Las Vegas welcomes the Smith Center

by Bob Hoelscher 7. May 2012 20:00



Despite the numerous visitor attractions for which Las Vegas is famous, one thing that the city did not have until recently was a first-class performing arts complex. This March all of that all changed with the opening of the $450 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts, located at Symphony Park, a new downtown development that was formerly occupied by extensive railroad yards. I got to visit this truly impressive facility this spring to explore the Smith Center’s performance venues. 
   
Like his other well-known projects, the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth and Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, the architect, David M. Schwarz, has designed the Smith Center in art deco style. For this design, he incorporated design elements that pay homage to the art deco features of Hoover Dam. No expense was spared in obtaining Indiana limestone for the exterior, fine Italian marble for the lobbies and foyers, plus custom fixtures, decorative artwork and sculpture, as well as state of the art technical resources. Crowning the center is a 47-bell Carillon Tower. Across the entrance driveway sits the lovely Symphony Park for another special outdoor events and exhibitions venue.  

The Smith Center intends to host a wide variety of performances, ranging from “Broadway” theatre productions (The Color Purple was in the midst of a one-week run during my visit), to popular, jazz, classical and “crossover” music artists, as well as other special attractions. Resident companies include the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet Theatre. 

An initial challenge with an overly “hot” sound (as the stage manager termed it) and the reported lack of bass response have apparently led to some mixed and negative reviews of the Reynolds Hall acoustics. However, the extensive efforts required to assure that any new performance space is optimally “tuned” are still underway, and the acoustics are sure to be improved as that process nears completion. Additional information is available through Amber Stidham, Public Relations Manager, who graciously guided me on an extended tour in early April.  Amber can be reached at astidham@thesmithcenter.com.


Exterior Art Deco Building Detail


Smith Center as Viewed from from Symphony Park


Reynolds Hall Lobby

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Springtime in the Southwest

Kauffman Center

by Bob Hoelscher 28. December 2011 01:32

September witnessed the opening of one of Missouri’s newest cultural and visitor attractions, the magnificent Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts in downtown Kansas City. Many years in the planning, the Kauffman Center not only replaces antiquated and inadequate venues for the city’s three major performing arts organizations, but also does so in truly spectacular fashion. 

From the north side, the facility approximates two giant oyster shells that some have compared to the famed Sydney Opera House in Australia. The Center was designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, whose other recent, and similarly praiseworthy addition to the Midwest cultural scene is the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, which opened its doors in November.

Inside are two splendid halls. From the main entrance on the south side of the complex, the 1,800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theatre, the new home of the Kansas City Opera and Kansas City Ballet, is on the visitor’s left. This facility will also be utilized for “Broadway” productions and traveling shows, such as the one-woman performance by comedienne Lily Tomlin that was scheduled for the evening of my visit in late November. On the right, and connected by a spacious and truly impressive “grand foyer” on two levels, is the Kansas City Symphony’s new 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall. Both the ceiling (roof) and the south side of the foyer itself are expansive walls of glass  To the south is a panoramic view of the city (but not the downtown area itself), looking towards the Crown Center, historic Union Station, the Liberty Memorial, which houses the National World War I Museum, and other sights.

My reason for coming to Kansas City was a Sunday matinee concert by the Symphony, an excellent orchestra that has come a very long way since it’s founding in 1982 from the “ashes” of the bankrupt Kansas City Philharmonic. Although based on the conversations I had, the word had likely circulated widely among the city’s residents, but I was immediately surprised how much the interior of Helzberg Hall resembles a slightly smaller version of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  Needless to say, however, the somewhat controversial exterior of the Disney facility, designed by Frank Gehry, is much different.  But the real test of any concert hall is its acoustics, and I am happy to report that here they are superb. Furthermore, the sightlines are excellent from seating areas throughout the hall.

I think my friend Roger Oyster, the Kansas City Symphony’s Principal Trombone, said it best in an e-mail to me after the hall debuted in September  I am happy...ecstatic, actually...to report that Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center is spectacular in nearly every way. Stunningly beautiful, sound is flattering on stage, you can hear yourself and your colleagues always no matter what the context---it is literally among the best places I've ever played, which include Symphony Hall in Boston and pre-renovation Carnegie (Hall in New York). I've had some chance to hear the KCS in the house, and while I haven't been in nearly as many great halls as a listener as I have a performer, the sound is absolutely stunning. The best news we learned this last weekend: it sounds even better with a house full of people. We're all beside ourselves with joy here.” Don’t miss it on your group’s next visit to Kansas City!



Halzberg Hall



Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

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Three snapshots of the Midwest

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