In my mind, the early pre-construction artist renderings of the new North Central College Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center did not adequately convey the depth of architectural form which can be found in the final product. The facility is as alluring on the outside as it is on the inside. Stacked shapes and sharp angles adorn the grand two-story convex panoramic glass front of the center.
My entrance to the interior of the center was delayed by a series of photographs I captured as the afternoon lighting created an amazing perspective of the building. Upon entering, I was greeted by Ted Slowick and after dropping my coat off, we were on our way.
Our first stop was the art gallery which has already featured its first exhibit and is gearing up for yet another. Anyone can access the gallery free of charge during regular hours during exhibits. In my mind, the gallery was a great idea to draw in the community on what will hopefully be a regular basis.
After the gallery, we took a brief walk through the lobby into the facility’s centerpiece, the Wentz Concert Hall. As a musician and composer I was quite excited about finally getting inside this space. I had heard much about the structural and acoustical design strategy. The first thing you notice right away as you walk through the double doors is the realtive intimacy of the space matched by little or no “dead” space. Our quieted voices carried freely around the interior. While there is a basic speaker setup flying overhead, it’s clear to see that it would be largely unnecessary even for the smallest ensemble.
Perhaps the coolest aspect of the Wentz Concert Hall is not only the general acoustics but the acoustical variability which has been built into the space. What does this mean you might ask? It means the actual physical room can be altered to create the perfect acoustically treated environment based on the needs and characteristics of each performance group. For staters, there are two reverb chambers flanking the stage at the balcony level. These spaces take in the ambient sound in the hall through a pourous surface and works its way up and over the top to be re-introduced into the hall high above. What it means to the audience is your head will not spin from swirling reverb hitting you constantly at ear level. In a way, the sound is recycled and re-introduced into the room at consistent balanced levels regardless of where you sit.
Additionally, high above the stage there are curtains that can be raised and lowered which serve to vary the amount of sound absorption based upon the size of the performance group. Becuase of the acoustics and modest size, Ted mentioned that there has been quite a bit of interest to utilize the space for recording sessions.
The interior design of the concert hall reminds me allot of a large modern church. Perhaps it’s the choir seating which hovers just above and behind the main stage. The stage itself is as basic and as bare as it gets. Nonetheless, make no mistake, this is a music space which is fine tuned for the highest quality listening experience rather than overly ornate gandure.
After spending a few minutes on the stage, I can imagine that performers will find this space as exciting as the audience in terms of acoustics. The only thing missing on the stage was the center’s Steinway grand piano which I would have loved to sample in the concert hall’s environment. Regardless, we would run into that Steinway later on.
After the Wentz Concert Hall, our next stop after a quick trip down a set of stairs was the black box theater, which is a small intimate flexible space which can be used in a number of different configurations. Fear not, this space is fully equipped and it reminded me allot of being in a television studio or small sound stage.
Our next stop after the black box theater was what I would call the center’s “backstage” which consists of an array of rehearsal and classroom spaces amidst the green room and dressing rooms for concert hall and black box theater. It’s amazing how the interior feel of the building quickly shifts from a performing arts center to an academic space. The good news is we finally encountered that Steinway grand piano I mentioned earlier and Ted indulged me in playing a few passages from one of my recent compositions for my film project, Imprévu – The Kenneth von Heidecke Story.
I could also hear the muffled sound of students rehearsing a variety of instruments as we walked down the halls. It’s clear this facility is a huge huge huge boost to North Central College’s music program.
As we rounded out our tour, I provided some thoughts and perspectives to Ted on how North Central can maximize the community accesibility.
First, I hope this space does not become a traditional “fine” arts only space as so many different types of musical forms and genres would provide a fascinating audience and perfomer experience in this space. Further, while I was thrilled to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra play an early date after the facility’s opening, I was less than thrilled to see the $150/ticket price tag for a concert which appeared to have heavy corporate sponsorship as well. Granted, I realize there are economic realities to hosting groups the size of CSO in a mid-sized concert hall; however, to me it sends a message to local audiences when a trip can be had to Symphony Center in Chicago for less.
Second, I took advantage of my time with Ted to pitch an idea of having open performance nights in which local artists might have an opportunity to take the stage and perform for the community. Let’s face it, to achieve a level of sustainability for arts centers these days, “friendraising” is as important as fundraising. My greatest hope is this center is as much a home for showcasing local artists as it is for visiting artists.
Regardless, I am a fan of the Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center and look forward to taking in my first performance in the near future. As a community, I encourage everyone to rally around this facility and know that North Central College wants this to be not only an NCC facility but also a community institution. The first season’s schedule is already underway and many opportunities to experience performances remain. You can access the performance scedule by CLICKING HERE.
Finally, though Ted didn’t raise the issue, it goes without saying that while capital construction is complete, there is always a financial need for the ongoing operations and offerings for any arts center. As such, I would like to issue an unsolicited personal challenge to you to consider making a donation to ensure a strong future for the Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center. You can do so by clicking on the MAKE A GIFT link here. Let’s continue to support the continued evolution of world class arts in Naperville! SM