This year, we are celebrating 50 years in our beautiful home, FirstOntario Concert Hall, formerly called Hamilton Place!

The building opened with a month-long festival from September 22 to October 21, 1973 with Music Director Boris Brott. The festival events showcased the potential of the new Concert Hall and its versatile spaces.

Hamilton-based architect Trevor Garwood-Jones was selected to design the building. The City also hired world-renowned acoustician Russell Johnson to ensure the Concert Hall would provide exceptional sound.

Did you know…

Sound-reflecting bricks in pyramid forms on the walls send the sound around the whole room. Similarly, the 17,000-pound cedar curtain that closes off the stage has wood panels of different sizes to once again reflect the sound in different directions, unlike the effect a flat wall would have.

Boldly-coloured banners around the room act as acoustical controls. These banners can be lowered fully, half-way, or not at all to optimize the sound according to the audience size.

Welcome to Hamilton Place

The audience was full and the excitement was palpable. There was a reception and events before and after the concert as people came to admire the new hall. Since this was Hamilton’s first concert hall, news organizations were also there to capture all the excitement.

The HPO’s first performance in the hall began with the world premiere of Place Setting, A Celebration for the Opening of Hamilton Place by Canadian composer Louis Applebaum. This work was commissioned to celebrate the opening of the hall.

Two of our current musicians were part of this performance: Flutist Vivian Minden and Timpanist Jean Norman Iadeluca. We spoke to Jean Norman about his memories of the occasion and this special commissioned work.

Here is how he recalls their first concert in The Great Hall.

The musicians who played in the opening festival received medailions as a gift. This side has the original Hamilton Place logo and slogan.
Timpanist Jean Norman Iadeluca has been with the HPO for 50 years and performed at the Hamilton Place opening festival!
The musicians who played in the opening festival received medallions as a gift. This side has an image of Hamilton Place and the festival dates.

HPO’s first performance in The Great Hall

Place Setting opened with just timpani, and only Jean Norman was on stage. The banners on the walls were down at the beginning of the work and slowly began to raise. In a brilliant nod to the hall, Applebaum composed the work in the same key as the sound the banner motors make. The motor and timpani hummed the same note together, softly at first, getting louder as the banners rose into the ceiling.

The Concertmaster joined Jean Norman next, playing in the wings beside the stage before making his way toward his seat. When he was half way there, the string players walked onto the stage. They were soon followed by woodwinds and brass, until all the musicians were in their places without a conductor.

Jean Norman recalls that the piece began with a slow tempo. It gradually picked up speed until suddenly, the whole orchestra held one long note together. As the pause on this note created a feeling of anticipation, conductor Boris Brott made his grand entrance! The work continued with the main theme played by the full orchestra, and ended with an arrangement of the national anthem.

From matching the key of the banner motors to introducing each section of the orchestra one-by-one and even including Oh Canada, this special work was a fantastic way to celebrate the orchestra and the concert hall – a brand new place dedicated to the people of Hamilton gathering for the love of the arts.

Of all the many world-renowned concert halls that Jean Norman performs in, he says that the FirstOntario Concert Hall is still his favourite thanks to its incredible design features that give it a superior sound quality and create an excellent listening experience for the audience and players alike! No matter where you are in the room – from the back of the stage to the top of the second balcony – you can see the whole orchestra and hear each of its sections. There are no bad seats in this Great Hall!

We’re celebrating Hamilton Place again

Join us at our 23-24 season opening night concert – Gemma Conducts Schumann & Mendelssohn – for a trip down memory lane. On Saturday, September 23, we will be paying homage to FirstOntario Concert Hall with a fascinating exhibition of drawings, articles and more that all tell the story of our beloved building. Our concert program gives even more insight into this history, and we have some celebratory surprises in store, too!

September 23, 2023 at 7:30pm
Gemma New, Conductor
Tony Siqi Yun, Piano

  • Liam Ritz, Scherzo*
  • Schumann, Piano Concerto
  • Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 3, “Scottish”

*World Premiere

Published on September 5, 2023