10 Colleges With the Most Incredible Concert Halls


When you think about the word “college” in conjunction with the word “music,” what comes to mind? Perhaps chanting in unison, shirtless and painted, as the marching band plays your school’s fight song. Or your roommate’s band practicing their three chords while you struggle to write a 10-page essay on Hegel. Or standing in front of a giant speaker blaring hip-hop and trying in vain to shout over it to flirt with that cutie from lab. But from the founding of the first universities, private schools or public schools – classical music — the more refined, studied cousin of pop and folk songcraft — has been nurtured within the cloisters of academia. Some of the nation’s best music programs are contained within larger universities, while others exist as stand-alone conservatories. Either way, they need places to show off their craft. Here is a list (not claiming to be authoritative, so for any sins of commission or omission, our fortissimo apologies to you acoustics geeks out there) of some of the greatest settings for live music in America’s universities.

  1. Bard College: Sosnoff Theater

    Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., boasts the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Frank Gehry. The exterior features plenty of his signature swooping stainless steel, while the dance studio and intimate theater space provide elegantly simple and utilitarian work space for their respective programs. But the main attraction is the Sosnoff Theater, a 900-seat concert hall with a gorgeous wood-on-concrete look and a deployable acoustic shell for orchestral performances, created by Yasuhisa Toyota.

  2. The Juilliard School: Alice Tully Hall

    Physically, Juilliard, the foremost performing arts conservatory in the United States, is a part of Manhattan’s enormous Lincoln Center arts complex, so there’s no shortage of spectacular venues nearby for the school to employ. However, the Juilliard Building itself is home to one of the best, the 1,095-seat Alice Tully Hall. Juilliard and Tully Hall were originally designed by Pietro Belluschi and Eduardo Catalano in 1969, and remodeled with spectacular results in 2009 by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and FXFOWLE.

  3. University of Rochester: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre

    The Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, founded by Kodak kingpin George Eastman, is widely considered one of the top few music schools in the country. Its main performance space, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, is a sumptuous 1922 building that (unsurprisingly considering the funding source) was designed as a silent movie palace as well as a concert hall, opera house, and dance stage. Everyone from Igor Stravinsky to Stan Getz to John Williams has performed here.

  4. The Colburn School: Zipper Hall

    The Colburn School is a performing-arts conservatory in downtown Los Angeles; one might call it something like the West Coast answer to Juilliard. Though Frank Gehry’s much-vaunted Walt Disney Concert Hall is right across the street, Colburn has its own gem of a performance space: Zipper Hall. This intimate 435-seat theater is named for Herbert Zipper, the composer and educator who once formed a secret orchestra in the Dachau concentration camp. Upon release, he took a job as conductor of the Manila Symphony Orchestra only to be imprisoned by the invading Japanese. After the war, Zipper taught and conducted all over America before settling in Los Angeles. The warm, humane performance space that bears his name is a fitting monument.

  5. Rice University: Stude Concert Hall

    The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, Texas, has developed into one of the best programs in the country since it admitted its first class in 1974. In 1991 it finally received its own building on the beautiful campus at Rice: Alice Pratt Brown Hall. Besides the 1,000-seat Stude Concert Hall, the structure contains the 250-seat Duncan Recital Hall, the Edythe Bates Old Grand Organ and Recital Hall, and an opera studio, in addition to rehearsal and small ensemble spaces.

  6. Indiana University: Musical Arts Center

    Bucolic Bloomington boasts another of the nation’s finest music programs, the Jacobs School of Music, and another superb performance hall, the Musical Arts Center, or MAC as it’s known. This 1,460-seat space, with a 90-by-60-foot stage, is renowned for its acoustics, but most of the building is taken up by a giant backstage area where the behind-the-scenes magic happens.

  7. University of Houston: Moores Opera House

    Houston, one of America’s great performing arts cities, is lucky enough to host not only the Shepherd School at Rice, but also the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music. The 800-seat opera house of the same name opened in 1997, conceived by the Mathes Group with input from acoustics expert Christopher Jaffe and theater designer Richard Kilbrow. Its flexible orchestra shell makes it not only one of the best university opera facilities, but also a spectacular setting for orchestral performances, wind and choral ensembles, jazz, and soloists. The real show-stealer at Moores, however, is the psychedelic color explosion (courtesy of abstract painter Frank Stella) that covers much of the ceiling, including the vaulted lobby and the floating oval of the catwalk.

  8. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Foellinger Great Hall

    The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a staggeringly comprehensive arts complex: performance spaces include an outdoor amphitheater, the 674-seat Colwell Playhouse and adjustable 200-person Studio Theatre for drama, the intimate Stage 5 bandstand, and the 979-seat Tryon Festival Theatre. But even this last multi-use facility is dwarfed by the Foellinger Great Hall, where up to 2,066 spectators can luxuriate in the famed acoustic design of Cyril Harris.

  9. Stanford University: Bing Concert Hall

    The last couple of entries on this list will be used to preview the latest concert hall designs soon to open at two of America’s best colleges. Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall, slated to open in January 2013, is designed by Ennead Architects with lead acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, who also did the sound design for the Walt Disney Concert Hall (besides working on number 1 of this list). Bing’s “vineyard” layout means its 844 seats will be arranged in rings around the center stage, with unobstructed sightlines and maximum closeness to the action. Check out the webcam to see the facility being built live!

  10. Northwestern University: Bienen School of Music Recital Hall

    Another work in progress, the new home of Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music is a spectacular lakefront glass-and-limestone building that’s aiming to be green enough to earn LEED certification when it finally opens in 2015. Again, you can monitor the construction on their site via blog and webcam. The building will connect with the existing Regenstein Hall of Music, but also include a new Recital Hall that will seat 400 people. Architects Goettsch Partners will be assisted by the acoustic designers at Kirkegaard Associates on the interior of the hall. Its signature feature will be a stage backed by an all-glass wall, for a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan as well as the skyline of this famed architectural capital.

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