Robert E. Jacoby Symphony Hall in the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts has a birthday coming up. On April 26, 2017 the hall will celebrate its 20th. For Jacksonville, the construction of this acoustical gem represents a local milestone on a par with the date of government consolidation and the awarding of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL franchise. And a venue that can be called one of the best in its class was created.
Twenty years ago Jacksonville was like many mid-sized cities with orchestras. However, there were issues relating to the fact that the orchestra performed in the cavernous 3,200 seat Civic Auditorium, which had been completed in 1962. Besides the fact that the orchestra had to share the venue with traveling roadshows and other events, the acoustics were horrible for symphonic music.
Mayor Ed Austin’s River City Renaissance plans in 1993 included a multi-million-dollar renovation to the auditorium. It would take a lot of money – $11 million from private donors as well as the Florida Times-Union’s $3 million for naming rights. But that plan did not include a separate home for the Jacksonville Symphony and that did not sit well with some.
Then-Music Director Roger Nierenberg met with Jacksonville Symphony board member Preston Haskell to outline the need for a special home for the orchestra. Haskell agreed, taking the idea to the building committee which included a number of Jacksonville’s Who’s Who: Dink Foerster, Bob Jacoby, Carl Cannon, Isabelle Davis, Bob Shircliff, Jay Stein and Jim Winston. A capital campaign was born and Preston Haskell took the reins.
With a lead gift from Bob and Monica Jacoby, the committee was able to raise $22 million – exceeding its original target. The hall’s design was given to KBJ Architects’ Jack Diamond who brought in world-famous acoustician Larry Kierkegaard to oversee sound quality.
The duo chose a “shoebox” configuration that was modeled after halls in Vienna and Boston, considered the gold standard for orchestral sound. Kierkegaard told Haskell that he would know if he had succeeded if the sound compared to Boston Symphony Hall.
Symphony board member J.F. Bryan, IV, felt the new hall needed its own organ. He credits fellow board member Ross Krueger with finding the Casavant Opus 553 that is now called the Bryan Organ. The organ was built in 1914 and has four manuals, sixty-three stops and seventy ranks. Quimby Pipe Organs in Warrensburg, Missouri, rebuilt and restored it in 1997 for Jacksonville.
So why is having Jacoby Hall so important? Robert Massey, president and CEO of the Jacksonville Symphony explains, “I don’t know if newer patrons realize what a monumental effect the Jacoby has had on making the Jacksonville Symphony what it is today. It’s one of the crown jewels of performance destinations.”
It also says something about the priorities of Jacksonville. Music Director Courtney Lewis believes that the fact that we have a Jacoby Hall makes a statement about how important music and our orchestra are to the community.
“Musicians comment on the beauty of the sound from the podium, the excellent sightlines and risers, and how well-sized the hall is for a city of Jacksonville’s population,” he adds.
With a dedicated concert hall, the orchestra doesn’t have to fight for dates and is able to practice in its own space. That means that the musicians get a true sense of the sound of their performance.
And how good is that sound? On opening night acoustician Larry Kierkegaard, after hearing the first few bars of music, leaned over to Preston Haskell saying, “better than Boston.”
Join the Jacksonville Symphony for its 20th anniversary weekend starting with the April 27 bestbet Symphony in 60 performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, Pathétique. Other performances of Pathétique that weekend are April 28, 29 and 30 and include violinist Ayano Ninomiya playing Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto.
For more information, visit jaxsymphony.org.