A Community Jewel

A Community Jewel

By D.T. Baker, Musicologist

As we continue to mark 25 years of the Winspear Centre as part of Edmonton’s cultural life, that comes with the realization that there is now a whole generation of people that weren’t around when the amazing acoustic space we have did not yet exist.

Composer John Estacio remembers, and he seemed to understand the “Well, back in MY day” vibe in his voice as he talked about what the Winspear Centre has added to our community. “I think the younger generation just kind of assumes, because they didn’t know what it was like before – they think this is the norm, how it should be,” he says, a little self aware of how “old guy” his words sound. “But I think the generation before that realizes this is not the norm – this is very special.”

John arrived in Edmonton in 1992 as the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s first-ever Composer in Residence. That was five years before the Winspear Centre opened, so he was in the audience for many ESO shows prior to that. “When I did go to other concert halls, even if it was just Jack Singer down the highway, or Roy Thomson Hall – which, at the time, before its refitting, had some issues – when you went to these other halls, you went, ‘Wow, this sounds really sumptuous, it sounds lovely.’ And then to come home, and there were those big, red cushy seats, and carpeting, and all of these absorbent materials in the concert hall, you think, ‘Oh, well’.”

Estacio points out that one of the real frustrations of that resignation is that the limitations of other venues also limited one’s appreciation for how good the ESO could be – something he realized the first time he heard the orchestra in the Winspear’s performance chamber. “I still remember hearing the first orchestra performance – and it wasn’t in front of an audience, it was for a recording,” he recalls. “When you got in there, you realized, holy bananas – this is the same orchestra. Look at what we were missing! It was like driving a Lamborghini in first gear for years, and then you realize there’s all these other gears – let’s see what this machine can do!”

John, of course, has seen the Winspear Centre from all sides, and was even around for many of the events and initiatives involved in making the hall a reality. But he is a music lover, and has been an audience member both before and since the Winspear opened. He’s also been in his fair share of other music performance spaces, and knows that Edmonton audiences have something special here.

“Oh, yeah, it’s fantastic venue,” he asserts. “I’ve been to other venues around the world, and the Winspear is right up there – it’s a stunning venue. Are there other ones that are better? Maybe, but they are fractionally better. When you went from the Jubilee to the Winspear, it was not fractionally better; it was a considerable number of times better. I’ve been to concert halls that are quite beautiful, not only to look at, but also to listen to. And I think the Winspear offers that. It can do live music extremely well, it can do amplified music extremely well – I think it’s a jewel that we’re lucky to have in our community.”