Forget the Alamo: Tobin Center Grabs Spotlight

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Tobin CenterThe biggest splash in the U.S. performing arts scene is the new $203 million Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, which opened last month in San Antonio. We’ll highlight this beautiful facility more in the future, but today we’ll showcase excerpts from news coverage:

Sir Paul Approves. Exactly 45 years to the day after the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album was released, Paul McCartney performed a fundraiser concert Oct. 1 to benefit the Tobin Center, with ticket prices ranged from $250 to $3,500. After just two songs, he told the crowd of 1,724 that he needed “a little moment to drink this in all for myself.” The article interviewed a young fan fortunate enough to meet the seemingly ageless musician, age 72, backstage:

“He looked like Paul McCartney,” said Sam Turner, 16. “He also looked a little like my granddad.” (San Antonio Express-News, 10/2/14).

Praise from Opera Star. Perforated wood panels on balcony fronts in the 1,759-seat H-E-B Performance Hall, the Tobin Center’s largest venue, feature color-changing LED architectural lighting programmable to fit each performance’s mood.

Opera star Renée Fleming preceded Sir Paul in performing several weeks earlier, joining the San Antonio Symphony. The LED lighting in the seating area was blue in the first half of the concert, matching the color of Fleming’s gown. The same lights glowed red during the second half of the concert, when Fleming wore a red gown; this inspired her to joke about the chameleon-like interior:

Fleming told the audience that in the future, she will refuse to sing in any hall that cannot color-coordinate with her wardrobe. (San Antonio Express-News, 9/23/14).

Boosting Other Venues. The Tobin Center’s opening is expected to energize the local performing arts scene:

The number of high-profile music acts playing San Antonio in September 2013 could have been counted on one hand…This September, San Antonio music fans [had many] more options, with about 17 big-name acts hitting town, including the legendary Paul McCartney, pop star Jason Mraz, opera star Renée Fleming, boy band sensation One Direction and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Santana.

The change is due in large part to the Tobin Center. Not only is the new center bringing dozens of acts to town, but other venues, including the Majestic Theatre and the newly refurbished Aztec Theatre, have been working hard to make sure they stay competitive with the shiny new downtown venue….

All of this raises the question, to loosely quote “Field of Dreams:” If they book all that, will fans come? And more to the point, will enough of them come to support all of those venues? Venue operators and music industry experts say the San Antonio market historically has been underserved, so there’s room for the Tobin Center to succeed without undermining the theaters already in operation.

Gary Bongiovanni, president and editor in chief of concert trade publication Pollstar, said it’s possible for a market to be oversaturated. But he doesn’t think that’s likely here. “San Antonio is a good-sized market,” Bongiovanni said. “I would think there is room in the marketplace for a nice, new performing arts center that does the proper mix of programming.” (San Antonio Express-News, 8/10/14).

Fantastically Flexible Floor. Named for one of the nation’s largest independent food retailers, the H-E-B Performance Hall features a “first-in-nation electronic convertible floor that enables a 22-minute reconfiguration for up to 2,100 capacity with a general admission flat floor or up to 720 with banquet-style seating.” For a fascinating 1-minute video of the flooring system in action, visit this page and then click on the Gala Flooring System video link.

In future articles, we’ll delve more fully into the hall’s impressive acoustics – specifically the unique full-stage shell that Wenger constructed.

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