Massey Hall to open two new venues for rising musicians

With many smaller venues under threat, the historic concert hall is using its institutional status to provide space for young artists

Massey Hall is launching two brand new venues. The expansion comes as part of the historic venue’s ongoing renovations, which began in early 2013 and are expected to be complete by 2020.

The details were announced Thursday, October 19, and the most noteworthy elements include the restoration of 100 stained glass windows from 1894 and the construction of glass-walled walkways around the original building.

But the biggest news is about the two new venues, one mid-sized, the other for intimate “coffeehouse” performances. 

The mid-sized venue, which will have a scalable capacity between 250 and 500, will be on the fourth floor of a brand new building and will sit adjacent the main hall. Additionally, Centuries Lounge, the bar located in the basement of the main concert hall, will be re-designed to accommodate a permanent stage. 

Massey Hall

The changes will allow for more programming flexibility, providing performance spaces for artists at any stage in their career.

“Massey Hall is a big room, and presenting a show there means an artist has to have an audience to match,” notes programming director Jesse Kumagai. “Our aspirations to help artists, combined with so many small venues under threat, made us think about what this [new] venue would look like.”

At City Hall, the loss of performance spaces is very much a concern of the Toronto Music Advisory Council. Its meetings thus far have been dominated by concerns related to rapidly rising population density and challenges faced by proprietors and promotors in small and mid-sized venues. 

For council chair Josh Colle, Massey Hall offers a kind of institutional protection that will allow its smaller spaces to thrive in the relentless condo creep of downtown. “It’s fitting that Massey would be the catalyst to make Yonge Street relevant again for music, because they’ve been there through everything. Hopefully, it will lead to more, and reverse a couple decades’ trend of not seeing any nightlife on Yonge,” he says of the Victoria Street venue.  

Kumagai likens the new performance spaces to the “farm team” structure of pro sports, noting that new talent must be nurtured in order to create a new generation of iconic performers. “This gives us a chance to take a little artistic risk, and work with artists and communities who we haven’t had much of a relationship with the past.”

The Massey Hall revitalization project is currently about halfway through its first stage, which mostly involves the demolition of an adjacent building and the groundwork for the new complex. The second stage, which will involve the construction of the new building and extensive renovation to the current concert hall, is scheduled to begin in 2018. Massey Hall will be closed during that time, between 18 and 24 months.

It’s great that Massey Hall is aiming to alleviate the effects of the venue crisis, but who knows how much the music scene will change while it’s closed? Still, when all is said and done, Massey Hall will be open to more than just visiting legends. | @streetsbag

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