Smaller Concert Hall Is Better

Posted: March 03, 1988

The Philadelphia Orchestra Association has given supporters new reasons to move beyond dithering and naysaying and to dig into their pockets for the orchestra's new concert hall. By deciding to build a slightly smaller auditorium and to opt for first-class rehearsal and backstage facilities, rather than things like a ballroom, the orchestra association demonstrated that it is putting art first.

The size of the new hall is no minor concern. Architects and experts on acoustics are in wide agreement that a 3,000-seat capacity strains the limits of quality, and the orchestra had been talking of selling tickets for 3,100 seats. But artistic concerns prevailed and now the plan is for 2,700 to 2,900 seats. Providing quality rehearsal and back-stage facilities is also important, for giving short shrift to the performing artists could hurt the orchestra in the long run.

The architectural news last week was accompanied by the revelation that the projected cost of the concert hall has gone up $23 million since 1985. The total fund-raising goal is now $103 million - $83 million for the hall, $10 million for the orchestra's endowment and $10 million to renovate the Academy of Music after the orchestra moves. The academy renovations must remain immune

from belt-tightening; the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania and Milwaukee Ballet, which will become the principal tenants of the Academy of Music, are major elements of the region's cultural life and should not be hamstrung by a tight orchestra budget.

Orchestra Association chairman William P. Drake also revealed that fund- raising efforts have been somewhat underwhelming so far - "much more than $1 million" was about the best he could say as to the total reached. If, as Mr. Drake indicated, the fund-raising is only now beginning in earnest, the association is going to have to prove itself in a big way fast.

By proceeding with a concert hall in which artistic concerns take first place, the orchestra has shown that it recognizes its reputation is on the line. But the city's reputation is also riding on this endeavor. Does Philadelphia have the stature to build a first-class concert hall for its first-class orchestra? If the answer comes back that there is just not enough money out there to do this project right, the city will be admitting that there isn't enough financial support to sustain its cultural heritage. Cultural institutions should not be engaged in some kind of Darwinian struggle. Each benefits from the others' successes. For everyone's sake, it's time to get on with funding the Philadelphia Orchestra's new home.

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