Since its inception, the Glacier Symphony has performed at Flathead High School in a 700-seat multipurpose auditorium. While director John Zoltek says the venue has worked out well, and has a lovely sound, there’s no denying that a little bit of symphonic resonance is lost in that kind of setting.
As Zoltek enters his 25th year directing the symphony, he’ll get to oversee the transition to a new performance hall being built by Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) and designed with input from the valley’s premier orchestral and choral presence.
“The hall is being constructed with symphonic acoustics in mind as the primary focus, as the sound footprint of the hall,” Zoltek said. “That’s really great for us — it’s the best way to enhance and deliver what we do onstage.”
Construction began on the Paul D. Wachholz College Center in April of 2020 after a two-year fundraising campaign that brought in $18 million. The building, constructed by Swank Enterprises, will feature a multipurpose activity complex with a fitness center and gymnasium, an art and exhibition gallery, and outdoor amphitheater and a 1,000-seat performance hall. FVCC president Jane Karas noted that people can still donate to the campaign, which is closing in on the final $1 million needed, and seat-naming opportunities for donors are available.
Progress on the new building was slightly hindered by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the project was bid out early enough in 2020 that there have been only minor delays so far, mostly relating to supply chains. Construction is projected to wrap up by March of 2022.
Karas said that the performance hall has been a mainstay of any discussion regarding campus expansion.
“As a community college, we are meant to meet the needs of our community as well as our students,” Karas said. “The students don’t currently have any big indoor spaces, and there is really no large performance space, even just for lectures and meetings, in the valley.”
Many musical acts pass south of the Flathead Valley moving between Spokane, Missoula and Bozeman. Now with a sizable venue built specifically to accommodate musical acts, Karas hopes to be in the conversation about rerouting musicians to Kalispell. FVCC will be hiring an events manager to book different acts and has begun discussions with Logjam Presents, which oversees venues in Missoula and Bozeman, including the Wilma and the KettleHouse Amphitheater.
“The performance hall will be able to provide musical talents from classical symphonies to country and western to rock and indie music,” Karas said. “Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill, Yo-Yo Ma … I think the opportunities for different types of music are really endless.”
The performance hall was originally envisioned to seat 750 audience members but was later expanded to 1,000, prompting an additional encore fundraising campaign. Since the beginning, the hall has been designed specifically to be a top-quality music venue.
In addition to a full orchestra, the new hall will also be able to better accommodate smaller chamber orchestras or string quartets, as the back wall of the stage is mobile, shifting forward to consolidate the stage when needed.
“They brought in acousticians to design it — there’s an ideal reverb delay being built in to get the best acoustic blend, and the whole purpose of the stage is to push sound out to the seats,” Zoltek said, adding that the design of the lighting and seat arrangement is also meant to maximize the auditory experience. “It’s what you look for in a bona fide symphonic concert hall.”
The Glacier Symphony reacted to the pause in live musical performances last year by shifting to virtual concerts performed with a smaller ensemble. The symphony is currently preparing to release a two-day digital Spring Festival with hopes of returning to live performances this summer at Rebecca Farm and Festival Amadeus.
While Zoltek isn’t firm about exactly when he’ll start planning for the final concert at Flathead High, he exudes enthusiasm about moving into a new performance hall in the future.
“I’m not planning to hold any concerts there until a year from now,” Zoltek said. “But Spring Festival could be in the new hall … and it would sound amazing.”
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