New Bella Concert Hall set to open in September at MRU

It’s been over a decade in the making, but Calgary’s first mid-sized concert hall is in its final stages of completion and will be opening its doors this September.

The Bella, a $90-million, 773-seat concert hall at the centre of Mount Royal University (MRU)’s new conservatory facility, will be the first performing arts centre to open in Calgary in nearly 30 years.

Paul Dornian, director of the MRU Conservatory, said that construction is currently “somewhere between 90 and 95 per cent done.

“This has been sort of a long-time evolution since we first developed the idea [to build a new conservatory and concert hall] years ago in the late 1990s,” he said.

“We wanted to build something for the community that will fill some gaps in art facilities, and I believe we’ve done it.”

The main concert hall features a Western Canadian-inspired design which seamlessly incorporates a state-of-the-art acoustical reflector that is suspended between the stage and the ceiling for improved sound.

“We are going to have a good array of amplified speakers and so on that can actually drop down through that canopy,” Dornian said.

“So whether it’s a popular music show or a jazz show or a string-quartet or a 100-voice choir, I think it’s just going to work wonderfully in there.”

In addition to the Bella Concert Hall, the new conservatory facility houses six ensemble rehearsal halls, 43 sound-proof studios, a percussion room, several master class rooms, a student lounge, and a spacious multi-level lobby.

The facility also features a new early childhood instructional suite, which was built specifically for the conservatory’s numerous early childhood programs.

Dornian said that those programs were a significant factor in the design and construction of the new conservatory.

“Unfortunately, [the lack of accessibility] is a situation that we have been [facing] for the last number of years,” he said.

“We were operating [children’s programs] in spaces that weren’t designed for people under three feet tall.”

Now, the newly constructed conservatory facility is much more child-friendly and easily accessible.

“For example, moms with strollers can park right outside the entrance, [where] we have designated parking, so they don’t have to travel long distances from the parking lot or fight their way into the middle of campus,” said Dornian.

Because of the upgraded features and capabilities of their new space, the MRU Conservatory intends to expand and diversify its program offerings.

We wanted to build something for the community that will fill some gaps in art facilities, and I believe we’ve done it. – Paul Dornian

“In general, we’re growing the programs and we’re trying to expand our programming to be very inclusive – all ages and kinds of music,” he said.

Rosabel Choi, manager of Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO)’s education and outreach programs, said the new conservatory facility, especially the Bella Concert Hall, will enrich the programs and performances put on by the CPO.

“CPO musicians are trained to create a massive range of colour and texture in their sound for each performance [so] it is important to have an acoustically-adept venue to support that dexterity,” said Choi.

“A space like the Bella Concert Hall is incredibly important to the music and sound community in Calgary.”

On Saturday, Jan. 24, MRU gave the public the first sneak peek at the new facility.

Several choir groups performed in the unfinished concert hall, creating a tight squeeze for all the standing audience members.

Music members from the CPO, Calgary Youth Orchestra, and various campus choirs from MRU performed open rehearsals for the duration of the open house.

Each section of the Conservatory featured different musical groups who performed in different spaces and rooms under construction to give the public a feel of what to expect once the project is completed.

Piano trios, guitar trios, string quintets, and other ensembles from the Advanced Performance Program and Academy for Gifted Youth Ensemble showed off their skills during the event.

The new concert hall will be replacing the Jubilee Auditorium as the home of the Performing Arts Festival (formerly known as the Kiwanis Music Festival) in 2016.

The Jubilee will host a the festival for the last time this year on March 2-15 and April 20-30 as a farewell.

The Bella Concert Hall is named after Mary Belle Taylor, the grandmother of Calgary businessman Don Taylor, who donated $21 million to fund the concert hall.

With files from Stephanie Lem.

About Justine Cuenco 5 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Justine Cuenco is working as a reporter for The Press during the 2014-2015 academic year.