The Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at Emory University. (credit: Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart.

Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts celebrates 20 years

Mark Gresham | 31 JAN 2023

When it officially opened in February 2003, Emory University’s Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts impressed even the casual observer as a “cultural institution.” The new building’s presence at the corner of North Decatur Road and Clifton Road presented a modern expression of classic elegance with its glass, stucco, and Portuguese limestone details and its gabled roofs. Its enclosed portico and expansive windows allow in natural light while buffering performances from the noise of the street. Today, 20 years later, the Schwartz Center remains an impressive part of Emory’s booming campus and a vital locus on Atlanta’s cultural landscape.

This week, the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts celebrates its 20th anniversary with a special concert by famed violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and her Mutter Virtuosi, performing in its centerpiece 825-seat Cherry Logan Emerson Concert Hall on Thursday, February 2, at 8 p.m. The program will feature music by Joseph Bologne, Unsuk Chin, and Antonio Vivaldi (including his The Four Seasons).

Established in the spring of 2011, the Mutter Virtuosi is an ensemble of current and former scholarship holders of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation, and selected other young musicians, performing under the violinist’s artistic leadership. The Schwartz Center is only one stop in their three-nation tour to Iceland, the United States, and Canada.

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A dedicated music hall in the European manner, Emerson Hall is the centerpiece of the Schwartz Center complex. It stays busy throughout Emory University’s academic year, presenting guest artists and international performers like Anne-Sophie Mutter in the esteemed Flora Glenn Candler Concert Series and many concerts by the Emory University Department of Music.

Renowned acousticians Kirkegaard and Associates were involved in the hall’s design. They were responsible for engineering its excellent acoustics, which can be quickly re-tuned to suit different ensembles, musical styles, or even individual musical selections. The hall’s custom-built Daniel Jaeckel Opus 45 pipe organ with fifty-four stops and 3,605 pipes was added and completed in 2005.

Cherry Logan Emerson Concert Hall, as seen from the "choral" balcony above and behind the stage. (SCPA)

Cherry Logan Emerson Concert Hall, as seen from the “choral” balcony above and behind the stage. (SCPA)

While Emerson Hall has undoubtedly attracted the most public attention of all the Schwartz Center’s facilities, the 90,000-square-foot $36.9 million multi-discipline complex, designed by lead architect Michael Dennis in association with Howard-Montgomery-Steger and Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart, encompasses much more.

The architects designed multiple spaces within the Schwartz Center suited for different disciplines, their specific needs, and technical requirements. It serves as a teaching and performance center for the performing arts programs at Emory, including dance, music, and theater. There is a space devoted to theatrical design, another for costume design, and a dedicated rehearsal hall intended to emulate the sonic environment of playing on the Emerson Hall stage. There is both a dance studio and a theater lab, each with 135 seats on the main level and observation rooms above, where students can study real-time work without interfering. And there are private teaching studios for music.

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In advance of the Schwartz Center’s opening in 2003, Rosemary Magee, who was at the time the senior associate dean for Emory College and the executive director of the Arts Center project, was quoted regarding the University’s larger goal: “What we were out to create was an arts village concept, with arts happening in a variety of places, but including a centerpiece for it so we could define a presence for the arts at Emory.”

Magee envisioned the Schwartz Center as a kind of “town hall” for that “arts village,” prophesying, “Many important things will happen outside the town hall. But if you didn’t have the town hall at all, then you would lose something critical.”

Twenty years later, we can observe the degree to which the Schwartz Center is fulfilling that lofty objective.

Front lobby of Emerson Hall, which faces North Decatur Road. (SCPA)

Front lobby of Emerson Hall, which faces North Decatur Road. (SCPA)


About the author:
Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.