Why is the new Ordway Concert Hall good for The Schubert Club?

By Barry Kempton

Happy New Year!  2015 is, I believe, a particularly exciting one for us.  As a member of the Arts Partnership (together with the Ordway, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Opera), we look forward to opening a new Concert Hall at the Ordway in less than two months time.  Some may know that I lived and worked in St Paul once before – for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1995 until 2007.  When I left in 2007 to run a chamber orchestra in London, the concept of building a Concert Hall on the footprint of the McKnight Theater had been proposed, but it was far from clear that it would actually happen.  When I returned to St. Paul in 2012, construction of the Concert Hall was in progress.  I have watched it grow from my Landmark Center office window for the past 3 years.

The primary reasons for the establishment of the Arts Partnership and the construction of the Concert Hall were two-fold:  to provide the performance spaces which we four principal users of the Ordway need and to establish an endowment fund to make the use of these performance spaces affordable.  As we near completion of the building and close in on our campaign goal, it is clear that these two achievements will make a huge difference to our artistic lives and purposes.

But there is a further benefit we anticipate – one which will particularly benefit The Schubert Club and the SPCO: we will have the opportunity to present performances in a room designed specifically for smaller-scale classical music with acoustic properties ideal for chamber orchestra, chamber music and recitals.  When the SPCO rehearses for the very first time on the Concert Hall stage this coming Wednesday, we will finally hear what this means.  I confess I am very eager to hear those first minutes of music.

Acoustics is a complicated thing and we’re lucky to have one of the leading acoustics companies advising our architectural firm.  Among their recent successes have been the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall in Nashville and impressive improvements to a variety of venues in North and South America.  Most of what an acoustician does is intangible.  They advise on the volume and shape of the room, surfaces and density of the construction materials, seating, stage flooring, isolation of mechanical sounds (lighting, air-conditioning etc) and they monitor the construction process to ensure that the room is free from outside vibration.  Everything they do is focused on making the room silent and resonant, things we the audience expect, but will quickly forget and take for granted once we get to hear musicians filling the space with sound.  

For The Schubert Club, the new Concert Hall offers us the opportunity to expand the kind of recitals and chamber music we can include in our International Artist Series.  The scale being significantly smaller than the Ordway Music Theater (where we currently present recitals), I believe we will be able to include instruments like the guitar or harp, early music voices, string quartets – all of which have never made much impact on the current Ordway stage.   Add to this the fact that the audience experience will be far more intimate in the new Concert Hall, it is clear to those of us involved in planning the International Artist Series that the Concert Hall is an exciting prospect for us.  We announce the 2015-16 International Artist Series in late February and we can promise concerts in both Ordway venues.  As for who is coming, I’m afraid that will have to wait a few more weeks.

Image above: The Schubert Club Board & Staff get a sneak peek of the Ordway Concert Hall construction progress on December 20, 2014.