I don’t remember going to the Kimmel Center for the first time; it has existed for my entire musical life, and I sometimes take it for granted.
But this remarkable performing arts space was constructed just 18 years ago for the legendary Philadelphia Orchestra, which had previously called the Academy of Music (known affectionately as the Grand Old Lady of Locust Street) home. To understand the design of the Kimmel Center–or more specifically, its main auditorium Verizon Hall–it might help to know about the Orchestra for which it was built.
The Philadelphia Orchestra has long been a member of the unofficial American “Big Five” Orchestras, which also included the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. But unlike its peers, Philly was most known for its warm and opulent string sound, also known as the “Philadelphia Sound.” Singing first violins make up the radiant high register, second violins and violas provide a rich core, and cellos and basses sustain the sound with a deep low register.
With that in mind, consider Verizon Hall’s unusual shape. The walls of the hall outline the form of a cello–this idea was allegedly proposed by architect Rafael Viñoly. Perhaps this design is a testament to one of the most versatile instruments in the string family that made the Philadelphia Sound. Also, notice the warm red tones throughout the hall; almost everything from the seat cushions to the wooden panels seems to reflect the warm sound of the Orchestra. There is something lyrical about each individual bevel and curve, and something harmonious about their union into a larger form. And, of course, the eye is drawn to the light wooden stage on which the stars of the show–whoever they may be on any given night–work their magic.
Philadelphia is a city of architectural masterpieces, but Verizon Hall is truly something special. There are plenty of shows there year-round, and I would recommend hearing the ensemble for which the hall was built through their eZseatU student ticket program.