Beacon chief exec recognised for her pioneering work

Bristol Beacon’s chief executive Louise Mitchell has been honoured with the highest award from the Association of British Orchestras in recognition of her contribution to orchestral life in the UK.

Announced at a special dinner during the ABO’s annual two-day conference – which is fittingly taking place at Bristol Beacon – Louise was surprised by the announcement of the prestigious ABO Award, which is awarded by an independent panel of judges to an individual or organisation who they believe has made the most important contribution to orchestral music during the year.

The award comes less than two months after the reopening of Bristol Beacon after its once-in-a-generation, five-year, £132m transformation, providing Bristol and the UK with an international standard concert venue and music education centre. Its opening weekend at the beginning of December saw over 20,000 visitors through the doors.

Louise has headed up two nationally significant cultural capital projects, both of which her teams believe would not have come to fruition without her leadership.

Before her time at the helm of Bristol Beacon, Louise was director of Glasgow’s concert halls for 13 years, where she spearheaded the regeneration of two of the city’s most revered venues, the City Halls and The Old Fruitmarket, in a substantial £8.3m redevelopment.

She took up the role with Bristol Music Trust, the charity established by Bristol City Council to operate what was then Colston Hall, in 2011, with the clear focus to realise the ambition of a new concert hall for Bristol. The project proved more challenging than anyone involved could have foreseen at the start, with significant unexpected issues such as Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine to navigate, as well as the building itself throwing up challenges, like three underground Elizabethan wells and an old Victorian heating system.

The newly transformed venue is now home to some of the best acoustics in the world, with stages and facilities that are fully accessible and can accommodate full orchestras. Paraorchestra, whose musicians consist of disabled and non-disabled members, performed the opening night concerts.

Bristol Beacon’s orchestral programme for 2023/24 provides audiences with the opportunity to enjoy the best national and international orchestra, including London Symphony Orchestra and The Halle in Bristol Beacon’s world-class new venue. In early December, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s concert for the first night of their UK tour saw a full house in the Beacon’s main auditorium and four-star reviews from the Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian.

In addition to her roles as chief executive, Louise has given significant time to multiple musical organisations, including as chair of the National Children’s Orchestra, and trustee with Paraorchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Society, providing them with her expert advice, knowledge and leadership.

Jonathan Dimbleby, chair of Bristol Beacon, said: “Louise is rightly regarded as an outstanding cultural leader. Her passion for music is infectious and her commitment to sharing this with all – notably the young – is tireless. Her ability to inspire her colleagues while running a complex organisation through our challenging times is peerless. We are all delighted that the ABO has recognised her many achievements with this award.”

Sophie Lewis, Chair of ABO said: “Louise is a leader who has had a profound impact on the cultural life of the UK. Her impact on the lives of audience members, musicians and on young people starting out on their musical careers, at some of the most high-profile cultural institutions in the country has been significant and measurable. She thoroughly deserves the ABO award at the 2024 conference, fittingly taking place at Bristol Beacon.”

On receiving the award, Louise said: “I’m particularly proud to receive this award, voted on by friends and colleagues from across UK orchestras. I’d like to share it with the whole Beacon team, who have worked with such passion and skill to create a beautiful building and an imaginatively resilient organisation.”

Louise announced earlier this month that she will be stepping down from her role as chief executive at Bristol Beacon in July, to pave the way for a new leader to take the organisation forward now that the transformation is complete.

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