The Legacy of The Hall

Date: September 23, 2013 Category:
Curtis symphony orchestra practicing in the Hall, 1973. [Photographer: George Krause]

Curtis symphony orchestra practicing in the Hall, 1973.
[Photographer: George Krause]

From greenhouse to world-class concert venue, “the Hall” has hosted countless students, Curtis faculty members, guest artists, and their audiences. For some 40 years the Hall was open to Curtis students and faculty alone. Audiences were first invited to recitals during the directorship of Rudolf Serkin (1968–1976).

Today Field Concert Hall remains an inspiration, both for the artists who make music on its stage and for more than 20,000 people annually who attend performances. In this exhibit materials from the Curtis Archives document the evolution of a remarkable performance space.


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From assembly room to Casimir Hall

Before the concert hall was built in 1928, performances at Curtis were held in the “Assembly Room,” which had been the dining room of George and Mary Drexel, the mansion’s previous owners. The adjoining conservatory or greenhouse was converted into a small theatre. Both the assembly room and the walled garden surrounding the greenhouse were incorporated into the new concert hall. The hall was designed with just enough seats for students and faculty. To deal with the acoustical challenges of a small building at the junction of two busy roads, architect Horace Wells Seller chose a concrete building without external openings, and a special ceiling, designed with the help of an acoustical engineer  (read his 1928 article about the design).

The proscenium elevator was an additional source of pride. This technological marvel allowed a section of the stage to descend to the basement where the concert grand pianos were stored. The inaugural recital to dedicate the new hall took place on December 3, 1927. Curtis’s director, the famous Polish-American concert pianist Joseph Hofmann, named the hall in honor of his father, Casimir.


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Rehearsals, performances, and recordings

Casimir Hall was built, according to the Catalogue, to give students the opportunity of “acquiring experience in students’ concerts under conditions equaling those under which they will appear in professional life.” Many alumni have recalled that performing in the hall (since 1943 named “Curtis Hall”) was intimidating. Susan Starr (piano ’61) told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000: “Nothing terrifies me as much as a Curtis recital … it’s more terrifying even than Carnegie Hall …  I think of all the great performances in that room. I think of former teachers, some of whom are still around.” (Read more memories of faculty and alumni.)

In addition to student and faculty recitals, the hall has hosted many recordings. From 1937 Curtis recorded recitals from a brand new recording room. To hear examples of these earliest recordings, view the exhibit Life at Curtis before the War, which uses student performances to accompany the slideshows. Most student recordings have been digitized and are available for listening in the John de Lancie Library of the Rock Resource Center. In addition to student and faculty recitals, the hall has hosted many alumni recitals, as well as guest conductors and visiting artists who shared their expertise with Curtis students in master classes and orchestra readings.


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Auditions, commencements, and celebrations 

Auditions and entrance examinations were held from the beginning. Commencements, however, started only in 1934. Until then, Josef Hofmann had resisted the idea of “graduation,” thinking the excellence of students should speak for itself (see the exhibit Portrait of Curtiss Founder).

In addition to rehearsals, recitals, auditions, and commencements, the hall has been used for many celebrations, from holiday parties to anniversary concerts and other special occasions.

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Field Concert Hall

In summer 2000 Curtis initiated the renovation and restoration of the hall, replacing (among other things) the original acoustical ceiling. Key to the project, however, was that the room had the exact same look and feel it had before. On April 4, 2001 the space was officially dedicated Field Concert Hall to honor benefactors Joseph and Marie Field, philanthropic leaders in the greater Philadelphia area for decades. Their exceptional gift was fundamental to the success of the Sound for the Century campaign, inspiring many others to participate.

The refurbishing was deemed an unqualified success, while the sound, previously described as rather “cold and dry,” had undergone a significant improvement. After listening to the sound of Casimir Hall in 1938 , we welcome you to hear what Field Concert Hall sounds like today!


DISCLAIMER: The images and documents in this exhibit are made available for purposes of education and research. The Curtis Archives has made every attempt to determine the copyright status of materials displayed, but due to the nature of archival materials we are not always able to identify this information. We are eager to hear from any rights owners, so that we may obtain accurate information. Upon request, we will remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.