The Curtis Institute of Music doubled the size of it's campus on September 6th, 2011 when it officially opened Lenfest Hall. This is a year of remarkable change at the renowned institute. The ceremonies began by welcoming new and returning students in the Field Concert Hall in the converted Drexel mansion which has been home for Curtis for 87 years. Two of the new students marked another change for the institute for they are the first guitar performance students at Curtis.
The convocation was followed by a procession down the closed Locust Street to the welcome site of a large tent erected on the street. As the rain poured down a world premiere of a Fanfare excerpt from "Sparkle" by Chia-Yu Hsu ('00) was played by a brass quintet comprised of Curtis students:
Sara Huebner, trumpet
Diana Wensley, trumpet
Katherine Jordan, horn
Brian Santero, trombone
Nathan Lodge, bass trombone
Curtis president, Roberto Diaz (Viola '84) opened the ceremony with a description of how Beethoven revolutionized the string quartet and that the new Lenfest Hall was "designed to spark creativity". Elizabeth Warshawer, Vice President, who was instrumental in the completion of Lenfest Hall spoke next. Mayor Nutter was scheduled to speak next but was delayed, so Gary Steuer, who reports to the Mayor as the City's Chief Cultural Officer, made a few remarks. He was followed by Eleanor Sokoloff, who has the remarkable distinction of having taught piano at Curtis for the past 75 years. Zoe Martin-Doike (Violin), a current student, spoke about how the availability of dorms and dining facilities will ease many of the stresses she has experienced in past years by the demands faced by living in an apartment.
The next musical selection was from one of the more famous Curtis alumni, composer Samuel Barber ('34). His "Song for a New House" was written for Mary Louise Curtis Bok, founder of Curtis, upon her move to a new house. This very fitting piece, which evoked the singing of birds, was performed along with the increasing noise of rain on the tent by:
Sarah Shafer, soprano
Patrick Williams, flute
Michelle Cann, piano
Mayor Nutter arrived in time to have his remarks emphasized by the well timed strikes of the noontime bell at St. Marks. He described how world wide influence of Curtis elevates the cultural reputation of the City of Philadelphia. He mentioned many of the other contributions that the Lenfests have made to the city, but that this time the "Lenfests have outdone themselves". A standing ovation greeted H.F. "Gerry" and Marguerite Lenfest who made a few remarks and cut the ribbon.
A buffet lunch was served to the large crowd in the Miriam and Robert Gould Rehearsal Hall. I had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Bruce Jay Gould, M.D. about the potential of the space. He described the numerous high tech features that could be used to do things only possible in the 21st century, such as remote conducting of the orchestra via video streaming. There is also a recording studio and the room physically floats to isolate outside noise.
I later had the opportunity to jump into one of the brief tours of the facility. It is truly beautiful, modern, and functional. It's top priority is strip away day to day living concerns of the students and provide world class accommodations for study and practice. The most visible feature is the double and triple windows throughout the building. They, and the substantial walls, are designed to soundproof the 32 practice studios, which are open 24x7. The dorms will house over 1/2 of the student population and the practice facilities are available to all the students. A beautiful terrace designed by Longwood Gardens provides a small garden retreat right outside the student lounge, with it's requisite ping-pong table.
The real surprise of the tour was that one gentleman was interested in searching the walls for his paintings. It turned out that artist Lance D. Balderson was in our group and he had several of his paintings installed in Lenfest Hall. The most prominent was the three panel painting in the student dining area. Mr. Balderson described the subtle presence of numerous instruments and the square shapes that were inspired by the ubiquitous squares of Lenfest Hall. He said that the red color that winds it's way through the panels represents the soloist musicians since they often wear red.
The ceremony was a great success, especially considering the dreary weather, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for this gleaming new facility and the extraordinary talent within it's walls. More photos are available here, but my apologies on their fuzziness. It was the best I could do from the press seats in the tent and a simple camera.
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