The following article was published in The Windsor Star on September 24, 2016
New seats, season and sound.
Take a bow Capitol Theatre and Windsor Symphony Orchestra, you’ve hit the right note together.
“I really can’t wait to hear and see people’s reactions to the physical changes in the Capitol Theatre, but also to the aural changes,” said WSO Maestro Robert Franz, who will conduct the orchestra for the fourth consecutive year. “The sound will be different.”
The biggest investment in the Capitol Theatre in years means audiences will enjoy an improved experience when the orchestra’s 69th season launches Saturday night — with a debut of new seats.
Gone are the rickety old butt-numbing perches with the beat-up cushions that gave the odd sensation of leaning too far forward.
Thanks to a $400,000 investment from the City of Windsor, the Capitol Theatre now offers 626 new seats in the Pentastar Theatre and 209 in the Kelly. A new floor, as well. The lobby was also freshened up with new lighting and paint, and a new stage lift allows easier movement of pianos and other heavy instruments.
A few seats were lost to accommodate accessible seating, though the comfy new ones are staggered to provide better sight lines.
Plus, thanks to 50-50 ticket sales last year, WSO raised $10,000 to buy something it has desperately needed for years, and which will also debut for the opener: risers.
The musicians will no longer sit flat on stage, but will appear in a bowl formation, making it easier to see and hear them.
“What I love about the space is the acoustic is so beautiful and so rich,” Franz said. “And now it will be even better.”
Yet another improvement: the orchestra will grow for a number of performances, including opening night. Instead of the usual 45 players, the WSO will offer at least 65 — for bigger orchestra, bigger sound, bigger pieces.
On Saturday, the WSO will perform Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony — which, perhaps fittingly, deals with fate and builds from a dark beginning to a triumphant finale — affording a full string section.
“Basically, our sound will change,” Franz said. “It will be a huge, velvety, dark, rich string sound.
“In the three previous years I’ve been here, we have focused more on a classical and chamber orchestra-sized repertoire. But when you think about composers like Tchaikovsky or Brahms or even big Beethoven symphonies there are a certain number of strings that you need to accommodate those large romantic works.”
The sold-out first concert will also feature renowned Quebec pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, who placed second in last year’s Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland. Richard-Hamelin will perform Chopin’s Concerto No. 2.
Franz, the 48-year-old conductor who lives in Boise, Idaho, also serves as the associate conductor of the Houston Symphony, as well as guest conductor in various halls.
He spends 14 weeks a year in Windsor, enough to know the Capitol Theatre boasts warm acoustics. He says the benefit of a medium-sized theatre is that there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The WSO does not amplify the orchestra, so the intimate setting allows musicians to play at a more natural level.
With the improvements to the Capitol, which the WSO has called home since 2012, Franz thinks the symphony has evolved.
“It’s kind of like when you buy an old house and you don’t do any renovations right away until you’re sure what the issue are,” Franz said. “What we’re doing here is making the Capitol our own.”
WSO executive director Sheila Wisdom agrees the physical improvements will boost the performance.
“If you’re distracted it’s hard to listen,” Wisdom said. “So hopefully comfortable seats will make for a better listening experience. And the risers will change the sound. They will make it better for the musicians to hear one another and will change the audience experience with the music.
“It’s all very exciting.”