The Colburn School in Los Angeles is about to break ground for a major campus expansion designed by Frank Gehry that includes multiple spaces, among them a 1,000-seat in-the-round concert hall, named for Terri and Jerry Kohl, with acoustics by Yasuhisa Toyota. Image: Gehry Partners

In Brief | Construction projects are meeting the needs of orchestras, conservatories, and audiences nationwide, with projects that range from brand-spanking-new concert halls to thoughtful restorations of historic venues to installations of updated behind-the-scenes tech.

The thud of pile drivers and the whine of saws are adding an unexpected obbligato to the country’s musical life as orchestras and conservatories nationwide are building concert halls, restoring historic theaters, and constructing new spaces. The construction projects take a variety of approaches, on a variety of scales, from adaptive reuse of landmarked edifices to building a brand-new school designed by a starchitect to installing updated tech systems to finally create the concert hall the orchestra deserves. All that cement being poured and paint being slathered—for orchestras, it’s literally musique concrète.

When the pandemic hit, concert halls went quiet as orchestras pivoted to alternate venues—parks were alive with the sound of music—and virtual presentations. During the lull, many orchestra halls got a facelift—sometimes much more—and others were built from scratch. The reasons range from improved accessibility and acoustics to infrastructure upgrades, new safety features, spaces for music education, and more. Many of these projects were long-held dreams or already on the drafting table, and though the pandemic posed unprecedented challenges it also offered a rare opportunity: with concerts and gatherings shut down, now was the time to call in the acousticians and builders.

Perhaps more importantly, as orchestras rethink their roles in a rapidly evolving society, their physical presence—the concert hall, the theater, the performing arts center—is a palpable manifestation of how orchestras relate to the multiple communities they serve. Sheets of glass that let everyone see what the musicians are up to, or marble walls that make a grand civic declaration? A shining temple on a plinth, or a low-key structure that merges with the streetscape? For orchestras, architecture isn’t only a practical matter of good acoustics or a cool design—orchestras’ homes tell people who we are and what we do.

This article is the second of two parts. The first part, which ran in Symphony in December, examined the renovation of David Geffen Hall, the New York Philharmonic’s home at Lincoln Center, and the creation of the San Diego Symphony’s new Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, an outdoor venue on the city’s waterfront.

The Colburn School

In Los Angeles, the Colburn School is about to break ground for a 100,000-square-foot campus expansion, designed by no less than Frank Gehry and slated to open in the fall of 2026. The new Colburn Center building, across the street from the school’s main campus, will include a 1,000-seat concert hall, professional-sized dance studios, a flexible 100-seat studio theater, commercial-quality recording and streaming capabilities, and green spaces, many of them publicly accessible.

  • The Colburn School’s expansive new campus will be built near the school’s existing campus in the civic center of Los Angeles, an area formerly dominated by government buildings that has become walkable, even hip thanks to Colburn and the arrival of apartment towers, outdoor markets, and street life. The draw? The performing arts. The Los Angeles Music Center has long been home to several world-class theaters and even the Oscars, and more recent arrivals include Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (another Frank Gehry landmark), the Broad Museum of cutting-edge art, and other arts groups. Image courtesy of the Colburn School.
  • In a city known more for asphalt than trees, the Colburn School’s new campus will feature a lot of green space, much of it open to the public. The new building will be located on a complicated, hilly site that already accommodates cars, pedestrians, a highway underpass, residential and office towers, Colburn’s existing campus, and several other performing-arts organizations. Image courtesy of the Colburn School.

The Curtis Institute of Music

In 2020, Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music embarked on a major project to restore and modernize its historic building in Rittenhouse Square, the school’s home since it opened in 1924. The building was originally constructed in 1894 as an elegant mansion for the Drexel family, so things like digital tech and HVAC systems weren’t part of the scheme. The $15 million project, completed in 2022, revived the building’s period-perfect sheen and included upgrades to heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning; a new elevator; a larger costume and wig shop; and acoustical and other improvements to Field Concert Hall. The renovation balances a respect for antique aesthetics with the need for modern infrastructure.

  • The Curtis Institute’s construction project included restoring its main entry, known as the Common Room, to its original appearance by removing obtrusive, outdated elements. Many other rooms—some bearing the names of such legendary musical artists as Marcel Tabuteau and Mieczyslaw Horszowski—benefitted from similar restoration work when parquet floors and fireplace details were revealed for the first time in decades. Photo by Peter Vanderwarker.
  • The Curtis Institute’s renovation included the installation of a new elevator that reaches all five floors, increasing accessibility and allowing large musical instruments to be moved more easily. Photo by Peter Vanderwarker.
  • The Curtis Institute found space for a new media studio, an audio-visual studio, and recording control room. They will help students create multimedia projects that can be shared in person and online. The school’s renovation and modernization project also aimed for greater energy efficiency, as well as comfort, with a new HVAC system. Photo by Peter Vanderwarker.

The Erie Philharmonic

In January 2021, Pennsylvania’s Erie Philharmonic opened its first full season in the newly restored Warner Theatre, an historic movie palace where improvements include a new acoustical shell, an expanded stage, updated tech systems and loading docks, and even a restored Wurlitzer organ. The goal was to combine the grandeur of the building’s origins as a 1930s movie house with a state-of-the-art performing arts center, said Erie Philharmonic Executive Director Steve Weiser. The project happened during the COVID-19 shutdown, when the Erie Philharmonic performed a season of eight televised concerts, broadcast free on WQLN PBS. The Warner Theatre is a state-owned property maintained and managed by the Erie County Convention Center Authority. The Philharmonic is the theater’s most consistent tenant, and the hall also hosts the Lake Erie Ballet and the Erie Broadway Series. Erie Philharmonic audiences have flocked to concerts at the renewed Warner in record numbers: the orchestra has sold out 50 percent of its performances this season.

  • The renovation of the Warner Theatre, home of the Erie Philharmonic, showcased the extravagant fantasy of its start as a 1930s movie palace. The project included new carpeting throughout the theater, restoration of the original restrooms, and, seen here, refurbishment of the Grand Lobby. Photo courtesy of Erie Philharmonic.
  • An aerial shot conveys the scale of the restoration and expansion of the Warner Theatre, home of the Erie Philharmonic. Work included the creation of 13,750 square feet of backstage space; new rigging, stage lighting, and loading docks; and updated HVAC systems. A marquee was reconstructed to replicate the original, which featured stained glass, and the brick and stone façade was repaired. Photo courtesy of Erie Philharmonic.
  • The Erie Philharmonic takes the stage of the restored Warner Theatre. In addition to new rigging and lighting and a rehearsal hall, the renovation of the 2,100-seat theater included the installation of a customized acoustic shell for the orchestra. The orchestra opened the newly renovated theater with a celebratory concert in January 2021 that featured Emanuel Ax.

The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra

In Pennsylvania, the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra returned to the Forum Auditorium in October 2022 for its 2022-23 season, following a renovation of the historic theater. (The orchestra performed at the Scottish Rite Cathedral during the renovation.) The 1,610-seat auditorium was built in 1931, the same year the orchestra was founded; the Classical-style auditorium is part of the State Capitol Complex, owned and operated by the Commonwealth of PA, and also hosts choral, jazz, gospel, dramatic, and dance presentations. The renovation includes new heating and air conditioning, plumbing, wiring, fire alarms and fire suppression systems, and computer and data networking. All great, and all essential—but what really dazzles are the auditorium’s redone public spaces, complete with a lighted map of the constellations on the ceiling. As Harrisburg Symphony Executive Director Matthew Herren points out, guest artists are always stunned when they arrive for rehearsal.

  • Renovation of the Forum Auditorium, home of Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, included buffing up the hall’s spectacular celestial ceiling. Photo courtesy of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.
  • The Forum Auditorium was restored to its original 1930s splendor in a recently completed construction project. The Classical-style auditorium is adjacent to the Pennsylvania State Library in Harrisburg’s Capitol Complex and presents concerts by the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra as well as performing arts events in multiple genres. Photo courtesy of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.
  • Music Director Stuart Malina leads the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra in a 2023 rehearsal in the newly restored Forum Auditorium. Photo courtesy of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Some construction projects are more visible than others. Heinz Hall, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s home in downtown Pittsburgh, underwent renovations during the pandemic shutdown that may not have been all that noticeable to the public: expanding the box office, adding accessible doors, and improving ventilation. More recent changes will be harder to miss: the historic hall is about to emerge from a multimillion-dollar facelift that includes the restoration of its terracotta façade, the replacement of dozens of windows, and the installation of new lights—and possible lighting effects—on the exterior.

The League of American Orchestras’ 2023 National Conference takes place in Pittsburgh, June 14-16 and is hosted by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Many events and concerts take place at Heinz Hall during the Conference—providing the perfect opportunity to see what the fuss is about. Learn more at

New LED lighting brings added sparkle to the exterior of Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and vibrancy to the city streets. Photo by Joey Kennedy.

The Sarasota Orchestra

For about a decade now, Florida’s Sarasota Orchestra has been considering how to meet its need for something the region has never had: a state-of-the-art, acoustically superior purpose-built concert hall. The orchestra has also been thinking about the area’s expanding population and arts and cultural communities—and it is thinking big. The orchestra has now gotten government approval to acquire a 32-acre site for a permanent Music Center that will include a new 1,800-seat concert hall, a 700-seat recital hall for chamber performances, space for education activities and partnership with local schools, and outdoor community places. Approximately 20 acres will be dedicated to the Music Center, an additional building for possible future expansion, and parking facilities. The remaining 12 acres will be dedicated to wetlands, water features, natural parks and trails.

  • A map shows the location of the Sarasota Orchestra’s recently approved 32-acre Music Center site, which will include a new concert hall, smaller performance venues, spaces for music education, and more. Twelve acres of the site will feature wetlands, water features, parks, and trails that are open to the public. The planning process involved considerable community input, resident surveys, zoning amendments by Sarasota County, and discussions with local arts groups.
  • The Sarasota Orchestra currently performs at six venues, with most of its Masterworks and Pops performances at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, which is owned and managed by the City of Sarasota.

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras

A combination of factors exacerbated by the pandemic resulted in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras losing access to rehearsal facilities it had inhabited for 53 years. For the last two years, the organization has been operating without programming space and holding rehearsals for 450 students in schools, churches, and parking lots. How to solve the space race? In June of 2022, the youth orchestras broke ground on a new 40,000 square foot facility in downtown Madison with space for lessons, rehearsals, offices, instrument storage—and expanded opportunities for young musicians. The construction of the new building says much about the growing centrality of youth orchestras in their communities, with dedicated buildings for youth orchestras opening across the country.

  • The gentle curves in a rendering of the exterior of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ $33 million Center for Music evoke the natural landscapes of the region, while extensive use of glass brings the outside in. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.
  • A blueprint of the ground floor of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ new three-story home shows the complexity of its multiple uses—not just spaces for rehearsals and studios, but administrative offices, instrument storage, outdoors spots, and places for young musicians to hang out. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.
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