Local Heroes - Seat Nomination Winners Ben Luxon

7 August 2020

The second person to have a spotlight shone on them, with a seat named in our brand new auditorium, is... 🥁 drum roll 🥁 please...BEN LUXON.

Ben was born in Camborne in 1937 and was one of the first Cornishmen to have a notable career as a professional singer, becoming one of Britain's major international singers and equally renowned as a recitalist, concert, opera and folk singer. Indeed in 1986, he was made CBE for his services to British Music.

He worked with most of the world’s major conductors and symphony orchestras and sang at some of most prestigious Opera Houses including The Royal Opera House, Vienna State Opera, La Scala Milan and the Metropolitan in New York.

Ben played an instrumental part in the community campaign that brought about the opening of Hall For Cornwall in 1997, and his full story can be read on the blog on our website.

Ben's singing career ended due to severe hearing loss and he now resides in Massachusetts, USA where, aided by a Cochlear Implant, he still performs as an actor, director and narrator.

Ben hopes to join us when we reopen next Spring and comments "I am so delighted and honoured to have a physical presence in this beautiful new Hall For Cornwall, especially as my involvement in creating the old Hall was one of the high points in my life at that time.”

Congratulations Ben - we look forward to you taking a deserved seat in our new theatre.

READ ON FOR BEN'S STORY OF HIS INVOLVEMENT WITH THE COMMUNITY CAMPAIGN THAT GOT HALL FOR CORNWALL OPEN IN 1997

As someone who had enjoyed the privilege of performing in many of the world’s most famous opera houses and concert halls, Benjamin Luxon had become increasingly frustrated at the lack of a proper performance venue for local artists and audiences in Cornwall.  

A growing friendship between Ben, then an internationally renowned opera -concert singer and Duchy Opera Director Chris Warner, led to Ben becoming the President of Duchy Opera. Sharing the same vision to provide a hall to serve the whole of the county, the two friends set about making it happen. 

To deliver their ambitious plan, the duo set up the Arts Centre Trust to highlight the need for an appropriate performance venue in Cornwall and to test the support of the public for the idea. However, while Ben and Chris were convinced of the need for a hall, not all local people appeared to feel the same way. “One resident I spoke to in Redruth asked why we needed a new hall when the town had  Centenary Chapel!” 

Undaunted, and fired with an enthusiasm,  Ben and Chris set out on an elementary exercise to find out what and where was the vocal talent in the County. They staged a seven day series of masterclasses beginning in Bude and ending in Penzance, visiting six  towns in all.

 “We heard all comers “said Ben . “We were amazed at the positive response, with people from the ages of 16 to 60 plus coming along to the classes. In the end we worked with more than 70 singers over the seven days, putting on two concerts to give everyone a chance to perform. We found some incredibly talented singers whose later recruitment helped create an opera company which truly represented the Duchy. “

The new look Duchy Opera then took a touring production of The Magic Flute, with  Ben joining them to sing the role of Papageno together with the newly discovered singers. They performed at leisure centres and town halls in the towns which had hosted the master classes – an experience which reinforced Ben’s view that Cornwall desperately needed a proper performance venue. 

“While performing with the company was an incredible experience, having to cover the  glass roof at Carn Brea Leisure Centre with black plastic and bulldog clips for the performance, or being forced to run around the outside the building at Liskeard to get from one side of the stage to the other, was not so much fun. It was very clear to me that Cornwall needed a decent hall both for local artists to perform and to attract productions from outside the county”. 

While Ben and Chris were busy hatching plans to create a new venue, Carrick District Council was trying to persuade people in Truro to support the sale of the run down City Hall building to developers. “Luckily the citizens got together to fight Carrick’s plan to create a huge shopping centre in the middle of the city and the authority had to drop the idea” 

Determined to push forward, Ben and Chris visited a number of Arts Centres in the south of England to gather information and, armed with a brochure setting out what needed to be done architecturally and administratively [ identification of staff needed to run the hall ] they staged a press conference at the Alverton Manor Hotel to highlight the need for a Hall for Cornwall. Thanks in part to Ben’s high profile, the press conference was attended not only by press but also by radio and television.The idea was placed firmly on the map. 

“At the time we had  planned to provide whatever authority might take on such a project with as much information as possible. To our surprise Carrick Council came straight back to us saying: “You can have the Truro City Hall for a peppercorn rent . You build it. You fund it. and you run it ." We were gob smacked but quickly realized that if we did not do it, nothing would happen, and so we picked up the gauntlet”.

After taking over the running of the flea markets, the group began the task of raising the 5 million or so pounds needed to repair and convert the Edwardian building into a high quality performance venue. It was a long and difficult journey and one which Ben says would have ended in failure without a change in European funding rules which meant they could apply for an EU grant, and the creation of the then new National Lottery.

 “Raising that sort of money in Cornwall would have been impossible before Lottery funding. This was a perfect project for the Lottery to support and their grant, together with the grant from the EU, and the funding raised locally, meant we had our money. We were aware that Carrick were expecting us to fail so they could then go back to the developers – but we actually succeeded.  The transformed Hall for Cornwall building re opened to the public in 1998.” 

The opening of the new Hall was certainly very exciting for the public. However there had been many problems in getting there, such as an asbestos lining throughout the roof  which halted all building for a period of three weeks or so. But in a way much worse was the last minute discovery that one of the buildings main supporting pillars had virtually no foundation.   Unfortunately all work had been officially signed as completed and there was no way we could get further funding from either the Lottery or the E.U. The trustees were forced to use the funds intended to meet the theatre’s running costs for the first year to meet the costs of the repairs.

 “This created a significant financial problem from the very start. Some of the trustees had little or no experience of the arts and did not understand that it was impossible to run a theatre on Box Office returns without some form of subsidy. The board did not want to ask the County Council for help and so within two years we had to turn to the Arts Council whose rescue package involved restructuring the Hall’s management”. 

By this time Ben had been experiencing major  problems with his hearing and this, combined with the challenges of finding a way to save the Hall, proved very stressful. 

While admitting this led to “bitter sweet” memories of this part of the project, Ben says that the early years were very exciting and great fun. “For me the best time was when I was performing with Duchy Opera and we decided that someone had to do something if Cornwall was ever to have a proper venue. We made the decision to take up the challenge and the period between this moment and when we finally got the money to do the rebuilding was incredibly exciting. 

“It was a complex project, and there were highs and lows, but it was fantastic to be so deeply involved and I am very proud of what we achieved.“