Back in 2003, the fabled Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg lost its scenery workshops and warehouse in a ruinous fire that destroyed the sets for many historic productions (some dating back to before the Russian Revolution) and left only three outer walls standing.
Valery Gergiev, the theater's tireless artistic director, immediately set about raising funds to help the Mariinsky recover from the loss. The scenery shop was promptly relocated and work began on replacing the lost stagings. Meanwhile, the conductor had the idea to build on the burned-out site a concert hall for his company's orchestra, which tours the world as a renowned symphonic ensemble (often under the name of the Kirov Orchestra, as it was called during Soviet days) but had no concert venue in its own hometown.
Fundraising went unusually quickly: $5 million was pledged by June 2005, when construction started, with another $15 million donated in the following year. (Some 90% of the money to build the hall was raised privately, a first for a public building in Russia.) Gergiev and the theater engaged architect Xavier Fabre and acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics (responsible for the spectacular sound in Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) to build a new state-of-the-art concert facility incorporating the historic fa‹ade and surviving walls of the destroyed scenery warehouse.
The resulting venue — possibly the first concert hall to be owned and operated by an opera and ballet company — opens this Wednesday evening, November 29, with an inaugural gala featuring Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra with international soloists.
The Mariinsky Concert Hall plans to offer a wide range of performances year-round to complement the seasons of the Mariinsky opera and ballet company. Extensive educational programming is projected as well. The auditorium itself, with curved walls of cedar, ceiling panels and chrome railings, will seat 1,200 people, with 300 additional standing room places intended for students. The specialized construction firm Spezialtechnik Dresden Service (SDS) has built a stage for the hall that can be changed from a tiered concert platform to an orchestra pit with a small stage area for experimental opera and dance productions.