Newman Center for the Performing Arts celebrates 10 years
September 18, 2012
By: Greg Glasgow
When students from the Lamont School of Music began moving into the brand new Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts in fall 2002, classical guitar Professor Ricardo Iznaola noticed something interesting.
"The students immediately began to perform better in the new halls," says Iznaola, a Lamont faculty member since 1983. "It's a psychological thing in the performing arts that you live up to the venue. There was an immediate sense of seriousness and excellence transmitted by the building itself."
Ten years later, that building remains a crown jewel of the campus and one of the University's most visible faces to the larger Denver community. Its climate-controlled, wired-for-sound rehearsal studios are a key selling point for music students and faculty. Its Byron Theatre, with more than 40 stage configurations, is home base for DU's theater department. Its concert halls of various sizes make it a favorite rental for local music, dance and theater groups. And the center's very existence gave birth to Newman Center Presents, a concert series that brings international names in classical, jazz, dance, opera, theater and more to campus every year—and often gives Lamont students the opportunity to interact and perform with the visiting artists.
"It was an opportunity to select and bring to the campus and the community this eclectic array of artists from around the world," says Newman Center Executive Director Steve Seifert, who programs the Newman Center Presents series. "From the beginning, we asked ourselves what already exists in the city, because we don't need to re-create something that's already here. We asked, 'What can we do that would add to the cultural fabric of the city?' And the idea of doing a multidisciplinary, multicultural series in the performing arts is what we settled on, with a high component of artists who had never been here before. By the end of our upcoming season, we will have produced 138 different shows, 53 percent of which are by artists who had never appeared in Denver before."
But first and foremost, the Newman Center is home to the faculty and students of the Lamont school, who rehearse in its top-floor practice rooms, perform in its acoustically perfect concert halls and record in its state-of-the-art digital studio.
"I know some other music schools in the area that have seen it and call it the Taj Mahal of music buildings, and that's what we all felt like when we moved in," says Joe Docksey, former director of the school. "All of us just couldn't believe that we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to move in to what probably is the nation's finest music school."
Prior to 2002, the Lamont School of Music was located on DU's Park Hill campus, along with the Sturm College of Law and the Women's College. Then-Chancellor Dan Ritchie had the vision of a united central campus, and Lamont led the charge. (The law school and the Women's College followed in 2002 and 2003, respectively.) Incorporating classic materials such as limestone, travertine marble and sandstone—and modeled after European concert halls—the Newman Center is made up of six individual buildings, each separated from the others by a 2-inch gap that ensures acoustical isolation. It was designed as a music school and performance venue that would stand the test of time, and it's not hard to imagine a 100th anniversary celebration that finds the structure just as impressive as it is today.
"I think what the University did in setting its sights that high and then fulfilling those expectations is a real community service," Seifert says. "It's great for students and faculty—everybody gets to rehearse and play here, and I really do think it draws the best out of them, and they go out into the next phase of their careers with a background that would be really hard to get in a different kind of facility.
"But it's also really great for the community to experience the kind of art that happens here," he continues. "They can hear the difference; they can see the difference; they can connect with the artists in a way you don't in other theaters, and the sense is, 'Really, that's the way it's supposed to be.'"