Imagine if Bach or Beethoven were to design a music venue. Would it have the unique acoustical canopy found in Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall? Would the sound from the stage be reflected back directly to the orchestra in Edmonton’s Winspear Centre? Intriguing as these questions are, they reveal more about the musical passion that is making Alberta’s orchestral scene into an essential add-on to your next visit.
Woven into the fabric of their respective cities, the Calgary Philharmonic and the Edmonton Symphony orchestras take centre stage. Not only do these concert halls bring the music to life, they draw you into a realm of acoustical bliss. Easily accessed in their downtown cores, each opens the door to a broad spectrum of must-see, or I should say, must-hear, performances. Whether it’s Mozart, Carmina Burana, James Bond or Pink Floyd there is nothing like hearing these orchestras create musical magic.
Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO)
I tend to find that concert halls are really hidden city marvels. It may be due to their architecture, it may be the way the sound comes to life and it definitely includes the talented orchestral ensembles. In Calgary, once inside the Jack Singer, it never fails to amaze that an 83,915 kg (185,000 lb) laminated spruce wood acoustical canopy is suspended above the stage and can be raised or lowered to tune the hall specifically to fit the performance. Then there’s the Carthy Organ, a marvelous 75 stop, 111 rank organ that has 6,040 pipes, which only adds to the experience.
The CPO offers not just classical excellence in close to 80 concerts annually but everything from rock and roll to movie scores and family or holiday favourites. The orchestra itself dates back to 1955, created by the merger of the Alberta Philharmonic and the Calgary Symphony.
Outside the Jack Singer hall, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of the Arts Common, one of Canada’s largest arts centres. Located downtown in the Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Arts Common, home to three of Calgary’s top theatre troupes, is the site of a multitude of cultural activities and events that take advantage of spectacular, outdoor park-like settings.
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO)
In Edmonton, the Symphony Orchestra traces back to 1920 with a community orchestra first using that name. It wasn’t until 1952 that a professional ESO troupe was established by the Edmonton Symphony Society, and the ESO now has a mission to to bring the highest quality, live orchestral performances to a broad spectrum of the community.
The Winspear was designed to supress any outside noise – the concert hall is right in the middle of Edmonton’s lively downtown arts district and adjacent to Churchill Square, home to summer festivals and a host of special events.
Inside, the Winspear has its own so-called top hat, otherwise known as a reverberation creator. With reflectors behind the stage, and fins on the canopy, sound from the stage can be reflected back onto the musicians so they can hear themselves play – this also distributes the sound to the main seating area. Hearing the ESO’s music resonate through the Winspear will definitely draw you back, and for organ fans, there’s the Davis Concert organ, which features 96 stops, 122 ranks, and 6,551 pipes. If you can, don’t hesitate to opt for the elevated seating behind the orchestra, which offers unprecedented close-up views of the musicians and still provides excellent acoustics.