Montreal, home to the fabulous Montreal Symphony Orchestra, is to get a new concert hall. A world class venue for a world class orchestra. The orchestra has long suffered in Salle Wilfrid Pelletier, an all-purpose theater that serves no art form well. So, this is great news. Let’s hope they get the acoustics right like Birmingham, Philly and LA, not the deadly dull sound of Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall.
Arthur Kaptainis, special to the Montreal Gazette follows:
The long-awaited Montreal Symphony Orchestra concert hall took on a new hue of reality Thursday as Premier Jean Charest and other dignitaries unveiled drawings of the sleek window-clad structure planned for the corner of St. Urbain St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd.
“Mission accomplished,” the premier said in Place des Arts, somewhat prematurely, about a facility that is slated to open in September 2011. “This confirms the value of music to our culture.”
“It will function as a lighthouse and beacon, and shine out to the rest of the world,” MSO music director Kent Nagano said of the elusive hall.
Present at a technical briefing though oddly, not the official announcement - was Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt, the Toronto firm that will collaborate with the Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin Inc. in erecting the hall at the northeast quarter of PdA.
“We are not building for the ego of the architect, large as it might be,” Diamond said when asked to compare his simple conception with Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles and other flamboyant arts edifices.
“We are doing this for the future of concert going in Montreal. We are placing the building in a contemporary and responsible manner that deals with the verities of a great symphony hall.”
Both the facade of the hall on the plaza of Place des Arts and much of the long wall along St. Urbain St. (where the main entrance will be) are composed of rectangular see-through glass panels. While the interior of he hall will be isolated visually and acoustically, the lobby areas, especially when illuminated at night, will be visible from the outside.
“Transparency is immensely helpful in getting the public interested,” Diamond said. The architect’s performing-arts magnum opus to date, the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, is also fronted by windows that offer dramatic views.
Michel Languedoc, from Aedifica, a Montreal architectural firm also involved in the design, stressed the “democratic” spirit of the glass shell and the need to combat the supposed elitist image of symphonic music.
The spartan interior, topped by moveable acoustic clouds and punctuated on the sides by curved bevels, is paneled in beech. All the wood, as well as the limestone supporting materials, will come from Quebec.
“We will do everything we can to make this a made-in-Quebec hall,” Diamond said.
The announcement in March of the winning consortium pegged the price at $267 million - almost 2-1/2 times the $105-million sticker attached to the project when it was launched in 2006 by Charest. The price cited yesterday was $259 million.
Project director Jean Roy explained that the original number represented only the cost of design and construction and not the infrastructure and long-term costs of managing the facility. Organized as a public-private partnership, the hall will not revert to full government control until 2038.
Diamond said the hall will seat 2,000, although the numbers 1,900 and 2,100 have also been aired. This means that about 900 fewer people will fit into it than into Salle Wilfrid Pelletier, the multipurpose PdA facility that has housed the MSO since 1963.
Other companies involved in the consortium, operating officially as Groupe immobilier Ovation, are Aecon, an infrastructure contractor; Solotech, a lighting supplier; and Gala Systems, specializing in theatrical machinery. Ovation was one of three teams chosen as finalists and asked for detailed plans.
Artec, a noted New York company, retains its status as acoustic consultant and the province remains officially in control of acoustic design. Charest spoke at length about the late founder of Artec, Russell Johnson, whom he styled as “a virtuoso of acoustics.”
All the same, Robert Essert, a former Artec executive who collaborated with Diamond on the Four Seasons Centre, is listed as one of the consortium consultants.
The as-yet-unnamed concert hall bears an obviously resemblance to the Four Seasons Centre, the Toronto home of the Canadian Opera Company, which is noted not only for its fine acoustics and impeccable sightlines but for having come in on budget. Another high-profile Diamond performing-arts project is Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, D.C., home of the Shakespeare Company.
Drawings of the concert hall interior include a prominent organ above the stage. Roy said that the $259-million budget does not include the cost of this instrument, the purchase of which is being undertaken by the orchestra.
Veteran double bassist Brian Robinson, also president of the MSO musicians committee, has seen four versions of the concert hall come and go over the years.
“I wasn’t optimistic until I saw a hole in the ground,” he said, referring to the parking construction that has alredy started. “We are very excited.”
Nagano confirmed at the conference that he would conduct the 2011 opening of the hall as music director of the MSO - implying an extension of this current contract, which expires in August of that year. However, when asked again about his future status, he waffled.
Still, it was apparent that the conductor is looking forward to a few seasons at least in the new hall. He noted that it will be a pleasure to rehearse in the same hall that the orchestra performs in - not always an option in Salle Wilfrid Pelletier. The new hall will also make visits by other orchestras feasible.