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In Groton, the hills have never been more alive with the sound of music

The 1,000-seat Concert Hall at the Groton Hill Music Center in Groton opened in January.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe/Carlin Stiehl

GROTON — Pristine sound engulfed the vast new concert hall at Groton Hill Music Center when the venue hosted its first audience in late January. Featuring evocative pieces by Strauss, Mozart, Tan Dun, and Respighi, the Vista Philharmonic Orchestra filled the hall with birdsong, ethereal strings and horns, and symphonic majesty.

The performance also filled the hall with tears of joy.

Seven years since its groundbreaking, made possible by a large gift from an anonymous donor, the music center brings a consummate performance facility to this quiet Nashoba Valley town, nestled near the intersection of Routes 2 and 495. It replaces the former Indian Hill Music, a community music school that operated out of a high school auditorium. Founded in the mid-1980s, it was an offshoot of the Groton Center for the Arts.

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Many attendees, musicians, and staff members sobbed as they experienced the hall for the first time. For Carl Giegold, whose Chicago-based company Threshold Acoustics consulted on the project, the reception was gratifying.

“It’s a joy to walk into a building and see and hear the reactions of the people who use it,” Giegold recalled recently. “To think there are orchestras of kids who walk out on that stage every Saturday morning and rehearse there, and what that tells them about the value of what they’re doing, just gives me chills.”

Kathy McMinn leads a rehearsal for the Groton Hill Music Harmonia Youth Chorus in Meadow Hall at the Groton Hill Music Center.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe/Carlin Stiehl

The massive, 126,000-square-foot music center at Groton Hill sits on 110 pastoral acres formerly owned by the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. Designed by the husband-and-wife team of Alan Joslin and Deborah Epstein, the architects behind Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center, the music center features the 1,000-seat Concert Hall, 300-seat Meadow Hall (which opened last fall), and 35 studio classrooms, all under one long, undulating roof.

Today the music center provides education for about 1,500 students, children and adults. But the new facility will also draw visitors from across New England and beyond for concerts of all styles.

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When Lori McKenna appeared in the recital hall in December, one fan traveled all the way from Florida for the show. In early February, a group of jazz students studying at UMass-Amherst came to Groton Hill to see the Immanuel Wilkins Quartet headline Meadow Hall.

“I knew nothing about this place,” said Ryan Padula, who has played piano in a family band for several years. He arrived with his older brother, Matthew, and a friend from school, both of whom play saxophone. Wilkins, a fast-rising star whose 2020 debut was named the best jazz album of the year by the New York Times, had no other appearances in the area planned for the immediate future, so the students made the trek on a frigid evening.

On Saturday, the Matthew Whitaker Quintet takes the stage in the Concert Hall, where the jazz and R&B prodigy’s Hammond B-3 organ will showcase the space’s acoustic dynamism. Upcoming events include the chamber orchestra A Far Cry on March 3, jazz pianist Danilo Perez on March 4, pop and country singer LeAnn Rimes on April 7, the National Youth Orchestra on July 13, and the banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck on Aug. 5.

When weather permits, the Concert Hall has a movable back wall that can be opened to accommodate an outdoor crowd on the hillside. It’s a nod to Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall, opened in 1994, which Joslin worked on for the architecture firm William Rawn Associates.

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The Vista Philharmonic Orchestra performs on opening night in the Concert Hall at Groton Hill Music Center.Courtesy Groton Hill Music Center

“Alan’s vision for the project was something very much of New England, inspired by the orchards, barns, woods, and granites you’d find on a stroll through the countryside,” Giegold explained. “Much of what you see in the room began with metaphors taken from nature.”

The multi-tiered Concert Hall, full of natural light, features various acoustic innovations designed to diffuse sound rather than swallow it or slap it back at the audience. Ash wood slats, rippled stone walls, clear hanging canopy panels, and other details all contribute to the quality of the sound.

“It turns into an immersive experience rather than a cacophony,” Giegold said. The main hall, he noted, is shaped like “cupped hands that contain the audience and orchestra all in a single embrace.”

The aim, he said, “is to preserve as much energy in the room as possible.”

The multi-colored seats in the Concert Hall at Groton Hill Music Center. Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe/Carlin Stiehl

In addition to the two halls and the rehearsal rooms, the building includes a fine-dining restaurant that will be open on concert nights and a spacious lobby where parents can work or socialize while they wait during their children’s lessons.

“The whole idea is to make this a gathering space centered around music,” CEO Lisa Fiorentino told the Globe during a previous visit, while construction was still underway.

Before the Immanuel Wilkins Quartet took the stage in Meadow Hall, programmer Pete Robbins asked how many were attending their first show at Groton Hill. If so, he urged them to return for a performance in the Concert Hall.

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“If you think this is nice . . .” he said with a smile, letting his voice trail off.


James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.