Photo: Ordway Theatre Assistant Sound Engineer Collin Sherraden at the Concert Hall’s new DiGiCo SD9 FOH desk

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota inaugurated its new Concert Hall in March 2015 with a month-long grand opening celebration, Rock the Ordway, which featured an eclectic selection of music. Built at a cost of over $40 million and now the new home of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO), the Concert Hall features three DiGiCo mixing consoles—an SD9 at front-of-house, an SD9B at the monitor position and another SD9B in the studio—on an Optocore fiber-optic network.

“The primary console is the SD9B that went into the recording and broadcast studio, which is used primarily by MPR,” says Andy Luft, Ordway Center production director and construction project manager for the new Concert Hall. “The room is set up not only with a broadcast studio but there’s also a host booth, so they can grab the conductor or the musicians for interviews.”

The SPCO, the only full-time chamber orchestra in the United States, frequently broadcasts on Classical Minnesota Public Radio and is often featured on “Performance Today” and “SymphonyCast,” which are broadcast nationally by American Public Media, Classical MPR’s parent company.

The 1,100-seat Concert Hall was built in almost the exact same footprint as the former McKnight Theatre, a 306-seat venue that was torn down to make way for the new music performance space. The new hall is intended to relieve some of the scheduling pressure on the Ordway’s 1,900-seat Music Theater, enabling the larger venue to accommodate longer performance runs of Broadway-style productions, operas and so on.

“We have an SD9 at front-of-house for when we do electro-acoustic work,” continues Luft. “It’s located on an open mix porch—it’s actually a great place to mix—dead center behind the people on the first balcony. So you have to be extremely quiet, but at the same time you can see not just the room but also the speaker systems in a good perspective.” Luft repurposed the McKnight’s original Meyer Sound speaker system for the new space for the relatively few events annually that require sound reinforcement.

“We have another SD9B that functions as a monitor desk on stage when we need it. It functions as the backup desk to both the front-of-house and the broadcast studio, and also is a backup to the Music Theater,” he says. “This is a DiGiCo facility—we have a D5 Live in the Music Theater and a DS-00 in its broadcast studio.”

Luft was brought onto the project to examine the plans and make the Concert Hall operationally efficient. “I said we had to put our money into infrastructure, so we went down the path of fiber-optics. DiGiCo has a good deployment of Optocore, and the SD software and operating system is extremely flexible and absolutely exploitable.” In fact, he adds, “Had we known more about the depth of the software, I probably wouldn’t have purchased some of the outboard gear that we have in the broadcast studio.”

Although Luft and his team did their due diligence on alternative consoles and networks before the purchase, “We all felt—and I felt very strongly—that we’d get the biggest bang for our buck sticking with DiGiCo. Plus, we have had good support here.” Audio Logic Systems of Eden Prairie, Minnesota supplied the consoles, and Matt Larson, national sales manager for Group One, DiGiCo’s US distributor, is based in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

He continues, “We have a DiGiCo SD-Rack off stage left, and an SD-Mini Rack up in the catwalk, where a remote Grace preamp feeds directly into the local rack; we have local racks at every station. This being primarily a classical music venue, the front-of-house console often has to be turned off, as it has a fan. So we’re always taking out parts of the loop but having to reestablish it. We worked with Audio Logic Systems to install and ensure that the fiber loops were working correctly.”

In addition to the 7.5 miles of conduit and 750,000 feet of electrical cable that was installed in the new venue, 150,000 feet each of fiber-optic and high bandwidth copper were also run, along with 375,000 feet of structured Cat6 cable. “We made sure that there is isolated power connected to all the audio systems and I made sure that there’s enough rack-to-rack communication everywhere,” Luft elaborates. “All the recording booths and all the rack rooms are connected. We have made it such that we can now connect the entire facility through fiber-optics, including the loading dock, where there is also isolated power for recording trucks, if desired.”

Tim Carl, CEO of HGA Architects and Engineers, a nationwide firm headquartered in Minnesota, designed the Ordway’s new addition, which was built by McGough Construction. From a-kus-tiks in Norwalk, Connecticut, Paul Scarborough and Chris Blair consulted on the Concert Hall’s acoustics and broadcast studio room design while Anthony Nittoli and Jordan Lytle provided electro-acoustic consultation.

The opening month at the Concert Hall allowed Luft and the staff to experiment with electro-acoustic reinforcement in the new space. “We had a hardcore Latino rock band out of L.A., La Santa Cecilia, who won a Grammy a few years ago; flugelhorn player Hugh Masekela and guitarist Vusi Mahlasela from South Africa; Sounds of Blackness, who are local to Minneapolis; and some local singer-songwriters. We took what we learned every time we did a show and we changed the way that we dealt with the electro-acoustics,” Luft reports.

“So far, the consensus is that the room is incredible. The best review I heard was from one of singer-songwriters, Haley Bonar, who said it was the first time she could actually hear what the audience heard. She soon realized she could do anything she wanted with her voice and guitar, and the room responded automatically to what she was doing. So it’s fun.”