The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music names its new performance and rehearsal hall after wealthy alumni donors George and Pamela Hamel.

December 8, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

“Here we go again,” wrote a friend and colleague, referring to the issue of privately funded naming rights of public buildings and the current nationwide penchant for favoring names identified with big money over names identified with history or public service.

He was referring to the long planned new performance and rehearsal space at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (Below top is a sign, below middle is an exterior view and below bottom is an interior of a small recital hall, the last two in architectural renderings). It will be built on the corner of University Avenue and Lake Street, next to the new wing of the Chazen Museum of Art.

UW new music hall sign

uw hamel performance center exterior

Hamel Music Hall interior Holzman Moss Bottino Architects and Strang Architectsl

And the friend was comparing it to my own post, and reader reactions, about renaming the Wisconsin Union Theater as Shannon Hall (below) to honor the wealthy patrons who helped so much with the restoration and renovation of that cultural landmark.

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

Plans for the new music hall, with construction to begin in 2015, had already been unveiled. Here is a link to that Sept. 29 announcement and the many reader comments:

Now we learn about the major donors. They are George and Pamela Hamel (below), who live in the San Francisco area where he heads a venture capital firm — what else? They come from several generations of UW-Madison alumni and they generously gave $15 million as a lead gift.

Pamela and George Hamel

All well and good, and a big, hearty thank you from all of us, and especially from music fans, is in order.

But you still have to wonder.

After all, the other major UW-Madison music halls — Mills Hall, Morphy Hall, the Raymond Dvorak lobby – are named after men who served the UW-Madison School of Music.

But of course back then the state was willing to pay for public education and not privatize it out to the wealthy.

And isn’t it nice that we have Overture Hall and the Overture Center instead of Jerry Frautschi Hall and the Jerry Frautschi Arts Center. Frautschi (below) and his wife, fellow philanthropist Pleasant Rowland serve as outstanding role models, and sure know how to show good taste in a civic-minded way. They put the emphasis on help, not ego.

Please, could the other members of the very wealthy class show some sensitivity and taste? And could UW officials and state legislators please do the same? What about a nice big bronze plaque honoring the donors with the names going to the educators and public workers? Would that suffice?

Maybe the faculty, alumni and students could vote on what to name such new buildings. That would be refreshing at a time of the Wealth Gap and Income Inequality.

And The Ear has a question: Are there incentives and major business advantages and tax breaks to giving such a big donation to a non-profit music education institution?

Anyway, here is a link to the official news release about the new hall and its name. It also has details about what performance spaces and other features the hall will contain:

And at bottom is a YouTube video about the new music hall.

What do you think of the rights issue?

Who would you name the new music hall after?

The Ear wants to hear.

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