Concert Hall Projects Update: Nashville – Part 4

The final article in the series of concert hall project follow-up articles is the conclusion the virtual tour of Nashville Symphony’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center…

The tour moved toward the backstage facilities which will house the musician space, instrument storage, and the loading bays. The musicians will have a dedicated parking lot two blocks away from the hall and will have after-hours access to the backstage areas. There will be separate musician dressing areas with dedicated lockers and two lounges; an all purpose lounge and a “quiet” lounge. Musicians with large instruments, (basses, harps, etc.) who aren’t able to transport their instruments to and from the hall for every service will enjoy climate controlled storage facilities so they won’t have to worry about the damage caused by fluctuations in temperature and humidity.

The musicians helped plan almost all of the interior space of their dedicated facilities, right down to carpet covered instrument and equipment ledges designed to prevent damaging instruments. The lounges will also have televisions which feature a closed circuit feed from inside the concert hall; an especially useful feature for musicians backstage waiting to play antiphonal parts or are not used in particular pieces. The same closed circuit feed will display concerts on large, 42” plasma screen televisions in the SSC main lobby so patrons arriving late to concerts will still be able to enjoy the concert to some degree.

Another intriguing feature of the building will be their ability to disconnect from the main city chilled water and steam heat lines so they can run their own HVAC equipment with temporary units instead of canceling events due to an interruption in city services; a lesson the organization has learned working in other venues. An additional feature in the SSC which developed after an unfortunate ordeal experienced at a new concert hall elsewhere in the country is a sprinkler system equipped to sound an audible alarm before it engages. This provides building managers the ability to manually override the system and for musicians to protect their instruments and music from water damage.

Other backstage facilities include three truck loading bays with a large freight elevator located only a few feet away as well as a Purline power system to handle any mobile production energy requirements. Below the backstage facilities are the private offices for building managers and the SSC full kitchen featuring $650,000 of commercial kitchen equipment (including a private office for the executive chef).

The tour moved to the second and third floors of the building which will house the Mike Curb Family Music Education Center, green room, patron lounges, board rooms, and administrative offices. The majority of the larger, open spaces will contain modular fixtures so they can customize the space for individual renter or events needs. The board and education rooms will have pantries stocked with refrigeration and heating elements to keep food from the kitchen at proper temps.

The administrative offices are divided between two floors and are connected via an internal stairway as well as outside entrances on each floor. Another two-story room is the Donor’s Lounge, a private room featuring wood paneling and offers panoramic views of the surrounding area. Large skylights, like the one shown in the picture to the far left, are featured throughout all of the upper level lounges and halls. Natural light is a key feature for the entire SSC. Even the main concert hall will feature 30 soundproof windows allowing the hall to be filled with natural light. You can see how the windows will fit into the concert hall design from the middle picture to the left. This is the vantage point from the rear, top balcony seats. Click here to see the same view from an interior rendering of the hall. The raised concrete platform on the far end of the picture shows the cut-out for the mechanized piano lift. The climate controlled piano storage room is located directly below the main stage. The large pit in front of the stage is where the motorized carriages will be moving the seating wagons on and off of the main seating floor. Ted DeeDee, standing far right in the third picture to the left, is looking up toward the concert hall windows from the vantage point of the rear, middle balcony seats.

Next, the tour moved into the top tier seating areas of the Laura Turner Concert Hall. The first picture to your right shows the framed out private box seats, each with their own small private lounge. We eventually made our way around to the stage side of the hall where we could see the expanse of the concert hall seating from the view of the antiphonal towers which are located on either side of the stage. These will allow the musicians to have direct eye contact with the conductor while playing off stage parts. The second picture to your right shows you what those musicians will see when looking out into the concert hall. You can clearly see both rear tiers of balcony seats in addition to the private boxes on the middle tier. Many of the pipes for the new organ will be located between the antiphonal towers. The woodwork throughout the stage area will consist of Makore (an African wood much like cherry, but darker in color and more consistent in grain) and Brazilian Cherry.

The tour concluded in one of the two entrance towers (the West one). In an effort to simplify things and reduce the amount of time patrons have to wait in line at the ticket office, each of the two main entrances will feature self-serve kiosks much like the ones used by airlines for self-serve check-in. The SSC plans to use a real-time ticketing system so patrons can purchase tickets, change seats, pick up will-call tickets and more right from the kiosks.

As the tour concluded I talked to Alan Valentine about how they’ve been able to stay under budget and on time even though they’ve made several changes since they broke ground. Alan said,

“We have a separate $5 million construction contingency fund and a $1 million owner’s contingency fund. We’ve gone over the $1 million fund a bit but plan to make up for that using the savings achieved by having the project finish ahead of schedule and under cost.

I followed up by asking Alan where the $5 million construction contingency fund will be directed if they don’t need all of it and he said,

“If we don’t need to use the $5 million fund that money will go into our general coffers after the building is completed.”

Undoubtedly, the Nashville Symphony has undertaken one of the most ambitious expansion projects to maximize their potential in the past decade. Of course, other orchestras have also assumed a great deal of risk on large projects in order to improve their fortunes and some have fared better than others. But none have done so with such meticulous planning, rapid progress, and such broad-based support as Nashville.

Of course, the risk for Nashville is still there, they need to expand their regular audience, attract renters, maintain media attention, and last but not least, select a new music director for the first time in 22 years. However, the single biggest piece of risk in the project involves the least amount of control: how the new hall sounds.

Nashville plans to deal with any surprise acoustic issues by enacting a three month shake down period before the inaugural concert in September, 2006. Nevertheless, even with the best advance planning it’s simply impossible to know if a new hall is going to sound bad, mediocre, or fantastic until after it’s done. In order to find out where Nashville falls, everyone will have to wait until this time next year.

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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