From greenhouse to world-class concert venue, “The Hall” has hosted countless students, Curtis faculty members, guest artists, and their audiences. 

For some 40 years the Hall was open to Curtis students and faculty alone. Audiences were first invited to recitals during the directorship of Rudolf Serkin (1968–1976).

Today Field Concert Hall remains an inspiration, both for the artists who make music on its stage and for the more than 20,000 people who annually attend performances. In this exhibit, using materials from the Curtis Archives, we document the evolution of this remarkable performance space.

From Assembly Room to Casimir Hall

Prior to the constrution of the concert hall, performances at Curtis were held in the “Assembly Room” (formerly the dining room of the mansion's previous owners George and Mary Drexel), while the adjoining greenhouse was converted to provide a small theater space. The concert hall, completed in 1927, incorporated both of these areas, providing just enough seats for students and faculty. To deal with the acoustical challenges of a small building at the junction of two busy roads, architect Horace Wells Seller chose a concrete building without external openings, and a special ceiling, designed with the help of an acoustical engineer  (read his 1928 article about the design).

The proscenium elevator in the hall was an especial source of pride as it allowed a section of the stage to descend to the basement where the concert grand pianos were stored, and from which they could be raised or lowered with ease. The inaugural recital to dedicate the new hall took place on December 3, 1927 with a piano peformance by Curtis director Josef Hofmann (after whose father the hall was named). 

Rehearsals, performances, and recordings

Casimir Hall was built, according to the Catalogue, to give students the opportunity to acquire "experience in students’ concerts under conditions equaling those under which they will appear in professional life.” Many alumni have recalled that performing in the hall (renamed “Curtis Hall” in 1943) was intimidating. Susan Starr (Piano ’61) told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000: “Nothing terrifies me as much as a Curtis recital … it’s more terrifying even than Carnegie Hall …  I think of all the great performances in that room. I think of former teachers, some of whom are still around.” (Read more memories of faculty and alumni.)

In addition to student and faculty recitals, the hall has hosted many recording sessions. From 1937 onwards Curtis recorded recitals from a brand new recording room. To hear examples of these earliest recordings, view the exhibit Life at Curtis before the War, which uses student performances to accompany the slideshows. Most student recordings have been digitized and are available for listening in the John de Lancie Library of the Rock Resource Center. In addition to student and faculty recitals, the hall has also hosted many alumni recitals, guest conductors, and visiting artists, all of whom have shared their expertise with Curtis students.

Auditions and commencements

While auditions and entrance examinations were held in "the Hall" from the beginning, commencements only started in 1934. Prior to that time, Josef Hofmann had resisted the idea of “graduation,” thinking the excellence of students should speak for itself (see the exhibit Portrait of Curtiss Founder).

Field Concert Hall

In the summer of 2000 Curtis initiated the renovation and restoration of the hall, replacing (among other things) the original acoustical ceiling. Although various architectural and structural elements were being updated, a key stipulation was that the room retain the exact same look and feel as the original. On April 4, 2001 the space was dedicated and officially renamed Field Concert Hall in honor of Joseph and Marie Field, noted Philadelphia philanthropists. It was their exceptional gift which was fundamental to the success of the Sound for the Century campaign, inspiring many others to participate.

The refurbishing was deemed an unqualified success, while the sound, previously described as rather “cold and dry,” had undergone a significant improvement. After listening to the sound of Casimir Hall in 1938, we invite you to hear what Field Concert Hall sounds like today!

DISCLAIMER: The images and documents in this exhibit are for education and research purposes only. The Curtis Archives has made every attempt to determine the copyright status of displayed materials, but such information was not forthcoming in all cases. We are eager to hear from any rights owners to amend our records or, conversely, remove material from public view.