Kleinhans Music Hall enters its 75th anniversary on a high note.
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s home is replacing all its seats this summer in time for the start of the 2015-2016 season, The balcony will be made safer by installing hand rails and widening aisles, while a wheelchair seating area will be provided on the main floor.
In doing so, the curvy brick and stone concert hall, designed by Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero, will have about 400 fewer seats.
The hall has 2,839 seats – 35 more than Carnegie Hall. When the new seating is installed, it will have about 2,400 seats, which should provide more comfort in what officials say will be a more intimate environment.
Reducing the number of seats in the hall will enhance the viewing experience while better matching seating capacity with demand, officials said .
“There is a lot of wasted space, because a concert might be maybe three-quarters or two-thirds filled,” said Christopher N. Brown, board chair of Kleinhans Management Music Hall. “So rather than having a bunch of empty seats, we will have a full house or pretty close to a full house with wider seats, and longer leg room in the first 10 rows.”
The announcement comes as the BPO’s financial picture continues to brighten. Ticket sales for the 2013-2014 season were $3.3 million, continuing a steady increase over the past several years.
The orchestra’s endowment has more than quadrupled since 2004 to $32 million.
“You hear so much in the national press how orchestras are in trouble, audiences are shrinking and ticket sales are in decline, but we have had good growth going back 10 years now, and the last five-year period recovering from the recession has been good for us,” said Daniel Hart, BPO executive director.
Other recent improvements to the hall include a new HVAC system, expansion of the women’s downstairs lavatory, repairs to the hall’s woodwork, updates to the electrical system, improvements to the sound system and installation of cost-efficient lighting.
The renovations will help keep the concert venue in tip-top shape for years to come, Brown said. “For Western New Yorkers, the building has been here for three or four generations and is truly iconic. It is a National Historic Landmark, and we often take that for granted, but that is such a special designation, and we’re so lucky to have this building,” Brown said.
The John R. Oishei Foundation, Margaret L. Wendt Foundation and M&T Bank provided the major funding to replace the seats, Hart said. The City of Buffalo, which owns the building. and the State of New York paid for the bulk of many other renovations.
The music continues to flourish under the baton of JoAnn Falletta, he added.
“JoAnn’s tenure is going to be marked by many things – the personnel in the orchestra, the recordings, the broadcasts we’re doing – but probably most importantly, making exciting programs for our local audiences,” Hart said.
Hart said he doubted the reduction in seats would have a negative effect on programming.
“From a marketing standpoint, it may have people thinking a little more about when to buy their tickets. It will probably enhance demand a little bit, which I think will be a good thing for the orchestra overall,” Hart said.
The new seats will have blue upholstery, wooden seatbacks, metal frames and placement along the same metal rail system, much like the 47-year-old seats being replaced.
“The seats have been showing wear and tear for some time. We will pay close attention to Eliel and Eero Saarinen’s original seat specification, and use the same materials to the extent possible,” said Ted Lownie, Kleinhans’ architectural consultant.
Lownie drew on conversations with Leo Beranek, who has written about Kleinhans’ famed acoustics, in choosing the new seats.
A gala is planned Oct. 12, the day the music hall opened, to celebrate the anniversary.