Peabody hall to be place of note Conservatory: Formerly an art gallery, Peabody Conservatory's lofty, ornate North Hall will become Baltimore's newest organ recital hall.

Urban Landscape

March 20, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

A rendering that illustrated the March 20 Urban Landscape column about renovations proposed for the North Hall at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory of Music omitted the name of the illustrator. He is Richard Chenoweth.

The Sun regrets the errors.

FOR YEARS, the lofty chamber on the second floor of the Peabody Conservatory's main building in Baltimore was a public art gallery, complete with a skylight and a plaster reproduction of the frieze around the Parthenon.

By this time next year, if all goes according to plan, it will be Baltimore's newest organ recital hall.

Peabody, an affiliate of the Johns Hopkins University, plans to renovate the high-ceilinged North Hall as the primary teaching and recital space for its organ department, which has 11 to 15 organ majors a year.


The conservatory, which has 625 students, last year received a pledge of $600,000 from Lyman and Nancy Woodson Spire of Syracuse, N.Y., that will enable it to build a "concert quality" Holtkamp pipe organ. To accommodate the organ, one of the largest gifts Peabody has ever received, the conservatory intends to spend another $685,000 to renovate North Hall.

If Hopkins' trustees' Buildings and Grounds Committee approves plans for the project at a meeting in early April, work would begin in May and be complete by early 1998.

Peabody Director Robert Sirota said North Hall is the ideal setting for the organ, in terms of size, sound conditions and architectural distinction.

"It's an absolutely gorgeous space," he said. "Structurally, it's very sound. The changes that need to be made are acoustical and cosmetic. The idea is to keep what's good."

Part of the conservatory that was designed by Edmund Lind and completed between 1858 and 1878, North Hall is 96 feet long, 36 feet wide and 31 feet high. An art gallery until the late 1920s, it most recently has been used for orchestra rehearsals, opera workshops, receptions and other events, and will continue to be available for such uses.

Peabody has not had a "concert quality" organ since 1981, when the Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall was renovated. As part of that project, Peabody removed the hall's organ, which dated from 1925 and was in poor condition. It went to a church in Princeton, N.J., which restored it and is still using it. Since then, Peabody students have had access to smaller, "practice organs" that are not performance quality. Many also practice on the organs of local churches.

Sirota said Peabody students need exposure to professional organs such as the one Holtkamp is building. A practice organ is to a performance-quality organ what a Piper Cub is to a 747, he said. "All of our students need time on a 747."

Holtkamp is building "one of the premier organs on the East Coast" -- comparable in quality to those at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, said Anne Garside, Peabody's director of public information. "It will be a tremendous musical asset to the city," she said.

Peabody hired Ziger/Snead Inc. Architects to guide the renovation. Its plan calls for North Hall to get new soundproofing, air conditioning, lighting and recording equipment. A small stage will be removed to make way for the organ. The walls and ceiling will be cleaned and painted, the wood floor will be refinished, and the skylight will be opened up to improve acoustics.

Two 16th-century tapestries that originally were in North Hall have been restored with a $15,000 grant from the Hearst Foundation and will be rehung on the walls. A local sculptor will replicate missing pieces of the frieze that resembles the one on the Parthenon. The room will have movable seating for 150 to 175.

"The key word here is restoration of the room to the appearance it had in the late 19th century, when it was an art gallery," said architect Charles Brickbauer, who is working on the project with Steve Ziger and Hugh McCormick.

Now under construction in Cleveland, the organ is scheduled for installation soon after the hall renovation is complete in early 1998. Peabody has received pledges of more than $800,000, and is seeking another $800,000. Besides raising nearly $1.3 million for the organ and hall renovation, administrators want to set aside $315,000 for an endowment to cover maintenance.

Sirota said the new organ will help Peabody and its acclaimed organ professor, Donald Sutherland, meet a long-standing need.

"As I have been married to an organist for 27 years, it was inconceivable to me to be the director of a world-class conservatory of music and not have a top-quality organ," Sirota said. "That is why I was so thrilled when Dr. and Mrs. Spire came forward with their gift.

"This is one of the most magnificent buildings ever constructed for performance," he said. "If we could bring all of its spaces back to their original grandeur, we would be without peer in this country."

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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