Photo by Bryce Richter/UW–Madison The Hamel  Music Center New Hamel Music Center to open Photo by Bryce Richter/UW–Madison The Hamel  Music Center More Arts and Culture

When the Overture Center for the Arts opened in 2005, Madison obtained a crown jewel of a performance venue that remains the envy of many a larger city. Meanwhile, the students, faculty and guest artists who are part of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin–Madison remained trapped in Mills Music Hall, and the other inadequate facilities in the outdated Humanities building.

But this coming weekend marks the opening of the Hamel Music Center, a gleaming, fully appointed and stylish edifice at the busy corner of Lake Street and University Avenue. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the facility is what it has in common with Overture Center — it’s entirely privately funded.

Years in the making, the original impetus for a new facility came early during the tenure of John Wiley as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (2001-2008) and during John Shaffer’s stint as director of the school of music. While the majority of campus structures are realized via a combination of state and private funding, Wiley was unable to generate any real enthusiasm from the Legislature.

But in 2007, UW–Madison alumni Pamela O. and George Hamel Jr. pledged $15 million and Carol and Paul Collins added $5 million. That made it possible to engage the architectural firm of Holzman Moss Bottino (which had worked on the development of the old Capitol Theater into the Madison Civic Center 40 years earlier). In 2015, George W. Mead II and his wife Susan Feith pledged $25 million from the Mead Witter Foundation and another 105 other donors raised the total to nearly $56 million.
The Collins Recital Hall within the  Hamel Music Center seats 300 people. 

 The Collins Recital Hall within the  Hamel  Music Center seats 300 people.  
Photo by Bryce Richter/UW–Madison The Collins Recital Hall within the  Hamel Music Center seats 300 people. 

The principal venue is the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall, which can seat up to 660 audience members, has a stage large enough for the Varsity Band or the UW–Madison Orchestra, and boasts all the latest amenities, from seating for those with limited mobility to variations in acoustical properties. The secondary performing space is the Collins Recital Hall, with a capacity for an audience of 300. Both sites have available seating above/behind the stage. The new recording studio meets every possible need for both preserving student and professional performances, as well as giving hands-on experience to students.

A determined effort was made to employ Wisconsin businesses and incorporate style characteristics of the state. The former includes International Concrete Products of Germantown, a family-owned business that built the distinctive accordion-like exterior segment which is a major sound suppressor. And it has also been rightly trumpeted that, despite its location, the building and its performing facilities are state of the art quiet.

The central staircase features terrazzo flooring from the Johnson Terrazzo Company of Holmen, and the striking custom copper pipe chandelier in the lobby (a gift from the class of 1965), was made by Manning Lighting of Sheboygan.

Musicians have already christened the facility. The celebrated vocal group Chanticleer appeared there earlier this month under the auspices of the Union Theater.

But the official opening events are Oct. 25-27, with many events free (while still requiring tickets to attend). The weekend events include:

Friday, Oct. 25 

6:45 p.m.: Musical fanfare and ribbon cutting with remarks by Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Mead Witter School Susan C. Cook.

7:30 p.m.: Student Collage Concert: Back-to-back short performances featuring exciting student musicians playing throughout the concert hall. (Free, tickets required.) Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall Reception to follow and all concert attendees are welcome.

Saturday, Oct. 26

7:20 p.m.: “Emeritus Faculty Unbuttoned,” a pre-concert performance in the lower lobby. Tickets not required.

8 p.m.: Faculty and students in concert, A dynamic and diverse program featuring some of the school of music’s signature ensembles. (Free, tickets required.) Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall Reception to follow. All concert attendees are welcome.

Sunday, Oct. 27

1 p.m.: Concert with distinguished Collins Fellows Alumni. (Free, tickets required.) Collins Recital Hall Reception to follow. All recital attendees welcome.

Greg Hettmansberger covers jazz, opera and classical music for