November 25, 2019
The Winspear Dream: A Concert Hall for All
Nearly 40 years ago, Nora Bumanis moved from Toronto to Edmonton to join the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO). “It was the first and last audition I played in my life, and luckily, I won it,” she laughed. Back then, the ESO played at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, and the Winspear Centre was only a dream in the back of the musician’s minds.
The conception of the Winspear Centre came through the hearts and minds of a group of people dedicated to making music even more accessible in the Edmonton area. One of the group members was Nora. She remembers meeting at local bars after practices, and drawing plans for their dream concert hall on cocktail napkins. The dream was for a new home for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra: an acoustically excellent, beautiful, and accessible hall that would support the Orchestra’s artistic growth while the patrons shared life-changing musical experiences. “This hall has created a sense of family and community within the orchestra,” Nora recounted. “It’s become our home. It’s brought us all closer together.”
When the orchestra first moved into the Winspear Centre, there were some adjustments that they had to make. During the first practice in the Winspear Centre, Nora remembered the moment the entire orchestra realized just how incredible a space they were playing in. “One of our bass players dropped a pencil, and it sounded like an explosion.” The entire orchestra sat silent for a moment, as they took in the incredible acoustics in the hall they had all helped bring to life. Nora laughed: “for the first time in this new hall, the conductor asked me to play my harp quieter. That never happens to harp players!” The new Winspear Centre allowed the orchestra to play their full dynamic range, and have it appreciated in every possible way.
The first concert in the Winspear Centre is another great memory for Nora. It was presented for the construction workers, who helped build the hall, and their families: “it was exciting to play for this group because of the ownership and pride that they felt for the venue, and was a very meaningful evening.” Yet the Winspear Centre wasn’t just physically constructed: it was built and supported by the community who wanted to witness the orchestra play to its full capacity. The community came together to make the Winspear Centre happen, and no one can deny how important their support is to the orchestra. “When we moved into the Winspear, we quickly realized how much of the community was responsible for its development,” Nora explained. “It’s the community that gives our hall its purpose.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the magic of the hall and forget that the original plans for the Winspear Centre were far grander than the building that exists today. The original budget for the hall simply couldn’t sustain the original plans, meaning that certain key aspects of the building had to be put aside. For example, the building was originally supposed to include an educational facility, filling the space that, for the last 22 years, has been used as a parking lot at the back of the building. The land that the building lives on has been leased to the Winspear Centre by the City of Edmonton for one dollar per year, on the condition that when the time is right, the Winspear Centre will complete the original vision for the building.
The Winspear Project, or the completion of the Winspear, will take the original dream of an acoustically excellent concert hall and complete it: adding another 550-seat performance venue, additional studio/classroom space, a YMCA child care facility, underground parking, a terrace, and more. The Winspear Centre will be open to the public daily and will encourage visitors to engage with music in different ways throughout the facility. With a planned completion in 2022, the Winspear’s 25th anniversary, this project will transform the downtown core, and support the Winspear’s mission to be a true center for music.
Nora hopes that the Winspear Project will help share the magic of music with the next generation. “When I’m onstage looking at the audience, I see them experiencing something truly special,” she said. “I hope that the next generation and the generation after that will be able to experience this too.”