Utah State University gives an extreme makeover to its main concert hall

New Daines Hall is the centerpiece of a $26 million renovation at Chase Fine Arts Center.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State University is getting ready to reopen the renovated Chase Fine Arts Center, an arts complex that includes the totally remodeled Daines Concert Hall. Graduate student Sara Shouse works on a wig for an upcoming theater production in the newly remodeled costume shop.

Logan • Craig Jessop was in the audience when Utah State University dedicated its new Chase Fine Arts Center, with its centerpiece Kent Concert Hall, on Oct. 18, 1967. Jessop, then a senior at Sky View High School in nearby Smithfield, thought it was one of the greatest things that had happened in the Cache Valley.

Fifty years later to the day, USU will rededicate its renovated arts center with a gala concert in the brand-new Newel & Jean Daines Concert Hall, which shares a physical location — but not much else — with its predecessor.

The school’s fine-arts complex, which also includes space dedicated to theatrical and visual arts, was showing its age when Jessop returned to the campus as head of the music department in 2008 (and, two years later, as dean of the new Caine College of the Arts). “I aspired to build a new concert hall, but the reality was it was a $75 million prospect,” he said. Then-university president Stan Albrecht asked whether a renovation could achieve a similar goal. Jessop agreed it would be a worthy investment, “but the concert hall would have to be gutted and reconceived.” The 2,168-seat auditorium, with its proscenium stage, was designed as a multiple-use facility — serviceable at the time, “but times have changed,” said Jessop, who had a conducting career with the U.S. Air Force’s Singing Sergeants and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir before joining the faculty at USU.

Lynn Thomas, director of production services and of organ studies at USU, was more direct, calling the old hall a Jack of all trades and master of none. “It wasn’t designed for sound to get out,” he said. “The hall’s been completely reimagined and redone. It was gutted from stem to stern — walls, floors, ceilings.”

Designed by the Salt Lake City architecture firm of Sparano + Mooney with California-based Newson Brown Acoustics (whose projects include the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Disney Hall) and built by North Salt Lake contractor Gramoll Construction, Daines Hall will be unrecognizable to anyone who attended Utah State in the past half-century. The dark wood paneling has been replaced with birch. There’s gallery seating on the sides, plus a permanent choir loft whose seats will offer patrons a head-on view of the conductor when the choir isn’t performing. The ceiling has been left open, offering a view of the state-of-the-art catwalks — but, more to the point, enhancing the hall’s acoustical properties.

There are new dusky blue seats, underwritten by Logan’s Daines family. “It wasn’t cheap, but it’s hard to imagine this new hall with those old seats,” Thomas said. Seating capacity has been reduced to 1,743, “but smaller is actually better” in this case because of acoustical concerns, Jessop said.

The facility has been brought into line with the Americans With Disabilities Act as well. Thomas recalled the steep ramp formerly leading into the auditorium: “If you were trying to take Grandma out in her wheelchair, you’d get a trip to Hyde Park” 5 miles to the north, he joked.

The newly rebuilt Holtkamp pipe organ dominates the auditorium’s western wall. “It’s a great credit to this university,” Thomas said of the instrument, which cost $100,000 when installed in the early 1970s and which he estimated would cost nearly $2 million to replace. “It’s as good as any organ in the state. If you could haul it to Salt Lake and put it in the Tabernacle and have a play-off, this organ would hold up well.”

Equally important, that pesky proscenium has been torn out, leaving a resonant wooden bowl for musicians to perform in. Jessop noted that the stage was designed with empty space beneath it to act as a sounding board; “I’ve always been told that the secret of Carnegie Hall was the space below the stage,” he said.

The public will get a chance to check out the improvements during an open house Saturday afternoon, in the middle of USU’s homecoming celebrations.

The project — which also includes a doubling in size of the costume shop and tripling of the scene shop, upgraded exhibit space, improved HVAC and lighting throughout the building, and the renovation of the hall’s entrance and courtyard — came in around $26 million, mostly from private donations, Jessop said.

“This 50th-anniversary gala celebration of the Chase Fine Arts Center is the culmination of the most amazing team of university faculty, students, community members — not only locally and in the Utah community, but others outside the state — and the vision and energy of Stan Albrecht, followed with the continued support and energy of [current university president] Noelle Cockett,” Jessop said.

The Oct. 18 concert will spotlight all the groups that will use the new hall. Its first half will be dedicated to USU student and faculty ensembles, including the school’s orchestra, combined choirs and resident Fry Street Quartet. “I felt that the first people to perform on this stage should be the people it was built for,” Jessop said. That half will end with a performance of the “Ode to Joy” finale from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, conducted by USU professor Sergio Bernal and augmented with the American Festival Chorus, Jessop’s town-and-gown choir.

“The second [function] is community use of the space,” Jessop said. The school now hopes to bring high-profile musical acts to campus, beginning with Broadway star Kelli O’Hara. The Tony Award-winning actor-singer will perform show tunes and standards, solo and with the American Festival Chorus. She’ll also duet with USU student Katie Francis on “For Good,” from the musical “Wicked.” Jessop will conduct.

Jessop won’t be the only one coming full circle for the rededication. His mentor at USU, William Ramsay, who consulted on the design of the original building, will be there, and longtime music professor Warren Burton, now 80, will play the cello at a preconcert event. And Craig Peterson, who offered the opening prayer at that 1967 event in his capacity as student-government cultural vice president, will be back — this time as Logan mayor.

Open house<br>Utah State University will offer tours of the newly remodeled Chase Fine Arts Center, in the southeast corner of the Logan campus.<br>When • Saturday, Oct. 14, noon-2:30 p.m.<br>Gala concert<br>The university will open the renovated Daines Concert Hall and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Chase Fine Arts Center with a concert headlined by Broadway star Kelli O’Hara and featuring student, faculty and community ensembles.<br>When • Wednesday, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.<br>Tickets • $15-$30;arts.usu.edu