An arts trifecta for Springfield

A stunning new performance venue. Rachmaninoff meets Lady Gaga. An architectural treasure reused.

click to enlarge The Grant Conservatory of Music and Dance, formerly Elliott Avenue Baptist Church. - PHOTO BY FLETCHER FARRAR
PHOTO BY FLETCHER FARRAR
The Grant Conservatory of Music and Dance, formerly Elliott Avenue Baptist Church.

For those committed to the cultural life of the capital city, there's a rare opportunity Friday, Nov. 5. It's a big win: a trifecta for the arts. It's the trial run of a gorgeous new performance venue in Springfield and a sneak preview of a unique Illinois Symphony concert. And it's a chance to celebrate something rare in Springfield – an architectural gem saved from the wrecking ball.

The ISO's musical director, Ken Lam, will welcome international piano sensation Micah McLaurin to an intimate mix-and-mingle event at the all-new Grant Conservatory of Music and Dance.

"It's not a full-scale concert – that comes on Saturday night at UIS-PAC – but a social event open to everyone," Lam said. "Mingle, have a glass of wine, and hear some amazing music."

Micah pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a classical artist. Lam continues, "He's an award-winning pianist, noted for his interpretations of Rachmaninoff, but also his own transcriptions of Lady Gaga. Plus, he's also really into cutting-edge fashion. He has a powerful image."

The Elliott Avenue Baptist Church, a remarkable building and one of the finer examples of mid-century modern architecture in Springfield, will be reborn as the Grant Conservatory for Music and Dance, a training ground for young artists.

"We had been looking for the perfect place," Taryn Grant, the conservatory's executive director, told us. "This building has experienced a lot of love – it is a very well-maintained church – and it's also been a big part of this community. And it has it all." There is office space, rehearsal and practice rooms, everything a performing arts education facility needs.

The sanctuary is a dramatic room with great acoustics. Grant says, "We will always call the space 'The Sanctuary.' That word has a lot of meanings." It honors the past, the founders and members of the church community, who put the building up for sale in the face of the pandemic, and looks to the future, as an inspiring, safe place for young artists to learn, experiment and grow. The building, close to the medical complex, is across the street from Enos School.

In residence is the Springfield Youth Ballet (formerly the Springfield Youth Performance Group), the Illinois Symphony Youth Orchestra and the ISO itself. The ISYO's conductor, Logan Campbell, says, "The new facility will give our students and the community at large a new place to make music."

Trevor Orthmann, the ISO's executive director, says the orchestra will move to the building by the summer and they are expecting symbiosis and serendipity. "Having three arts organizations in the building will lead to collaborative projects and help build audiences. Kids can experiment and try new things out. And it gives the ISO another venue for chamber music events like this one with Micah."

For the future, Taryn Grant envisioned "a candlelit solo cello performance in the Sanctuary" or small dance recitals. Special events of all kinds could easily be accommodated. An official grand opening is planned for the new year.

All three organizations will continue to present in other facilities like the Hoogland, SHG auditorium and Sangamon Auditorium at UIS-PAC.

"Youth programming has always been my focus in the community," said Grant. "And the conservatory will be the kind of environment where students of the classical arts can train together and feel loved and supported – so they feel that they can truly be their best."

But the sneak peek Friday, Nov. 5, is your chance to experience the new space on your own, meet the artist, and have some fun. Maestro Lam will be there. "There is this image of the symphony – that it's so serious – but here we are: Sergei Rachmaninoff and Lady Gaga. It's music for everyone!"

And this new institution is a gift for everyone. Treat yourself and take a friend. Tickets are limited.

Dennis Thread is a freelance writer, director, and producer experienced in theater, opera, immersive experiences, public ritual, film, TV, and institutional and corporate communications dthread@creativethread.com

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