Concert hall, education center to boost local art scene

BETHESDA, Md. — The Washington, D.C., area’s newest performing arts facility, the 2,000-seat Music Center at Strathmore, opens in February with an eclectic schedule aimed at introducing the auditorium to a wide, new audience.

The $100 million structure, owned by Montgomery County and bankrolled by state and county funds, will be operated by the nonprofit Strathmore Hall Foundation. Hailed by county executive Douglas Duncan as “the single most significant building this county will build in our lifetime,” it will house a large but embracing concert hall and an expansive education center with rehearsal spaces, classrooms and private studios.

Strathmore figures to have a major impact on the area’s music scene. For starters, it will become a new second home for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, expanding that organization’s reach within the sphere of D.C.’s National Symphony Orchestra. BSO will play some 40 dates per year here.

It also will provide an important new venue for the Washington Performing Arts Society and will showcase other area orgs including the National Philharmonic Orchestra, an organization created by the merger of the National Chamber Orchestra and Masterworks Chorus and headed by Piotr Gajewski.

The center officially debuts Feb. 5 with a gala inaugural concert not yet announced. It will stage more than 60 events during its first four months including a Mardi Gras party with Dr. John and the Nighthawks, the Mingus Big Band, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Barbara Cook and Arlo Guthrie.

To support the programming, the Strathmore Hall Foundation has raised more than $6 million from the likes of Comcast, Discovery Channel, the Washington Post, Lockheed Martin and others.

It was designed by architects William Rawn Associates, acousticians Kirkegaard Associates and theater designers Theater Projects Consultants, the same design team for the Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. Associate architects are Grimm & Parker of Calverton, Md.

Design elements include curvilinear shapes, a distinctive curving roofline, adjustable acoustic reflector panels above the stage and other ingredients aimed at ensuring impeccable acoustics. The audience will wrap around a concert platform suitable for a wide range of musical acts with the exception of musical theater and opera.

The education center will include a pair of two-story acoustically separated rehearsal rooms, one for chorus and one for orchestra. It will also include nine individual music instruction and practice rooms, a dance studio with sprung floors and mirrored walls, multi-purpose rooms and an electronic music lab. Most importantly, Strathmore Hall is conveniently accessible from the Capital Beltway and the area’s subway system.

“We will present broad genres of music, especially during our first year,” says Shelly Brown, programming VP. “It will be a terrific space for performers and audiences alike,” she promises.

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