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Songs for Seven Storeys at the Evelina Children's Hospital

Lambeth schoolchildren gathered in the new Evelina Children's Hospital in Lambeth Palace Road on Wednesday for the premiere of a specially commissioned song cycle.

Evelina Childrens Hospital

The newly completed hospital building was the setting for the first performance of Songs for Seven Storeys by Bob Chilcott, with libretto by John Mole, performed by children from Lambeth primary schools, the City Chamber Choir and musicians from the South Bank-based London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Songs for Seven Storeys was commissioned by Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust with money from Guy's and St Thomas' Charity to celebrate the building of the new Evelina Children's Hospital, which is due to open this autumn.

The piece reflects on the seven themes of the natural world around which the new hospital – with its seven storeys – has been designed by Hopkins Architects.

The concert also featured extracts from Initiation Songs by Juwon Ogungbe, commissioned for the South Bank Centre's Africa Remix season by Royal Festival Hall Educationa nd Lambeth Music Services.

Evelina Childrens Hospital

Trust chair Patricia Moberly explained that the event marked the "acceptance of the keys of the door" of the new hospital, which was vacated by builders just last week. A six-month programme to equip the hospital and train staff now lies ahead before the first patients are admitted.

Geoff Shepherd, chief executive of Guy's and St Thomas' Charity, described it as a "very special day in the history of the Evelina Children's Hospital". He said that the musical commission and concert "recognises the importance that the charity gives to performing arts within the hospitals". The charity is finalising a new performing arts programme for the children's hospital to complement the existing activities at Guy's and St Thomas'.

Shepherd set the new building – made possible by a £50 million grant to the NHS by the charity – in its historical context, recalling that the Evelina Children's Hospital was founded in Southwark in the 1860s by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in memory of his wife Evelina who died in childbirth.

Evelina Childrens Hospital

The Evelina Children's Hospital Appeal, which aims to provide equipment for the hospital, has raised £6 million in a year – an "exceptional achievement" according to Shepherd – but more is still needed.

South Bank Centre chief executive Michael Lynch became involved in an artistic collaboration with the hospital when he was a guest two years ago at the laying of the foundation stone by the Archbishop of Canterbury. When he heard that the hospital planned to commission a piece of music he asked how the SBC could help. Lynch, who explained that he had spent a year in hospital between the ages of 3 and 4, pronounced himself "awe-struck" by the building, which he described as "an inspiration in many ways".

Medical director Dr Edward Baker explained that the intention was for the new hospital to be "a landmark building but not an ivory tower".

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