February 10, 2003

Emory finally gets space to shine


By Stephanie Sonnenfeld ssonnen@emory.edu

Theater, dance and music of all strains merged together as one voice the evening of Saturday, Feb. 1, to celebrate the dedication of Emory’s newest addition to its campus skyline: the Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.

A crowd of 540 filled the newly installed seats in the Schwartz Center’s Emerson Concert Hall to honor those who made the building possible, and to enjoy the first of many performances that will fill the building with sound, movement and drama in years to come. And such a momentous occasion could not pass by without a hefty dose of creativity and ingenuity to mark the moment that was almost a century in the making.

“Don’t be surprised if someone sitting next to you stands up and starts to sing or if somebody sitting behind you stands up and starts playing the flute,” said Board of Trustees Chairman Ben Johnson in his opening remarks to the crowd.

Aptly titled “Inter-Play,” the evening’s performance was directed by Theater Emory’s Vinnie Murphy and incorporated the theater, dance and music departments.

Throughout the evening, Theater Emory actors (costumed in styles from ranging from the Renaissance to the 1920s) read text from the later performed Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, while students from the Emory Dance Company fluttered down the aisles. A flutist rose from the crowd, an oboe-playing duo performed front and center, and piano notes wafted from the right balcony. Don Saliers, William R. Cannon Professor of Theology and Worship, gave the evening’s invocation from the upper-left balcony of the concert hall.

The interspersing of spoken word and music reflected the “interplay” of energy, imagination and hope that went into building the Schwartz Center, as well as the future collaboration of performing arts that will be created and performed in the 87,349-square-foot building. The performances also allowed the crowd to enjoy an acoustical check of the concert hall, which provided the perfect preface to the majestic marriage of full-bodied sounds from the evening’s final piece—the performance of the Beethoven work by both the Emory University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, both directed by Eric Nelson.

All performances weren’t full of sound, however. Guest faculty member and alumnus
Vince Tortorici (’90C) bounded out on stage as a Charlie Chaplin-esque clown, entertaining the crowd by posing as the orchestra conductor and organizing the building’s ribbon cutting.

Between the performances, Rosemary Magee, senior associate dean of Emory College and executive director of the Arts Project, interim Emory College Dean Bobby Paul, President Bill Chace and Donna Schwartz (half of the building’s namesake) offered short but poignant remarks.

“Beneath us lies the imperishable spirit of Annex C—loved by one and all—a wooden framed structure of World War II vintage, a temporary building that refused to die—until now: until it could be transformed into this magnificent, 21st century, ageless and timeless performing arts center,” Chace said, above the crowd’s laughter. His reference was to the “temporary” wood-framed housing structures built during the 1940s to house students, later acting as homes to various departments including the theater and dance programs.

It was in those buildings where Schwartz (’62C) found herself rehearsing for choir and attending music classes with professor Chappell White, who in the early 1960s reissued the call for a performing arts center. White (who attended the dedication) was one of the many throughout Emory’s history who voiced a need for such a center—an idea that can trace its roots back to at least the 1920s.

“It seemed to me that the arts never had the same attention that all the other college curricula like law, medicine, business and the sciences had,” said Schwartz, an English major who nonetheless registered for every art history and music appreciation class she could schedule.

“We all wanted an arts center because we needed the proper home for the performing arts. We needed it because we cannot live without the arts, no matter what profession you are engaged in,” she said.

After meeting with Magee at a 1999 Association of Emory Alumni event in New York, Schwartz and her husband Marvin (parents to Elizabeth, ’97C, and teenage son Charles) decided to help make Emory’s “longest deferred dream” (according to Johnson) a reality. The couple donated $8 million for the $36 million building, prompting more than 700 other donors to follow suit, Magee told the crowd.

“People have given their hearts to this enterprise,” Magee continued. “Look around the hall and you will see the focus of so many of the people who made this dream come true—people just like you and me.”

The center also was funded with $18 million in support from endowment income, and in 2001 the Kresge Foundation provided a $750,000-matching grant. Additional fundraising was conducted through naming opportunities of various spaces within the Schwartz Center, including the upper lobby that is now named for Chace and his wife, JoAn, through a donation from Harry (’41C) and Jane Willson. That announcement was made during a reception for trustees and donors prior to the dedication. Fundraising will continue through a seat-naming campaign that already has yielded nearly 300 donations.

But the building was made possible through more than just monetary donations. There were the crane operators who installed a million pounds of pre-cast concrete; masons who bricked the Allen Family Plaza outside the center; drywall hangers who shaped the walls; and electricians who created the conduits for lighting, Magee told the crowd.

The building (which broke ground in October 2000) was built by Holder Construction and designed by the firm of Michael Dennis and Associates of Boston, in association with Howard-Montgomery-Steger of New Orleans and Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart of Atlanta. Theater Projects Consultants of Westport, Conn., was chosen for theater design services, and Kirkegaard and Associates of Chicago and Boulder, Colo., provided the critical acoustical design.

In addition to the concert hall (named after Emory benefactor Cherry Logan Emerson, ’38C, ’39G), other major public and academic spaces in the center include a theater lab, a dance studio, classrooms, artist affiliate studios, a theater design classroom, student lounges, a rehearsal hall, practice rooms, seminar rooms, a music performance library and an arts commons.

The hall also is home to a new Steinway concert grand piano, debuted during the dedication and played by Will Ransom, Mary Emerson Professor of Piano and artistic director of the Emory Chamber Music Society. The 9-foot, 990-pound instrument (manufactured at the Steinway & Son factory in New York) was a gift from the Schwartz family and was chosen during a visit to the factory by Ransom and Donna Schwartz.

“We got a real beauty,” Ransom said. “It had everything I was looking for.”

Ransom said the piano’s sound will continue to evolve each time it is played—which will be many times during the next few months and throughout the Schwartz Center’s inaugural season that begins in September and runs through May 2004.






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