The Wonderful Wellin Turns 25
Hamilton’s premier performance space, Wellin Hall in the Schambach Center for Music and the Performing Arts, celebrates a quarter century this year. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights.
Dedicated Sept. 23, 1988
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Conductor and violinist Pinchas Zukerman “tested” the hall on opening night proclaiming it “The Wonderful Wellin Hall.”
First piece performed
Sinfonietta for Wind Quintet, composed by Jay Reise ’72, professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania. His first opera had premiered the previous weekend in New York City.
Another Hamilton connection
Cellist Joshua Koestenbaum of the SPCO played an instrument crafted by Richard Cartwright ’42.
College Choir Musicals
In 1990, the College Choir staged its first musical, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, follow-ed by Iolanthe two years later. Annual musicals began in 1996; this spring will feature a production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.
Wellin Hall, a 650-seat concert hall named in honor of Carol Woodhouse Wellin, late wife of Keith Wellin ’50, GP’11,’14, is the showpiece of the Schambach Center for Music and the Performing Arts. At the groundbreaking ceremony in June 1985, Hans Schambach ’43, whose generosity funded the project, referred to Hamilton’s need for a facility appropriate to the talents of the great artists who perform on the Hill. In its coverage of the event, the Alumni Review editorialized, “Anyone who has witnessed such talent heroically struggling to rise above the environment of the Alumni Gymnasium would undoubtedly agree.”
Designer Charles Belson (with the Philadelphia firm of architects Ewing Cole Cherry Parsky) envisioned Wellin Hall as an “unusual hybrid” — combining the sightlines of a fan-shaped design with the magnificent acoustics of a shoebox design.
Within a few months of opening, the Wellin stage hosted Grammy-winning vocalist Bobby McFerrin, Jazz drummer and bebop pioneer Max Roach and The All-Star Soviet Jazz Band.
Celebrating the Silver Anniversary
Wellin Hall was transformed into an intimate 100-seat black box theater for Obie Award-winning puppeteer Basil Twist. The performance, titled “Dogugaeshi,” fused ancient Japanese puppetry traditions with video projection, plus live accompaniment on shamisen. In addition to performances on Sept. 14 and 15, Twist met with students in theatre and music classes.
Grammy Award-winning Pianist André Watts (right) will perform on May 10; he played at Hamilton more than 30 years ago on a rented piano in the Alumni Gymnasium.
On April 18, the Hamilton Orchestra will perform with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), which will be in residence at the College. ICE founder Claire Chase won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2012 for developing a new collaborative model of composers and performers.
Beyond the Performance
It’s not uncommon for visiting artists to venture off the Wellin stage to conduct master classes with music, dance and theatre students or to share their expertise in other classes. When the multiphonic singers of Tibet’s Drepung Loseling Monastery came to perform “Sacred Music Sacred Dance for World Healing” in 2003, they stopped by a class taught by Professor of Religious Studies Richard Seager.
The Mohawk Valley Dance Partner-ship, a consortium between Hamilton College and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, brings a dance company to the area for a half-week each year. In addition to workshops at Hamilton and MWPAI, a highlight of the residency is a performance for more than 400 area students in Wellin Hall.
HT Chen & Dancers (above) presented the multimedia dance “Bian Dan,” which refers to bamboo poles used to carry heavy loads. The dancers not only incorporated these devices into the performance as they fused American modern dance with traditional Asian aesthetics; they also invited community participants to join company dancers in the performance.
Community groups and area students occasionally fill Wellin Hall as guests of the College. In 2012, about 100 high-schoolers supplemented their classwork by taking in a performance of Macbeth by the Aquila Theatre Company.
The documentary film Joe Williams: A Portrait in Song featured the jazz legend in full swing with the Count Basie Orchestra in a 1996 concert in Wellin Hall. (See a short clip at www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkGJ5BZPj54).
In addition to renowned guest artists, Wellin Hall has hosted hundreds of faculty and student recitals, Theatre and Dance & Movement Studies department productions, and concerts by the College Choir, College Hill Singers, College and Community Oratorio Society, College Orchestra, and Jazz and Chamber ensembles. No concertgoer has attended more of these events than Patsy Couper H’11, wife of the late Dick Couper ’44, whose support for performing arts students was officially recognized on April 3, 2011 — Patsy’s 88th birthday. The College Choir surprised her by singing “Happy Birthday,” and President Joan Hinde Stewart presented Couper with her very own Wellin chair, complete with a nameplate.
Performing Arts Administrator Michelle Reiser-Memmer recalls, “I am at nearly every event in Wellin Hall, supervising ushers and box office and acting as house manager. It’s only natural that of the hundreds of performances I’ve seen, I sometimes forget which artist or musician performed on what date. However, there are two performances that I will never forget, and I wasn’t even at either of them. My son Henry was born on April 24, 2004, the day Chanticleer performed. My daughter Delia was born Feb. 24, 2006, the day jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut performed.”
Professor of Music and Director of the College Choir G. Roberts Kolb recalls, “I had fallen down some stairs in the summer of 1988, injuring my knee. So ... first big choral/orchestral concert in the brand new hall in the fall of 1988, Handel’s Messiah, with 200 performers on the stage and a full house in the audience, I walk out on stage. The apron, as it turns out, was still ‘slick as new.’ My foot slipped, and, with my knee as it was, I was unable to catch myself and landed flat on my back. The collective gasp from the assembled multitudes seemed to remove all the air from the room. I got to my knees, took a bow from there, then ascended to the podium. The muttering from the audience continued, however, so I turned around and promised, ‘No encores!’ I then proceeded to conduct the 2.5-hour work standing on one foot, for fear the knee would collapse again. The next day, I went to see an orthopedic surgeon and ended up getting this surgically repaired.”