After two years of renovation, the new and improved Baldwin Auditorium is open on East Campus. The auditorium was unavailable to students while it underwent $15 million worth of repairs, transforming the dated space into an elegant, state-of-the-art concert hall. The building—erected in 1927—had previously seen few renovations and little refurbishing.
“The first renovations made to Baldwin in the 1980s were just a basic paint job and a changing out of the seats. It was more cosmetic than anything else,” said Elizabeth Thompson, promotions specialist for the Duke Music Department.
The recent undertaking was much more involved, requiring a complete overhaul of the performance area. As a campus landmark, the exterior design was largely maintained, but the interior was significantly improved. Originally built as a general auditorium, the venue was not designed with musical performance in mind—the space was cavernous with poor acoustics.
The re-imagined space unites everyone in the hall, with a wraparound balcony that is much closer to the musicians and a stage that brings performers nearer to spectators on the ground floor.
“Now, there are very cool-looking sound-reflecting panels standing out from the back of the stage, reflecting the sound back to the audience rather than disappearing into the dome,” said Jonathan Bagg, interim chair of the music department and director of chamber music, as well as a member of the Ciompi String Quartet.
In addition to reconstructing the seating and stage area, the entire air handling system has been revamped so that every single seat has its own personal vent beneath it.
“That might seem extravagant, but it cuts down on the whooshing sound in the hall that interferes with the silence that you want in a concert,” Bagg said.
Every addition has been geared toward engineering an extraordinary place to listen to music, surpassing both the Page Auditorium and Reynolds Theater. The end result is a space unlike any other on Duke’s campus.
“The term ‘world class’ is overused, but this is actually a world-class concert hall. You are going to have as good an experience as you are likely to have at any other concert hall in the world,” said Aaron Greenwald, director of Duke Performances.
Baldwin Auditorium is unique in that all of its resources have been dedicated solely to the production of acoustic music.
“The new concert hall is designed specifically for music and not really anything else,” Greenwald said. “It’s unlike any other space within the next 100 to 200 miles. It’s a concert hall that is going to be superb for jazz and chamber music.”
Baldwin, with 685 seats, is not massive compared to some other venues. Accordingly, audience members can expect to have a very intimate experience with the music produced. Though meeting the needs of the musicians was the principal goal of the renovations to Baldwin Auditorium, the end result does not only benefit the artists. By focusing on the desires of performers, the renovations will allow the audience to experience grander performances.
“We produce the sound and [the auditorium] amplifies the sound and makes it more beautiful… that’s what a great concert hall does,” Bagg said. “I think it will make everyone try a little bit harder. They will take themselves and their performances more seriously because everyone will try to be worthy of [Baldwin].”
The new concert hall will be shared between the Music Department and Duke Performances.
“This is a venue that connects us to the community. It’s going to feel like much more a part of the city than other Duke venues,” said Bagg. “It’s a very welcoming thing.”
The official reopening of Baldwin Auditorium will be Saturday, September 14 at 8 p.m. and will feature an all-American program performed by distinguished faculty from the Duke Music Department, including the Ciompi Quartet, John Brown and more.