The last fittings are being bolted into place in the new Rothschild Performing Arts Center; in a few short weeks it will debut. All the hardware, all the sound gear, the plush curtain and the 450 seats in the Patil Theater will be brought into motion by students, parents, faculty and staff on Feb. 2. The building will go live in the finest sense of the term.
From the basement to the fly and with the stage in between, the theater will be busy (for more on the behind-the-scenes and classroom features see news.harker.org. In the basement, students will be prepping in the dressing rooms, those comforting havens where performers can stash their stuff, get into their performance outfits, get their ‘faces’ on and have a last calming sip of water before turning to the audience; and to whence they can return, energized and exhausted, after performing.
The dressing rooms include spacious restrooms and each dressing room will feature counters around three sides, said Kevin Hart, of Kevin Hart Architecture, which co-designed the building with Studio Bondy Architecture. There will be continuous mirrors above the counters, as well as continuous lights above. Outlets are at counter height for hair dryers, razors, curling irons, etc., and those outlets are all switched off at the door, for safety. The rooms are carpeted and the wall and ceiling assemblies are noise-reductive due to their proximity to the stage and auditorium, Hart added.
While downstairs the dressing rooms teem with preparations, upstairs, the audience, up to 450 strong, will have found their way past an intimate plaza featuring one of the oak trees carefully preserved during construction and now replanted in front of the center, perhaps picked up tickets from the will-call window in the tasteful, airy lobby, waved to friends on the lobby balcony and stopped to enjoy a unique art installation: a 34.5-foot-wide, 15-foot-high color LED display.
As performers finish preparing, stage crew members put the final touches on sets and musicians rustle sheet music into place, the audience will be settling into comfy seats by Series Seating. Series has provided seating for many performing arts venues worldwide, including Her Majesty’s Theater in Adelaide, Australia and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Series provided several alternatives to choose from, and sent mockups of final options so school officials and the design team could actually sit in the chairs and check out the fabric. Seat trim will match the maple in the wall trim and ceiling sound reflectors, and the seat coverings will match the stage curtain. Seats are of a few slightly different widths and staggered so that the view from every seat is between the heads of the row right in front, noted Hart.
Audience seating is in three sections – orchestra, parterre and balcony – and each is at a different angle to optimize views of the stage, noted Hart. “The floor of the orchestra section is sloped, while the parterre and balcony are stepped,” he said. “All three sections are curved to focus on the stage, creating a bowl-like floor. There are also two special rows in the balcony which are a few steps down from the second floor, closer to the stage. The room is extraordinarily intimate: every one of the 450 seats will seem quite close to the action on stage.”
One of the stars of the theater is a Bösendorfer concert grand piano. Bösendorfers are considered one of, if not the, top concert pianos in the world and Harker’s will be stored just off stage in a special closet. The grand opening program has not been set, but perhaps those attending the opening will get a special treat if the Bösendorfer is played as these pianos are in the finest concert halls in the world. The Harker Bösendorfer will provide an unparalleled instrument on which students can refine their skills. In addition, the piano will be a significant draw in attracting top level performers to Harker for master classes and performances. It is a game changer in the world of concert pianists.
The piano that will grace Harker’s Patil Theater stage is a model 214VC CS. VC stands for Vienna Concert and CS stands for Conservatory Series. “The piano is actually a bit of a rarity; CS plus VC is not common and we are lucky we got it,” said Chris Florio, instrumental music teacher and orchestra director.
The model 214VC is seven feet long and the Vienna Concert features are “characterized by projecting an unheard array of colours and optimized mechanical interplay of all action components,” according to the Bösendorfer website. What does that translate to in English? The VC was released in January 2017 and Yamaha’s literature notes the VC has
- New action and keyboard scaling design for perfect control and direct touch and feeling,
- Optimized placement of string section and bridges at the soundboard for even string load, supporting the flexibility and effectiveness of the soundboard assembly resulting in improved sustain, projection and dynamics.
- New innovative soundboard design for a stable three-dimensional soundboard crown leading to enhanced resonance, dynamic spectrum and sustain.
- An outer rim that maintains the traditional Bösendorfer resonance case principle with a spruce core for obtaining a maximum range of rich tonal colors.
Conservatory Series pianos come with a distinctive satin finish and simplified cabinet features, practical attributes for piano in a learning environment.
Harker’s Bösendorfer has one final customization that provides a subtle, but important, feature. “We have had large stage casters installed on the piano,” said Florio, “the same casters that are usually on the (Bösendorfer) 280 and 290 concert grands. The piano does not come with stage casters and the use of a grand piano dolly, like we have in Nichols Auditorium, raises the height of the piano. This was a modification to the piano we worked out with Bösendorfer through our vendor.”
Florio noted it was nip and tuck to get the desired piano in the timeframe and within budget.
“Susan Nace (vocal music teacher and director of three Harker choirs) and I tried out pianos last spring,” said Florio. “We collectively decided that the seven-foot Bösendorfer was the best piano for the theater, and one we hoped would fit our budget. It turned out that our budget was not quite enough but, luckily, Yamaha, who owns Bösendorfer, came back with an additional 10 percent off of the sale price.”
Then, a turn for the worse: in the interim, the chosen piano had been sold. It can take up to six years for a piano to be finished; Bösendorfer offers nine models and several special editions, and produces fewer than 300 pianos each year, so getting another 214VC CS by the Feb. 2 grand opening of the RPAC was looking dodgy.
Nonetheless, the muses smiled on Harker and it only took a couple of weeks for another 214 VC CS to come out of production. That was good, but it was July: Florio was away on vacation and the 30-day window to complete the purchase was closing. That was bad, and there was another hitch. “As the sales tax on the piano brought the final cost over our budget, we needed the approval of both Brian Yager [new head of school starting that week] and Diana [Nichols, chair of the board of trustees] to move ahead with the purchase.
“I was in Tahoe when the 30 days was coming up,” said Florio, “and I got in contact with the manager of the dealership to see if we could finalize the deal while I was gone. As luck would have it, Joe Rosenthal [executive director of advancement] was working back in San Jose and Brian was just in for his first week of work.”
Everyone signed off on the deal, “with the understanding that Joe would find a donor to cover the over-budget,” said Florio. “So, in good faith, Joe went ahead and processed the payment for the piano while I ironed out the contract details while on vacation in Tahoe. We had a donor cover the extra cost by the end of summer. It was a hectic week but we got the deal done and got the piano we wanted!”
The “Bösey,” as one Harker pianist referred to it, is currently being stored and will be delivered to the stage in late January. It will be professionally “voiced” for the space but it will likely take a good amount of time for the piano to completely acclimate to the theater. “It’s going to be such a perfect piano for the space,” said Florio.
And that piano will be played. All the equipment in the performing arts world will not breathe life into the building the way the performers will and that is what Laura Lang-Ree, performing arts chair, can’t wait to see. “It’s really not about the details, but rather the overall impact for the audience and kids,” she said.
“Students and audience will be thrilled and overwhelmed each time they walk into the space and realize it’s theirs,” she noted. “We’ve never had anything like it before and it’s state-of-the-art, across the board. We are not just stepping up, we are transforming both in the classroom and onstage by virtue of the building itself. It is the entire impact of an actual building designed for performing arts that is the feature!”