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Guests still needed hard hats and steel-toed boots for a sneak peek at Koerner Hall Thursday. But the intimate addition to Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music did have its most striking feature in place, twisting strings of oak that span from stage to ceiling to capture sound. Finishing touches will be completed well in time for a newly announced opening festival starting Sept. 25 and featuring such headliners as Chick Corea and Ravi Shankar.

There was only standing room available, as executive director Mervon Mehta revealed what was in store for Koerner Hall's debut season to an audience of RCM supporters and musicians.

Inaugural performances will include a commissioned piece by R. Murray Schafer and a video presentation in honour of what would have been the 77th birthday of pianist Glenn Gould, one of the conservatory's most famous alumni.

Pianist Anton Kuerti will also play the opening concert at the performance venue, along with tenor Richard Margison, soprano Erin Wall and the Royal Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Jean-Philippe Tremblay.

The conservatory announced a 24-concert season lineup for the hall in May, but yesterday revealed details of an opening festival of 20 more shows that will run through Oct. 17. The list of guest artists includes jazz pianist Chick Corea (Sept. 26), tabla master Zakir Hussain (Sept. 29), mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade (Oct. 10), Hong Kong pop star Frances Yip (Oct. 15), blues musician Keb' Mo' (Oct. 16), and sitarist Ravi Shankar (Oct. 17).

"The concerts of Koerner Hall's inaugural season cross all musical genres," said programmer Mehta. Most of the shows announced for the months following the opening festival, however, are classical and jazz, starting with a Midori recital on Oct. 30 and ending with concerts by the Emerson String Quartet (May 5) and baritone Gerald Finley (May 9).

Mehta also revealed that the conservatory will participate in this fall's edition of Nuit Blanche, the roving all-night arts fest. The entire public area of the Telus Centre for Performance and Learning, a new structure that incorporates Koerner Hall and a block of studios and rehearsal spaces adjacent to the old conservatory building, will become part of a son-et-lumière presentation of In a Large Open Space by the late James Tenney.

The Telus Centre, which opened in September, and Koerner Hall were both designed by Marianne McKenna of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects. The company also led the renovations of the 1881 McMaster Hall building now known as Ihnatowycz Hall. The acoustical design of Koerner Hall is by McKenna and acoustician Bob Essert, who worked on the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. In addition to it own programming, the conservatory intends to rent its new hall to other performance groups.

With a report from Carla Wintersgill