Toronto Symphony Orchestra to get $250 million home

Written by CNN Staff Posted by CNN Staff on Friday, 24 August 2018

It is an enviable stage: a theater of genius, an enormous stage, seen from above and from the ground. And not to mention that it’s the stuff dreams are made of: under the shimmering dome of an iconic building by the city’s founder.

For the past four decades, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s home has been the Roy Thomson Hall, a former public building built in 1904 that, at just 80,000 square feet, was deemed too small for the modern concert hall.

When the $250 million renovation to Thomson Hall opens this summer, it will be a far more grandiose venue: the 11,000-square-foot Borealis Hall, designed by an enterprising architecture team and debuting in the orchestra’s 100th season.

The hall’s design reflects its imposing location: 12 stories above the street, nestled in an industrial neighborhood known as the Annex, the hall is as airy as it is big.

“I looked down at it and it just looked like a gazebo,” says Ian Hodder, the principal designer on the project, who studied at the University of Toronto in the city’s trendy Bloor East neighbourhood.

“So we developed a light shaft to be like the gazebo itself, albeit on a much, much larger scale,” he says.

Now, the light shaft is expressed in staircases that sprout from the corners of the exterior, tying the spaces into the shifting river landscape that marks Toronto’s Annex.

It’s a design that echoes Sondheim’s work: He famously created “Ragtime” for the Roy Thomson Hall stage.

On Thursday, some of the Canadians whose artistry is imbued in the design gathered for a conference in support of the reconstruction, together calling for Sondheim’s memory to be honored through the project.

“This should not be remembered, the theater should not be remembered, the hall, I mean, not the architecture,” says Ewen Cameron, the publicist for the festival, which included an evening of cabaret tribute performances to the composer.

But the audience’s disappointment as a monument — a griffin that spews off extinguishing embers of light, echoing the dinosaur-like music of “Hair” that Sondheim wrote for the music hall’s opening — was tempered by the optimism surrounding the new hall.

“I think it’s going to be something that’s going to transcend itself,” says Graham; his company also handled the design for Toronto’s Little Theatre, a Barrie-based theater that the Toronto Symphony organization recognized early on.

“The writing of the space is unique and distinctive and will set it off,” he says.

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