It’s been 20 years since Edmonton’s Francis Winspear Centre opened its doors. For Canadian music legend and Edmontonian Tommy Banks, it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.
“It seems like yesterday,” he said during an interview on Wednesday.
The work began in 1980 for Banks. He was the coordinator of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Pops program at the time.
“We couldn’t be the only city of this size in Canada or in North America without a good acoustic concert hall,” he said.
“We needed to have this in this city.”
Banks, along with a group of other stakeholders, began making inquiries into the feasibility of fundraising and constructing a new concert hall. In order to secure funding from various levels of government, the group had to prove that Edmonton wanted the new venue.
“We don’t know what it looks like, we don’t know where it’s going to be, we don’t know how much it’s going to cost but we need you to send us money so that we can answer all of those questions,” Banks said about the ad.
Edmontonians responded in a big way and they were able to fund a feasibility study.
Then came a call from Dr. Francis Winspear.
“Dr. Winspear called unsolicited and said: ‘Would you consider a gift of $6 million towards the cost of the concert hall?'”
“We said yes,” Banks laughed.
The gift, at the time, was the largest from a private donor to a performing arts centre in Canadian history. It also helped solidify funding from all levels of government for the project.
“Playing in the Winspear is very special.”
And he should know.
The pianist has played some of the top concert halls in the world and called the work of the acoustical engineers, architects and construction crews at the Winspear “genius,” adding it contends with some of the best music venues in the world.
“This is one of the great halls in the world. This isn’t just a good hall; it’s a great hall,” the Canadian jazz legend said.
“Not only can the audience hear clearly what’s going on, the players on the platform can hear clearly what’s going on and that’s not always the case in some concert halls,” he said.
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It’s that sound that Banks recalls from one of his favourite memories of the concert hall. It wasn’t complete yet, but the construction crews from PCL, who he said understood and took great pride in the work they were completing, were given a special concert from the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
“They were extremely appreciative of that,” he smiled.
The Winspear has grown and evolved and now offers programming for different demographics, from a baby music box program, to Disney symphony performances and opportunities for seniors to play alongside the professionals, and is now working towards an expansion project.
Banks hopes with the anniversary of the opening, residents will take the time to get to know their concert hall.
“There are still, disappointingly, many Edmontonians who’ve never been in this building.”
He hopes they will take in more than one show and “just appreciate what a marvel this place is.”
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