13 U.S. Music Halls That Raise the Bar

From Knoxville’s Tennessee Theatre to Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium, these concert venues hit just the right note.

13 U.S. Music Halls That Raise the Bar

Jordan Hall, located in Boston, was granted joint National Historical Landmark status with the New England Conservatory in 1994.

Nick Wheeler/Courtesy of New England Conservatory

Modern or classic, big or small, concert halls set the stage for the world’s most distinguished performers. Find a seat at one of these venues during your U.S. travels.

Jordan Hall

Boston, Massachusetts

When Jordan Hall opened at the New England Conservatory in 1903, the acoustics in the hall were unparalleled–so great that it was called one of the country’s most acoustically perfect performance spaces by music critics and performers alike. In 1994, NEC and Jordan Hall were granted joint National Historical Landmark status due to their influence on U.S. music and superb acoustical qualities, making NEC the first school of music to receive dual designation. The hall’s first major restoration–including updated air-conditioning and new seats–cost $8.2 million in 1995; although some said the restoration affected the hall’s acoustics, Jordan Hall remains a common stop on international arts circuits and hosts the annual Boston Early Music Festival, a weeklong affair that promotes historical music performance.


Ambassador Auditorium was originally built as part of Ambassador College, a liberal arts school run by the Worldwide Church of God.

Courtesy of Bradley/OTTO

Ambassador Auditorium

Pasadena, California

In 1974, Ambassador College, a liberal arts school run by the Worldwide Church of God, opened Ambassador Auditorium. Designed to hold church services and performing arts functions, the space featured globally sourced decor: rose onyx, crystals, rare African shedua wood, and a bronze chandelier. Financial woes within the church caused the college to fold, initiating a nearly decade-long dark period in the auditorium’s musical programming. In 2004, a 13-acre plot containing the auditorium sold to Harvest Rock Church and Marantha High School. The site was reintroduced as a private high school and concert venue, hosting such world-renowned musicians as Yo-Yo Ma. Today, the auditorium still hosts church services, and visitors can see shows by the Pasadena Symphony.


The Ohio Theatre was decorated by Anne Dornan, one of the first women to graduate from the Columbia School of Architecture.

Courtesy of Brad Feinknopf/OTTO

Ohio Theatre

Columbus, Ohio

The Ohio Theatre opened in 1928 thanks to Scottish-born architect Thomas W. Lamb, who envisioned “a palace for the average man” and so created his own. Anne Dornan, one of the first women to graduate from the Columbia School of Architecture, decorated the theater with $1 million in furnishings from around the world, including safari-sourced art for the “Africa Corner” of the lounge. Offerings included film screenings and performances by artists such as Ginger Rogers and Cab Calloway. It was headed for demolition by midcentury before locals raised more than $2 million to save it; the newly created Columbus Association for the Performing Arts then bought and renovated it. The Spanish-baroque style venue, recognized as the state’s official theater, is now home to the Columbus Symphony, BalletMet, and Broadway in Columbus.


When The Egg opened in Albany in 1978, it was architecturally unprecedented.

Courtesy of Bradley/OTTO

The Egg

Albany, New York

After 12 years of construction, The Egg opened in 1978. Architecturally and visually, the space was unprecedented. The above-ground structure is reinforced by a concrete beam, its weight then distributed to a subsurface stem descending six stories underground. The interior walls of The Egg’s two theaters are made of Swiss pearwood veneer to enhance acoustics and, like the building’s exterior walls, they are also curved. The Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre, with a maximum capacity of 982, includes a hydraulic lift stage that adjusts the set for musical theater performances and concerts. The Lewis A. Swyer Theatre hosts an audience of 450, making the space more intimate for chamber music concerts, lectures, and solo performers. The venue’s 2019 lineup includes the New York Theatre Ballet’s performance of Cinderella and French singer Cyrille Aimee.


St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts cost $46 million, $7.5 million of which was donated by local resident Sally Ordway Irvine.

Courtesy of Paul Crosby Photography/HGA

Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

St. Paul, Minnesota

St. Paul resident Sally Ordway Irvine dreamed of a venue that would host “everything from opera to the Russian circus.” By the time the $46 million Ordway Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1985, Ordway had contributed $7.5 million. The center, one of the leading nonprofit performing arts spaces in the United States, is home to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Opera. With two performance halls, the center’s schedule includes theater, dance, music, and educational programming. The 2019 lineup includes Boyz II Men, Monty Python’s Spamalot, and Shen Yun, an orchestral and dance performance that explores a disappearing Chinese culture.


Construction of the Hampton Coliseum spurred commercial development of the area.

Courtesy of Darren Bradley/OTTO

Hampton Coliseum

Hampton, Virginia

When construction on the Hampton Coliseum began in 1968, its architects were among the first to recognize the potential for the area’s commercial development. The venue–named after the Roman stadium–spurred an influx of towering hotels, shopping centers, and superstores. With a floor nearly the size of a football field, the Coliseum now hosts big-name musical guests and events that draw tens of thousands of people. The lineup for 2019 includes Disney on Ice, Monster Jam, and the 52nd Annual Hampton Jazz Festival from June 28-30.


The Charleston Gaillard Center hosts the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, festivals, and other performing arts functions.

Courtesy of Charleston Gaillard Center

Charleston Gaillard Center

Charleston, South Carolina

The original Gaillard Municipal Auditorium and Exhibition Hall opened in 1968 under the then-mayor of Charleston, John Palmer Gaillard Jr. As the largest performing arts venue in the city, it was a feat of Gaillard’s administration and housed the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Spoleto Festival USA, a national performing arts festival that has since expanded to other venues throughout the city. From 2012 to 2015, the new $142 million Gaillard Center was constructed to hold the orchestra, and it now includes an 1,800-seat performance hall, 15,000-square-foot exhibition hall, and three floors of city offices. The 2019 lineup includes an array of Broadway shows, musical and dance performances, and family programs, including the Shanghai Opera Symphony Orchestra, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and a talk by David Sedaris.


ASU’s Gammage Auditorium has 3,000 seats, none of which is more than 115 feet from the stage.

Counrtesy of RSPArchitects

Gammage Auditorium

Tempe, Arizona

In 1957, the then-president of Arizona State University hired world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design Gammage Auditorium. Wright’s plans for an opera house in Bhagdad, Iraq, had fallen through, so he adapted the plans for ASU’s campus. One of its most remarkable features: The hall has 3,000 seats, none of which is more than 115 feet from the stage. The auditorium’s main draws are touring Broadway shows and musicians, but programming by the ASU Kerr Cultural Center solicits performances highlighting underrepresented voices. The schedule for 2019 includes the third installment of Silent Voices: LOVESTATE–spoken-word works conceived, produced, and performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus–and Native Nation, a theatrical performance focusing on the experiences of indigenous peoples.


Knoxville’s Tennessee Theatre was called “the South’s most beautiful theater” when it opened in 1928.

Courtesy of Tennessee Theatre

Tennessee Theatre

Knoxville, Tennessee

Tennessee Theatre exudes worldly influence. When the venue opened in 1928, critics hailed it “the South’s most beautiful theater.” Its Spanish-Moorish interior features French-style chandeliers decked with Czechoslovakian crystals, Italian terrazzo flooring, and Asian-influenced carpet and drapery. The venue originally served as a single-screen movie theater, but after it was bought by radio pioneer James A. Dick in 1981, the Tennessee shifted to a multi-use performing arts center. The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Knoxville Opera, and other local organizations use the space regularly, in addition to touring performances. Musicians Young the Giant, Kacey Musgraves, and Willie Nelson & Family are among the guests scheduled for 2019.


The intimacy of the space is a main draw for Glencoe’s Writers Theatre.

Courtesy of Steve Hall/Studio Gang Architects

Writers Theatre

Glencoe, Illinois

The Writers Theatre opened its first venue in 1992 in Chicago’s North Shore district followed by its second space, Tudor Court, about a decade later. With only 108 seats, the intimacy of Tudor Court was a main draw. So when the Writers Theatre relocated to Glencoe and built a permanent home in 2016, award-winning Studio Gang Architects was sure to maintain the intimacy in the new space. Popular theatrical performances, including Next to Normal and August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, make their way to the Writers Theatre’s stage in 2019.


Verizon Hall, the resident home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, is shaped like a cello.

Courtesy of Michael Turek

Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When the Philadelphia Orchestra expressed interest in a new home and Edward G. Rendell, the mayor of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2000, pushed for a performing venue to host the city’s most prominent artists and touring companies, the ideas merged. In 1996, construction began, and by 2001, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts’s 2,547-seat Verizon Hall opened. The hall itself, custom-made for the the Philadelphia Orchestra, is shaped like a cello and includes a motorized canopy system and banners that allow performers to adjust the space visually and acoustically. In addition to numerous performances by the orchestra, Verizon Hall welcomes jazz musicians, dance groups, and talks by social justice and political policy experts.


Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts was named one of the world’s most beautiful concert halls by the German building data company Emporis.

Courtesy of Paul Brady/Alamy Stock Photo

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Kansas City, Missouri

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Kansas City Ballet, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and Kansas City Symphony, while hosting other local and international programs. The $316 million center–composed of two performance spaces connected by a glass atrium with a panoramic view of the city–opened in 2011. The venue holds a 1,600-seat hall and 1,800-seat theater, inspired by traditional European opera houses. It was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, known for designing Habitat 67, a brutalist housing complex that debuted during the Montreal World’s Fair. In 2019, the center welcomes the Russian National Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake, the KC Symphony Series, and musicals The Sound of Music and Evita, among many others.


Paramount Theatre, originally the Seattle Theatre, hosted movie screenings and vaudeville performances in the early 20th century.

Courtesy of Paramount Theatre

Paramount Theatre

Seattle, Washington

When the Paramount Theatre opened as the Seattle Theatre in 1928, it served as a “silent movie palace” before surviving the Great Depression as a vaudeville performance hall and later as a Cinerama-format movie house. Financial turmoil struck in the late 20th century, but the theater was shortly back in business with a new owner. Programming shifted to touring Broadway shows, and convertible seating allowed for more diverse performance setups. Today, the theater hosts concerts and shows of all genres. After the Tony-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen finishes its run in early 2019, the stage welcomes performances by Lauren Daigle, James Bay, and Johnny Mathis, among others.

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