OREM — For years, Utah Symphony fans in Utah County have had to traverse the I-15 corridor — and brave the fierce rush hour traffic that hits a stalemate at the Point of the Mountain — to hear the classical music they love at Abravanel Hall.
That commute just got a lot easier.
On Monday afternoon, Utah Valley University opened its 130,000-square-foot Noorda Center for the Performing Arts to the public, and while it's been a long time coming for the school, the Noorda will also be changing Utah’s arts scene at large.
The Utah Symphony announced Monday that the Noorda would become its home in Utah County. The new performing arts center cost just over $59 million, according to UVU, with $32 million of that sum coming from the Utah Legislature.
The Noorda features seven performance venues: an 889-seat concert hall, a 500-seat proscenium theater, an outdoor amphitheater, a 175-seat flexible theater with retractable wall and audience seating, a blackbox theater, an instrument ensemble room and a 125-seat recital hall, according to a news release.
During its 2019-20 season, the Utah Symphony will perform in the concert hall six times.
“We need to come to Utah County more frequently. … We need to establish a more regular presence (there),” Paul Meecham, Utah Symphony and Utah Opera’s president and CEO, told the Deseret News. “By going there, rather than trying to persuade people to come north, we’re making a commitment to the county that we don’t just want to perform concerts (there) but (that) we also want to be part of the community and civic life. We see this as being just the first step to a deeper engagement in Utah County. Not to have a home in (one of) the largest counties population-wise in the state would be a big mistake.”
The symphony will perform in the concert hall Tuesday night, marking the inaugural performance in that venue. The symphony’s official season at the Noorda begins Sept. 18, with a performance highlighting the music of iconic film composer John Williams. The season also includes a Christmas special with Ashley Brown, who originated the role of Mary Poppins on Broadway, a Mozart program and Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” — all part of the Utah Symphony’s regular 2019-20 season at Abravanel Hall.
For Thierry Fischer, the symphony’s music director, having a stronger presence in Utah County — a vision propelled by Utah Symphony and Utah Opera board chairman Kem Gardner — will be great for expanding the symphony’s reach and audience.
“It’s one of the challenges of any symphony in America to attract the people between 25 and 50 … to come to the concerts,” the Swiss conductor said. “And we are aware of the age of the population in this part of Utah Valley, and (it’s) a great hope to be able to speak more directly to this generation.”
The Utah Symphony will largely spend its first season at the Noorda getting acquainted with its audience, but the organization is already planning for future seasons — including possibly having Utah Opera bring smaller-scale operas to the 500-seat theater.
As for Utah Valley University, the new venue represents the fullfilment of a longtime dream. Although the school broke ground on the building more than two years ago, the idea of a performing arts center was alive well before that.
“We’ve been talking for 20 years about getting a performing arts center. We’re the largest university in the state of Utah and the largest school of the arts in the state of Utah and yet we have not had any performance venues,” Traci Hainsworth, UVU’s events manager, told the Deseret News. "Imagine what we’re going to do now that we actually have the kind of facilities that we need. The sky’s the limit now.”
Performances in the Noorda begins Monday night, kicking off with “Seinfeld’s” Jason Alexander performing his one-man show, backed by the UVU Symphony Orchestra, in the 500-seat Scott and Karen Smith Theatre. Having Alexander — who has visited UVU three times in seven and a half years to work with UVU acting students — as the first guest artist in that venue was unnegotiable, according to Hainsworth.
“All three times (Alexander's) been here he’s done something outstanding for us to help raise money for the building," she said. "And so when it came time for the ribbon-cutting … our new (school of the arts) dean, Stephen Pullen, came to me and said, ‘We have got to have him here. We wouldn’t have this building if it wasn’t for him.”
For the Utah Symphony and, Meecham hinted, possibly Ballet West and the Utah Shakespeare Festival, UVU's new performing arts center is a chance for arts organizations across Utah to share their passion for the arts with a wider audience.
“Why do we perform music? It’s not only because we love it. It’s also to be able to share it,” Fischer said. “In today’s world, where technology is taking over our daily lives and our desire to go outside of our homes after work, I think it’s good that we show that we want to share what we do with a larger part of the Utah population. This notion of sharing is absolutely crucial to me. Nothing will ever replace live music.”