Esplanade Concert Stages

June 28, 2011

This week, the Hatch Shell is being prepared for its starring role in the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. Today, this venue is ingrained in the fabric of Boston, hosting events from charity walks to classical concerts. Millions of audience members have enjoyed picnics and free entertainment on the music oval in front of this concert stage. But, few concert-goers know much about the structure, and it’s history.

Edward Hatch Memorial Concertorium

In 1939, the trustees of Maria E. Hatch’s estate entered into an agreement to give the Commonwealth of Massachusetts $300,000 to build a concertorium or music shell on the Storrow Memorial Embankment in Boston. It would be a memorial to her brother, Boston real estate auctioneer, Edward Hatch.

The agreement was very specific as to the use of the structure. It would be for “musical and artistic purposes… of general public interest and entertainment, except, however, that it shall not be used for sectarian, political or controversial purposes.”

The First Concert Shells

The Hatch Shell replaced temporary music stages that had been used for Arthur Fiedler’s Esplanade concerts since the inaugural event on July 4, 1929. The first concert stage was a small platform backed by a shell-shaped sounding board made of wood. This structure was erected and dismantled for each season’s concerts.

In 1934, this was replaced by a temporary steel structure. While it was designed with an open back, it was described as, “insufferably hot” by Linda Cox in, “The Charles River Esplanade, Its Fascinating History.”

Art Deco Design

The architect for the Hatch Shell was Richard Shaw. He created an Art Deco design that was to include the names of some of the greatest composers in the history of music. To decide which names to include, a ballot of orchestral composers was created. According to the Boston Globe, “70 musicians, concert goers and writers on music…” were polled and 50 composers were selected. Today, there are 87 names including one woman, Amy Beach, who was added in 2000.

50th Anniversary Renovation

As the Hatch approached its 50th Anniversary in 1991, the state reversed years of neglect with a $4.5 million renovation. The Boston Globe’s Otile McManus reported that, the terrazzo dome was resurfaced and, “Each of the 20,000 pieces of herringbone teak soundboard lining the inside of the shell, which had rotted over time, has been replaced with new plantation-grown teak from Singapore.”

The interior was made water tight, dressing rooms and a practice facility were improved, the infrastructure refurbished, an elevator added, and a new sound system installed.

Arthur Fiedler’s Dream

For Fiedler, the 1940 opening of the Hatch Shell was, “A long cherished dream come true.” The free summer concerts were his creation. He found people to fund the initial series and was a tireless promoter who begged, cajoled, and threatened cancellations to raise the funds to keep the performances going.

Fiedler even designed illuminated donation boxes to make it easy for the audience to find the spot for inserting coins. And, the front cover of concert programs reminded everyone that, “You will find it more convenient to place your contribution in a Fund Box before concerts.”

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