9 Jun 2018

Nelson School of Music 'alive and well' after quake strengthening

1:21 pm on 9 June 2018

A heritage concert venue in Nelson re-opens this weekend after an $8 million earthquake strengthening project.

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The centre's refurbished entrance which carries the old name Nelson School of Music Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The Nelson School of Music auditorium was among a list of public venues in Nelson closed for earthquake strengthening, which all-up have cost close to $40 million to bring up to scratch.

Nelson had been without a large performance venue since the auditorium closed in late 2013, days after the city's main civic venue, the Trafalgar Centre closed. Each building failed to meet new seismic strength benchmarks.

Nelson geologist Mike Johnston said the region was faced with a reasonably high earthquake risk from a network of nearby fault lines, but the biggest risk remained from a more distant source like the Alpine Fault.

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Goya Ensemble on stage in rehearsal for the gala re-opening; left to right: Fleur Jackson, Margarita Jackson, Miles Jackson and Lissa Cowie on cello. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The 124-year-old Nelson School of Music, and home of the international Adam Chamber Music Festival, has now been revived as the focal point of the newly named Nelson Centre of Musical Arts.

The project was backed by a mix of funding from council, central government, charities and extensive public fundraising. A cost over-run of about a $1m was due to the lack of contingency around the realities of restoring an intricate heritage building, said one of the trust board members who helped steer the nearly five-year project.

Bob Bickerton, who is also a long-time Nelson musician, said they simply had not factored in the last-minute, extra costs involved in ensuring the auditorium was refurbished true to form.

He said it not only had a new face and stronger bones, but incorporated original heritage material removed after the 1968 Īnangahua earthquake.

"We've just had a full-on time, reworking, redeveloping and strengthening the old auditorium which of course is heritage, and absolutely sacrosanct and preserved.

"But we've now got this amazing new centre around the auditorium, which is just fantastic."

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The school's refurbished organ. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The venue's Cawthron organ also benefited from an $850,000 upgrade.

Mr Bickerton said there had been public feedback against the name-change.

"What's really important to note about it is that the Nelson School of Music is alive and well.

"In fact we've restored the original signage around the building but because the centre is so much bigger, and will be more active, it was appropriate to consider a name-change for what we do within the facility."

Mr Bickerton said the venue was a centre for concerts and music lessons. There were indications that up to 1000 people each week would be coming through the doors for music lessons, choir and orchestra practice, and concerts.

"I don't like to use the word 'iconic' but it is an iconic building. It's significant in terms of its national profile in the performing arts."

The centre's re-opening ends the restoration of four arts venues in Nelson: The 1878 Theatre Royal underwent a $4m restoration in 2008; the Trafalgar Centre (former home of the World of Wearable Art Awards) re-opened in 2017 after a $13m overhaul and seismic strengthening; and the 1899 Nelson Suter Art Gallery was re-opened in 2016 after a $12m earthquake strengthening and refurbishment.

The opening of the Nelson Centre of Musical Arts feature gala concerts throughout the weekend.

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