The Calgary Philharmonic has had the same home since 1985: the Jack Singer Concert Hall at Arts Commons on Eighth Avenue and First Street S.E. The hall seats up to 2,000 people, and over time has had many upgrades and renovations to ensure it remains a state-of-the-art facility.
Two of the concert hall’s most noticeable features are its organ and its canopy. The Carthy Organ is a centrepiece of the stage, hand-carved from solid oak. The canopy is a massive acoustical reflector suspended from the ceiling — it can be raised or lowered depending on the artists’ needs. The canopy weighs an impressive 90 tonnes and is clad in laminated spruce wood. These features help to make the hall one of North America’s most acoustically acclaimed venues.
Built with a generous contribution from Alan and Stephen Singer, the Jack Singer Concert Hall was named after their father. The Singer family has a fascinating history. Jack Singer’s mother Bella was born in Poland. After immigrating to Canada, she worked for a time as a housekeeper at the Palliser Hotel, another Calgary landmark. Bella and her husband Abraham used their savings to help hundreds of Jews escape persecution prior to and during the Second World War. They required each person they helped to bring someone else to Canada, in a type of philanthropic pyramid scheme. It is estimated that 1,600 Canadians are now descended from this effort.
Jack Singer was born in 1917 in Calgary. At the age of 17, he was already involved in real estate, and in the ’50s and ’60s he and his older brother Hymie introduced Alberta to the concept of a strip mall. They developed many commercial sites around Calgary, and ultimately expanded their business through Western Canada, and later into California, Arizona, and Texas.
While golfing in Palm Springs in 1981, Jack Singer was invited to tour a Hollywood movie studio and meet director Francis Coppola of The Godfather fame. As a movie fan, Singer was thrilled, and made a financial contribution to Coppola’s current film, One From the Heart. In 1984, the Singer family purchased the studio, renaming it Hollywood Center Studios, and over the next several years they invested more than $20 million into its upgrades. In 2011, Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge issued a proclamation thanking Singer for his dedication to the film industry and leadership in revitalizing the District of Hollywood, saying “Jack Singer came for an autograph and ended up saving the community.”
The Singer family’s legacy spans from helping Jews and other persecuted people, to saving the film industry in Hollywood, to giving the people of Calgary a world-class concert hall. Aside from housing the Calgary Phil, the Jack Singer Concert Hall is also home to BD&P World Music and TD Jazz, and regularly welcomes events such as TED conferences, National Geographic speakers, rock stars on tour, and even wedding dinners onstage. A bust of Jack Singer is located in the Founder’s Room, just off the concert hall lobby.
The Jack Singer Concert Hall is a very meaningful place to the Calgary Phil — it is fitting that the final City Spaces virtual concert of the Season was recorded in our home venue, with Concertmaster Diana Cohen and pianist Roman Rabinovich onstage. You may recognize the pair from their garden concerts, which started in the early days of the pandemic and have picked up again now that the weather has warmed up.
Cohen and Rabinovich, who are married, perform Richard Strauss’ Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18. “I felt extremely lucky to get to play in the Jack Singer after so many months away,” said Cohen. “I love this concert hall, it’s so beautiful, and it’s especially nice to have the chance to play something different in the hall, like playing chamber music with my husband.”
City Spaces: Jack Singer Concert Hall premieres online on Saturday 12 June 2021. Learn more and register on our Virtual Concerts page.
By Dagny MacGregor