concert hall," he said.

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