Size Matters Part 2

Welcome back for part two in this study of how an orchestra accomplishes the monumental task of building a new concert hall.  In today’s installment we will learn how the Kansas City Symphony and the Nashville symphony plan to build their halls.  In part one we heard from Dayton Philharmonic and the Richmond (VA) Symphony.  You can find that installment here.

Kansas City Symphony

  • Annual Budget: $8.8 million
  • Length of Season: 42 weeks
  • Proposed Venue: Kansas City Performing Arts Center
  • Executive Director: Frank Byrne
  • Acoustician: Yasuhisa Toyota

Executives from the Kansas City Symphony declined to comment on the planned Performing Arts Center.  Answers to these questions were provided by Kansas City Symphony musicians and information collected from articles by Paul Horsley in the Kansas City Star.

Question 1: Will your organization own or rent your planned concert hall?
Answer: Rent

Question 2: What organization will operate the concert hall facilities?
Answer: the Kansas City Performing Arts Center

Question 3: What is the overall cost and what is your organization’s financial commitment to the new concert hall?
Answer:  The overall cost of the entire Performing Arts Center is approximately $304 million.  The orchestra is not contributing cash or development resources to the hall.  However, our board president and vice president are on the executive committee for the new hall.

Questions 4: Do you plan to relocate the symphony administrative offices in the same building as the concert hall?
Answer: No, the main symphony offices will locate elsewhere, although some essential facilities such as the music library and room for stage crew will be on-site.

Question 5: What is your annual rent for use of the concert hall facilities?
Answer: We will pay rent, but that amount is as of yet undetermined.

Question 6: Which other cultural arts organizations will share this facility as regular tenants along with the orchestra, and do any receive ‘first pick” rights?
Answer: The facility has been described to us as “ours”; the message is that we have first rights of refusal and will be given preference for scheduling. However, there is no official guarantee in writing. The proscenium venue will feature the ballet, opera, and Broadway shows, so there isn’t really a large potential for conflict with dates since those groups won’t use our hall.

Question 7: Did the orchestra music director and/or player’s committee have final say regarding acoustical aspects of the proposed concert hall?
Answer: We have some input into the acoustics in conversations with Mr. Toyota, the acoustician.

Question 8: Does the concert hall have provisions for dedicated educational/outreach facilities?
Answer: That has not been finalized yet.

Question 9: What are the proposed concert hall technical specifications: seating and stage size?
Answer: The proposed dedicated symphony hall will have 1200 seats.  Although there are plans to include 150 additional choir seats that can be used to generate ticket revenue when the orchestra doesn’t use the chorus.

Question 10: How did you organization decide to either own or rent your proposed concert hall?
Answer:  Owning our own hall was financially beyond our means.  “We think we can make it work,” the symphony executive director, Frank Byrne was quoted as saying. “We have played very successfully in a venue around that size, and our sales there are quite good.”

Additional comments: Last spring, it looked like the PAC might only have one multi purpose hall instead of two separate dedicated facilities, and there was much consternation among the musicians. Folks are happier now, but the fact that the hall is going to happen at all is diverting angst about its size.

Nashville Symphony

Out of the four orchestras selected for this study, the Nashville Symphony is the only organization planning to own their own hall.

Question 1: Will your organization own or rent your planned concert hall?
Answer: The Nashville Symphony will own Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

Question 2: What organization will operate the concert hall facilities?
Answer: The Nashville Symphony will also operate the building and Ted Dedee, a career performing arts venue manager be the building’s first managing director, employed by the NSO.

Question 3: What is the overall cost and what is your organization’s financial commitment to the new concert hall?
Answer:  The total cost of the project, including financing costs, is $135 million. Construction is being financed by the combination of a $102 million tax-exempt revenue bond issuance, backed by a Letter of Credit from Bank of America, to be repaid entirely by the Symphony; a $10 million subordinated private placement series of tax-exempt bonds, and up to $20 million of direct contributions to the project mostly from the public sector. I would also like to add that the city of Nashville generously donated 2.58 acres in city property for the new hall.
In addition, we are engaged in a major campaign to increase our endowment by $120 million, in order to expand our financial capacity to operate the building, and to achieve our shared vision of building the orchestra into one of the finest in the U.S.   artistically and organizationally. In just over two years, we have raised more than $100 million. The Symphony is entirely responsible for the costs of the building, with the exception of the $20 million of mostly public sector direct support.  We do not anticipate cost overruns, as we are using the construction manager model with a “Guaranteed Maximum Price” contract. The building is now designed and bid, and every step of the way thus far, we have stayed on-budget and on-time. I honestly believe that our project has been the model of efficiency and solid planning, and our consultants and design team agree.

Questions 4: Do you plan to relocate the symphony administrative offices in the same building as the concert hall?
Answer: Yes.

Question 5 & 6 were not applicable since the Nashville Symphony plans to own their new hall.

Question 7: Did the orchestra music director and/or player’s committee have final say regarding acoustical aspects of the proposed concert hall?
Answer: We have involved the music director and a committee of musicians in EVERY decision about the building, and we also appointed two musicians (chosen by the orchestra) to the board’s building committee from the outset. In addition, our acoustician, Paul Scarbrough of Akustiks, has had several meetings with the full orchestra throughout the process. Having said that, however, I would add that we work for consensus among all parties, and it has served us well. The board, staff and I have all had significant input into the process and I can happily report that the consensus approach has served us well, and has resulted in no compromises to the acoustics. The acoustician also worked directly for us, rather than as a sub-consultant to the architect, putting us in the position of being the final arbiter of any design disputes that might compromise the acoustics.  We had developed a shared vision for the project and were extraordinarily clear about what we wanted from the start   a single purpose symphony hall with acoustics like no other   one that might rank among the best in the world. And NO compromises to the acoustics question were ever permitted in design process.

Question 8: Does the concert hall have provisions for dedicated educational/outreach facilities?
Answer: Yes   the building will contain a 3,000 + sq. ft. music education center, and provisions are being made to easily accommodate school buses around the site, as our goal is to double the number of students we now serve from 80,000 per year to 160,000 per year at no charge to the students or schools. Our education center does not contain any of the technological devices or gimmicks (other than multimedia equipment for group presentations) that some other halls have attempted. We, instead, consciously chose to focus on what we do best   playing great music in a great setting   for the students. The expanded Youth Concert schedule will all take place in the main hall, with informal smaller group activities taking place in the education center.
In addition, we have forged a partnership with Vanderbilt University, with the help of a generous donor, pop/country record executive Mike Curb, to create the Curb Youth Symphony which will provide performance opportunities for students in the new venue. Among other new programs we plan to implement in the new education center facility, are continuing education opportunities for adults (i.e. after work discussion and lecture-demonstration type performance series followed by social interaction opportunities), pre-concert lectures, and up-close and personal discussions with guest artists for both students and adults. We also hope to make the venue available for minimal cost each year on a limited basis to the public schools for city wide band, orchestra and choral festivals and contests.

Question 9: What are the proposed concert hall technical specifications: seating and stage size?
Answer: The Laura Turner concert Hall, as the interior hall of the  Schermerhorn Symphony Center will be known, will have 1,900 seats on three levels, all with excellent sight lines. Located behind the stage is a 146-seat choral loft that is available for public seating during non-choral performances. The stage will accommodate 115 musicians and an automated system of moveable banners and panels can adjust the acoustics for various types of performances, including amplified music.  Over 100 computerized lights can rapidly, and in synchronization, focus, change color and direct their beams to any part of the concert hall, while a state-of-the art sound system for speech and high-level amplified music will complement the hall’s natural acoustics.
Other unique features include a motorized system which can remove the tiered seats on the orchestra level to reveal a flat 5,400-square-foot hardwood ballroom floor, allowing the orchestra to present some concerts in an informal “cabaret” style seating arrangement with tables and food and drinks available. Thirty soundproof windows will allow natural light to enter the hall.  A magnificent concert organ custom-built by Schoenstein & Co. of San Francisco will be available for all performances.

Question 10: How did you organization decide to either own or rent your proposed concert hall?
Answer:  We were absolutely convinced that we HAD to control our own destiny to achieve our goals, and we knew that the process would enrich the organization in unimaginable ways.

Additional comments: Currently we perform in a multipurpose facility that really does not meet the needs of our organization.  And although our average attendance is currently lower than the planned number of seats, I’m confident that we will not only fill the hall to capacity, but we’ll expand our earned income revenue by adding additional concerts to most series.

I invite you to return tomorrow for part three, where I will analyze each orchestras situation and offer my predictions for their future.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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