Shalin Liu Performance Center – Rockport’s Hidden Gem
We all develop fond memories and enduring connections to our favorite music venues. The set and setting of a show can be almost as impactful, in some cases, as the performance itself.
I vividly remember barreling down Route 95 on hot summer days to spend evenings on the lawn at our local outdoor mecca, Great Woods. One of our favorite music venues, right now, is located in the heart of Rockport, Massachusetts, The Shalin Liu Performance Center.
The Shalin Liu is truly a Massachusetts hidden gem and is often overlooked when considering the best music venues in the state. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the history, architecture, and musical journey of this fantastic Rockport venue.
Rockport Music is key component of the town’s cultural fabric and dates back to 1981. Previously known as the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, Rockport Music initially provided a twelve concert chamber music series that was hosted by the Rockport Art Association (RAA) in its galleries.
But the space, while allowing for an intimate connection with the performers, was a little restrictive and did not allow larger arrangements or audiences. The largest ensemble that could perform at the art association was a sextet.
So, in 2008, Rockport Music, under the guidance of artistic director David Deveau, set out to remedy these issues by building a dedicated venue for Rockport Music. The goal, according to Deveau, was to create a venue that would become a “destination for music lovers from around the world.”
The group ended up finding the perfect location across the street from the RAA at the old Haskins building on Main Street. Previously a grocery store and later a women’s clothing store, the site would provide the footprint for what would be become the Shalin Liu Performance Center.
The first step in this visionary undertaking was choosing the right architect. The group decided on the team of Epstein Joslin architects in Cambridge, MA and acoustician Lawrence Kirkegaard of Kirkegaard Associates in Chicago.
The team seemed like the perfect for the project and they already had a good working relationship after successful collaboration on numerous projects including Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanglewood_Music_Center
Many people wonder where the name Shalin Liu came from. The name of the music venue actually came from a Taiwan-born philanthropist. Shalin Liu has been extraordinarily generous of the years with donations to support wildlife, art and music. She donated $3 million to the development of the performance center with the caveat that $500,000 be reserved for musical education.
Liu believes in the transcendence and transformative power of music and that it is a force that can connect human beings stating, “when people are passionate, music is always the core.”
The serendipitous collision of this outlook and the Rockport Music vision really brought to fruition this musical treasure.
The Haskins building was a Victorian Era structure that was built in the 1860’s. It had all of the ornate stylings and attention to detail that define the Victorian Era, but by the early 2000’s it had lost some of that historic charm.
The plan was to raze the building and start construction from the ground up, albeit with slightly different building materials than the first go around.
The project commenced in 2009 and was completed in 2010. It’s pretty incredible when you compare the current Shalin Liu Performance Center to old postcards of the Haskins Building from the early 20th century. The building and architecture teams did an incredible job recreating all the details.
Walking down Main Street in Rockport today, you’d be hardpressed to find a visitor that didn’t think that Performance Center was an historic building.
You can take a closer look at the construction process and some incredible photographs in this video above.
While the exterior of the Shalin Liu Performance Center is an architectural marvel, this interior is just as impressive.
The acoustics were of paramount importance to Rockport Music and that is reflected in all of the materials chosen. The Shalin Liu was framed in concrete to ensure no interference from boats on the ocean, or cars and passersby on the sidewalks out front.
The interior of the building boasts a shoebox layout with impressive timber architecture and natural stone and wood materials provide a connection to the coastal landscape and help provide a full vibrant sound. American Walnut and Douglas fir wrapped steel beams surround the performance center and help reflect and reverberate the sound. One of the acoustic goals was the provide 1.5 seconds of reverberation time to allow the audience to fully enjoy and digest the musical notes.
Larger concert halls such as Boston Symphony Hall and Carnegie Hall clock in at around 1.8 – 1.9 seconds of reverberation making them the best in the world, but for a smaller chamber music venue 1.5 seconds is world class. https://www.aes.org/technical/heyser/downloads/AES123heyser-Beranek.pdf
In addition to world class sound quality, one of the charms of the Shalin Liu is the intimate nature of the venue. The stage of the Shalin Liu was purposefully designed to be lower and closer to the audience than other traditional stages to provide a more intimate experience and connection between the audience and the performer.
But perhaps the most impressive architectural feature of the Shalin Liu is its signature floor to ceiling glass window behind the stage that provides audiences a beautiful view of Rockport’s Sandy Bay. Watching a performance as the sun sets over Sandy Bay is an absolute treat that is worth the price of admission.
So, the Shalin Liu was completed in 2010 and now offers north shore residents and visitors a world class performing arts venue with approximately 330 seats. Despite its small size, the venue attracts and incredible list of talented artists each year.
We love it because it’s a short 5-minute walk from Addison Choate over to the Shalin Liu so our guests don’t have to worry about driving or finding parking.
Since we reopened our doors of our Rockport Inn back in 2019, the acts and artists that have come through have included Arlo Guthrie, Branford Marsalis, John Scofield, Natalie Merchant, Pat Metheny, Paula Cole, Bela Fleck, as well as some incredible classically trained musicians, Brian O’Donovan’s Celtic Christmas Sojourn and more!
We’re very excited for the lineup in 2022 as well. This upcoming year’s lineup includes Marc Cohn, Rickie Lee Jones, John Scofield, Jane Monheit, Tierney Sutton, Jonathan Edwards and much more! We will definitely be in audience for some of these performances and if you’re interested you can always pickup tickets on line here:
We that a performance at the Shalin Liu is the perfect excuse to plan a couple of night escape to the scenic seaside village of Rockport! There is so much to do in Rockport and Cape Ann! If you are looking for a few ideas you can check out our blog here on Things To Do In Rockport, and if you’re interested in grabbing a quick bite to eat before or after the show you can check out the list of our favorite Rockport Restaurants.