The first major structural changes were undertaken in 1933 and reduced seating to the current 2765 by enlarging the lobby and adding the balcony lounge. That year the building was officially recognized by its popular name, Massey Hall. A second renovation, undertaken in 1948, lowered the stage, and replaced the wooden floors of stage, basement, and orchestra with floors of reinforced concrete. Since then the hall's acoustics have been praised by audiences for their warmth and criticized by orchestral musicians for their deceptiveness. (One TS musician had said that players could not hear each other clearly because of reverberation and that consequently a focused ensemble was difficult to achieve, despite the acoustical baffles and curtains suspended over the stage area during Seiji Ozawa's tenure with the orchestra.) In 1976 a site on King St West was approved as the location of Roy Thomson Hall, completed in 1982, which took over the main functions of Massey Hall. The board of the Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall administers both facilities, each of which has continued to function independent of any direct government subsidies.
For many years the only building in Canada designed expressly for concert use, Massey Hall became the home of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in 1895, served the first Toronto Symphony Orchestra 1906-18, and began to house the concerts of the TSO in 1923. It provided the facilities for Toronto's growth as a major choral centre and gave the city a window on the world. A random selection from the innumerable events at "The Old Lady of Shuter Street" (Vincent Massey's nickname for the hall when he visited it in 1953) indicates the range of its use. There were notable appearances by Paderewski (1896), Patti (1903), Albani (1903, 1906), Caruso (1908), Tetrazzini (1912), Galli-Curci (1917), Heifetz (1918, the year of his teenage New York debut), and Kreisler (1934); speeches by Winston Churchill (1900, 1901), Carrie Nation (1901), and Lloyd George (1919); a concert by the London Symphony Orchestra under Nikisch (1912); the wedding (1908) of the Canadian First Nations athlete Tom Longboat; an exhibition boxing bout (1919) by Jack Dempsey; and a performance (1911) of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius by the Sheffield Choir conducted by the composer. There also have been movies, silent and sound; regular boxing matches; visits by touring opera, ballet, and theatre companies; annual May Festival Concerts (begun in 1894) by Toronto school choirs; countless folk, rock, jazz, choral, and symphonic concerts; and recording sessions by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir during the 1950s, by the Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker Quintet of the Year in 1953, by the CBC Symphony Orchestra and the Festival Singers conducted by Stravinsky (in the premieres, 1962, of his A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer and 8 Instrumental Miniatures), by Gordon Lightfoot, by Crowbar, by Rush, and by various performers for the CBC's SM and RCI series. The TS and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir continued to perform regularly in Massey Hall until 1982.
With the opening of Roy Thomson Hall, Massey Hall was deprived of its major tenants (the TS gave its final concert there, 4 Jun 1982, for which Johnny Cowell composed A Farewell Tribute to the Old Lady of Shuter Street). The interior of the building was refurbished, but in succeeding years the number of events diminished to an average of two to three per week. The CJRT Orchestra (Toronto Philharmonic) gave its annual concert series there 1982-91, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, with Anton Kuerti, gave a 3-concert series in 1986, and Tafelmusik began its annual Messiah performances there in 1987. However, rock concerts became the mainstay of its bookings, which also include concerts by pop performers, ethnic ensembles, school choirs and ensembles, and a variety of community-based events. The hall was air-conditioned in 1989 as part of its preparation as the site of the seven-month run of the Lloyd Webber musical Cats. The Historical Sites and Monuments Board has placed two plaques on the exterior of the building: one in 1985 to honour Massey Hall itself, the other in 1989 to honour Sir Ernest MacMillan. John B. Withrow, son of one of the early managers, has written a regular series of articles ("In retrospect" or "Reprise"), beginning in 1982, about the history, the performances and performers, and the events in the hall's long life for the periodical Bravo.
In 1994 The Centennial Celebration Concert features the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Mendelssohn Choir; and conductors Mario Bernardi, Victor Feldbrill, Elmer Iseler, Maureen Forrester; Lois Marshall; Blue Rodeo; and Dave Broadfoot. Another special milestone occurred in 2005 when Gordon Lightfoot, the most frequently appearing artist in the Hall's history, returned for his regular spring concert, a tradition for the singer that stretched back nearly 40 years to 1967.
The records of Massey Hall are maintained as part of the archives of Roy Thomson Hall.
See also Toronto Feature: Massey Hall.
Author Patricia Wardrop
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