Thursday, October 14, 2010

Official Opening of UBC's Old Aud

One of the first buildings constructed on the University of British Columbia campus is fondly known as "the Old Aud".  Built 85 years ago (1925), UBC was finally faced with a crucial decision:  either renovate or remove.  A generous grant from the provincial government provided about half of the funding required, the stimulus needed to help some courageous administrators decide to renovate, and the Faculty of Arts and President's Office both committed to raising the remaining millions.  The renovations capture the exuberance and aspirations of British Columbians as they set about creating their one and only university after WW I and before the depression (UVic, the province's second oldest university, would not be founded until 1963).  The auditorium's original large windows still flood the hall with natural light during the day in ways no other Vancouver auditorium enjoys.  Unfortunately, my sense is that their enormous curtains and the new ceiling absorb too much sound, but we at least have a solid building, whose acoustic can be addressed another day.

Guests were greeted by the most polite protesters I have seen on any campus.  They handed out an alternative 'programme' detailing the provincial government's failure to finance student aid and disinterest in funding education generally.  The brief pamphlet's information seemed quite accurate to me.  Interestingly, this was the only programme handed out for the entire event, so it was doubly powerful.

Being retired, it is always special to see former colleagues, if even only for a brief moment.

Prof. Nancy Hermiston was one of the profs most keen to get the Old Aud renovated, especially if it could then be partially used as a venue for UBC's opera productions.  Appropriately, Nancy chaired the grand opening.

As people gathered, I enjoyed seeing the Old Aud being filled once again with an audience.  My other visits these past several years have been photo shoots of the renovations.  The only people I saw in the darkened hall were tradesmen, architects and potential donors.  It was fun watching the skills of the tradesmen transform the hall into a shell, strengthen it, and then restore the hall to its former glory.  But it was also good to see the auditorium once again accommodate an audience, including a former Director of the School of Music.

The grand opening began with a Canzona by Giovanni Gabrieli, arranged for modern brass instruments.  This was performed from the back of the balcony, which let the focused sounds of the brass instruments follow the ceiling's contours and be dispersed throughout the auditorium.  The seated students patiently waiting their turn are from the Opera programme.

Of the many features of the Old Aud, my favourite (beside the tall windows) is the balcony railing, so clean, so simple, so willing to reflect colours, yet so useful.

Dr. Richard Kurth, Professor of Music Theory and Director of the School of Music, spoke eloquently when thanking others for their considerable efforts which made the renovations possible.

Musqueum First Nation Elder, Mary Charles brought warm greetings from her nation.

The official opening concluded with an Wagnerian excerpt featuring the UBC Orchestra in the new pit, the UBC Singers (standing on stage behind the speakers), and the UBC Opera Ensemble in the balcony.  (You can see the official media and university photographers standing in the right aisle.)

Attendees included students, faculty from various departments, administrators, friends of UBC, and alumni, many of whom have fond memories of the Old Aud from their student days.

A reception was held in the part of the basement which has been transformed into a sizable rehearsal room.  The Old Aud's 'basement' is only several feet below ground level, which enables large windows to provide excellent natural lighting even during Vancouver's darker rainy winter days.  

As the stage emptied, I wondered, "Where's the open mic when you most want it?"  I wished I could have overheard what West Vancouver-Capilano MLA, Dr. Ralph Sultan was saying to UBC's President, the Dean of Arts, and the Director of the School of Music. I decided to render this in black and white.

Opera majors in costume and 'in character' greeted guests coming and going.

Irving Guttman, founding artistic director of the Vancouver Opera, enjoyed reading a metal plaque honouring his contributions to opera across Canada.  The opening reception was held in the Guttman Rehearsal Hall.