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Volume 15 Issue 1 - September 2009

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  • September
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Making Koerner Hall

Making Koerner Hall WorkAt last, it’s finished. The Royal Conservatory of Music’s TelusCentre for Performance and Education, behind the RCM’s Victorianhome on Bloor Street, is now officially complete, inside and out.“The construction took three years,” says a proud Peter Simon, theRCM’s president. “And the planning began two years before that.”Simon estimates that the final price-tag for the building was about0 million.RCM President Peter SimonThe centrepiece is Koerner Hall, a 1,140-seat concert hall that openswith a gala concert on September 25 – followed by a season of 70 moreconcerts. And for Toronto’s musical communities, the presence of thisnew facility in the heart of the city brings both opportunities and challenges.It’s a bold venture that will surely change our musical culture.Apparently, that’s the whole idea. “Toronto needed a great hall,”remarks Simon. “We didn’t set out to build the kind of hall you findin a lot of music schools: a facility that’s primarily there to serve thestudents and staff. We set out to build a hall that would attract internationalartists. There was nothing downtown like that. I consider theGeorge Weston Recital Hall to be a great hall” – he pauses – “but itis where it is.” (Where it is, of course, is up in northern Toronto at5040 Yonge Street, in what was once the cityof North York.)Simon doesn’t like to describe the new KoernerHall as a copy of the George Weston,preferring instead to emphasize the differences.For one thing, Koerner’s acoustics have received the highestpossible rating (“N1” in scientific jargon), thanks to the giant rubberpads the building sits on. For another, the Koerner is slightly differentin shape: higher and less oblong, with a much shallower balcony.Koerner is also outfitted with the latest high-tech equipment, including24 robotic camera positions to facilitate broadcasting.By Colin EatockPHOTO: CLIFF SPICERYet the two halls are similar in many ways. Like the George Weston,Koerner Hall is first and foremost a concert venue, with a stage largeenough to accommodate an orchestra – but it’s not a “multi-purpose”hall. (Simon admits it won’t be suitable for full-scale opera productions,for example.) As well, both halls are approximately the samesize. And, as Simon explains, in the concert business, size matters.“There’s a whole range of artists that will sell 700-1000 seats, andeconomics make it impossible to present them in Toronto. If youwant to present major artists, and you only have 600 seats to sell,you’re limited. 1150 is the sweet spot. It’s not a general rule, but thegreat halls in the world are in the 1100-seat size.”In building Koerner Hall and getting into the concert business in abig way, the RCM has bitten off plenty to chew on. The budget forconcert expenses at the Conservatory this year is about .5 million,and Simon hopes to earn that money back from ticket sales.He believes that the new facility won’t become the tail that wags thedog, requiringconstant injectionsof cash fromRCM’s operatingbudget to survive.“We haveno moral objectionto making aprofit,” he quips,“but our goal isto break even.We haven’t builtsomething that’snot economicallyviable.”That said, it willtake more thanblind “if-webuild-it-they-willcome”faith tomake the RCM’snew initiativework. And nobodyis moreaware of this thanMervon Mehta,the man that theRCM has hiredto make Koerner“We have no moral objection to making a profit,but our goal is to break even. We haven’t builtsomething that’s not economically viable.”A computer-generated image of the interior ofKoerner HallHall an artistic and financial success. An experienced impresario,he’s programmed concerts for such big-name venues as Chicago’sRavinia Festival and Philhadelphia’s Kimmel Center.The name Mehta is a familiar one in the musical world: Mervon’sfather is the famous conductor Zubin Mehta; and his uncle is ZarinMehta, executive director of the New York Philharmonic. As a result,Mervon grew up in a very musical environment.“As a child, it seemed normal for JessyeNorma or Pinchas Zukerman to come todinner,” he recalls. “Looking back on it, Inow realize it was pretty remarkable. Myparents were very well rounded, musically.Growing up in Montreal, I heard a lot of classical music in our home– but there was also music by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and RaviShankar. And when I moved to the States in the 1970s, I discoveredR&B and Motown.”Continued on page 638 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM September 1 - October 7, 2009PHOTO: KPMB ARCHITECTS / NORM LI & Q STUDIO

September 1 - October 7, 2009 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM 9

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