The Westminster Choir College of Rider University, on Walnut Lane next door to Princeton High School, will treat members of the Princeton community to a look inside its new building on Sunday, October 26, from 1 to 5 p.m.
The Open House will showcase the The Marion Buckelew Cullen Center, with a tour of the building and afternoon of musical performances by faculty and students.
The new Center’s design, by the Princeton firm KSS Architects, was inspired by the Georgian style of the four original buildings surrounding the Morgan Quadrangle at the center of the college campus. The $8.5 million project was funded by pledges, gifts, and grants from various sources.
Named in honor of Marion Buckelew Cullen, a long time supporter of the Choir College, the building was erected in less than a year since ground broke in September of 2013.“It was finished in August and ready for students at the start of this school year,” said Anne Sears, Rider University’s director of external affairs, who led this reporter on a tour of the new facility Monday. “Some wonderful time lapse photography on our website [www.rider.edu/wcc/about-us/construction] shows the building taking shape through all of the snow storms we had last winter.”
The outcome has been LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified at the Silver level for construction focused on pollution prevention as well as its use of green power, low emitting materials, wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), recycled materials, low water use, and storm water management.
The first new construction on the campus in 39 years, the Center boasts a 3,000-square-foot performance and rehearsal hall, the Hillman Performance Hall, named in recognition of a $3 million grant in support of the project from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.
The hall has acoustical panels that can be moved according to the varying sound requirements of symphony orchestra, choir, small ensembles. A peek inside reveals Director of Choir Activities Joe Miller at work with the Westminster Choir, rehearsing in the new space.
There’s also a green room and three flexibly configured classrooms that will accommodate a wide range of academic and choral uses. The Center and its restrooms are handicap-accessible.
The airy classrooms are all sound isolated, as is the entire building. “A lot of money, care, and attention went into the acoustics,” said Ms. Sears, pointing out the state-of-the-art audio/visual technology. “The quality of the acoustics is such that we can produce professional recordings here, as was demonstrated recently when we webcast to alumnae around the world. This new building and the technology we have will allow us to bring Westminster to the world in new ways that will raise the profile of the school.”
The large entry way and lobby is painted in a soft Williamsburg Blue and looks out onto a green lawn that forms a quadrangle between the new building and the existing campus. The courtyard in front of the Center and the as yet unnamed “quad” is expected to be a primary outdoor venue for Westminster student and alumni events.
Located next to and connecting to one of the College’s existing rehearsal and performance spaces, The Playhouse, the new Center creates much needed access for audiences who used to have to stand outside waiting to get inside. No more, said Ms. Sears. “Now we have a real box office, no more standing in the rain to get into The Playhouse,” she said, noting that an upgrade to The Playhouse will be the “next step.” The building where Leonard Bernstein once rehearsed could use some changing rooms, for example. “The Playhouse has phenomenal acoustics as Bernstein noted; he loved it.”
Having had a long association with the Choir College, Ms. Cullen could recall campus rehearsals “when some of the world’s greatest conductors, such as Leonard Bernstein and Riccardo Muti, came to prepare students for major orchestral performances.”
Ms. Cullen, who died in 2012, was one of the Westminster Choir College’s strongest supporters. She had no children and left her entire $5 million estate to the Westminster Choir College.
“I knew Marion very well,” said Ms. Sears, who has been with the Choir College since 1984. “She was not someone who would draw attention to herself and she would be surprised to see her name on the building, but I am sure she would be absolutely thrilled to see a building that was being used so thoughtfully and so well.”
Descended from three of New Jersey’s oldest families, the Buckelews, the Housels, and the Stouts. Ms. Cullen was a graduate of the New Jersey College for Women, now Douglass College of Rutgers University, where she majored in English, history and the dramatic arts. From 1983 to 1989, she was a member of the Westminster Choir College Board of Trustees.
In 2003, when she received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the College, she said: “I’ve traveled extensively throughout my life. No matter where I’ve been in the world, whether it was attending services at a Presbyterian Church in Egypt or the chapel of West Point, I’ve encountered a Westminster graduate. They are undoubtedly the best.”
Ms. Cullen described the honorary degree as a “highlight of my life.”
As befits a music college, the Open House will include performances by ensembles, students, and faculty from Westminster Choir College and Westminster Conservatory, Westminster’s community music school.
Arrive at 1 p.m. to hear the Conservatory’s Suzuki Violin Ensemble performing favorite works by Vivaldi, Schumann, Bach, and Suzuki. At 1:30 p.m., students in the High School Honors Music Program: pianists Benjamin Qi, Richard Qi, and Charlie Liu, and violinist Dallas Noble will present violin and piano duets, with excerpts of Corigliano’s Gazebo Dances and Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 45.
Westminster Choir College student pianist Asher Severini will perform movements of Barber’s Piano Sonata in E-Flat Major, Op. 26, at 2 p.m. and at 2:30 p.m., the Westminster Community Orchestra, will present highlights from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, conducted by Ruth Ochs with narrator Lois Laverty.
Children will have an opportunity to “Meet the Instruments” at 3 p.m. followed by other performances by the Westminster Opera Theatre, the Westminster Chinese Instrument Orchestra, the Cantus Children’s Choir, conducted by Patricia Thel, and Westminster Harmonie, a chamber music ensemble composed of Westminster Conservatory faculty and advanced students.
Admission is free. For more information, visit: www.rider.edu/cullen.