The Ordway Center kicked off its new $42 million concert hall Saturday with a glittery gala that brought bubbly warmth to a bone-cold Minnesota evening. Patrons drank champagne and dined on chilled white asparagus soup with sliced truffles to usher in the new 1,100-seat hall, which becomes the primary home of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Artists from the SPCO, the Minnesota Opera, the Schubert Club and the Ordway — the quartet of arts partners whose collaboration made the hall possible — performed for the inaugural concert. The arts partners raised over $83 million for the hall, which includes a $32 million endowment to run it.

"So many people have worked so hard to make this happen," said gala chairwoman Leni Moore. "We're glad to share this gift with the community."

The new concert hall connects seamlessly to the old venue, which opened its doors Jan. 1, 1985.

Founder Sally Ordway Irvine and architect Ben Thompson first envisioned an 1,100-seat hall alongside the 1,900-seat music hall that was built. But after money ran short, plans were scaled back for the smaller venue and the 300-seat McKnight Theatre was constructed. The McKnight, site of more than 3,000 performances, was demolished to make way for the new one.

"I remember walking across Rice Park in 1985 for the opening then and this feels the same way," said Estelle Sell, a former Schubert Club board member. "I've seen a lot of concert halls, and I can tell you, this one is world-class."

The cheer in the air Saturday was partly for music, which sounds "exquisite," said Andy Luft, the Ordway's production director. "All the work has been about building and polishing and cleaning. Now, here we are."

The evident joy, visible on the faces of ticket-takers and board members alike, was also for the optimism as the Ordway enters a new era of equanimity among its principal users and more opportunities for programming that will help its partners deepen ties with their stakeholders.

"This is a capstone achievement for the Ordway, and for all that it is doing so well," said Kimberly Price, vice president of the 3M Foundation, which has funded the Ordway for 20 years.
Saturday's gala was attended by arts leaders, funders and dignitaries from across the metro and the nation.

"It's a fantastic addition for the Ordway and the community at large," said Guthrie director Joe Dowling.

Added Ordway President and CEO Patricia Mitchell: "The sound is wonderful, the architecture is glorious, but my favorite thing is that it's a purpose-built hall that puts the Ordway, St. Paul and Minnesota on the map in a different way."

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390