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Architect’s renderings for the revitalization.

ERA Architects Inc.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra is looking for $2.5-million to make a church sound more like a concert hall – while preserving its religious functions and historical architecture.

The $3-million project to renovate the Trinity-St. Paul's Centre on Bloor Street in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, which already has $500,000 in matching grants promised by the federal government, was unveiled to potential donors at a private reception Monday. The renovation will improve acoustics, seating and sightlines at the 19th-century church that Tafelmusik has called home since 1981.

The reno, undertaken in co-operation with Trinity-St. Paul's United Church and period-music chamber group The Toronto Consort, will make the church's sanctuary work better as a concert hall for music lovers, but will still serve the needs of the parishioners who use it every Sunday.

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"All great orchestras have great halls; it's our next step artistically," said Tafelmusik managing director Tricia Baldwin. "We are happy at TSP; it's just a matter of investment. We love the horseshoe shape." She explained that Trinity-St. Paul's is both affordable for the group and provides an intimate setting well suited to the small orchestra, but needs work to improve the sound of various instruments including the cello, base, harpsichord, harp and lute.

As the period instrument orchestra founded in 1979 has grown in stature and garnered international acclaim, it has investigated various solutions for a venue including a time in the 1990s when it considered moving but could not find another suitable space. In the mid-2000s, it began a blue-sky examination of the issue but quickly rejected a more ambitious plan to renovate the entire church because it would have forced the orchestra to become a venue manager.

Engineering and acoustic studies at that time showed Trinity-St. Paul's is structurally healthy and can be acoustically improved to make the music more resonant. For example, removing old carpeting and replacing it with wooden floors should make plucked instruments such as the harp and lute more audible. The seating will be replaced, there will be more and larger wheelchair spaces, and acoustic batons will be added to the walls in the first phase of the renovations, due to take place this summer. A second phase in 2014-15 will involve painting the main sanctuary but concentrate mainly on interior renovations outside that hall including improving air conditioning, adding an elevator to the balcony and moving wheelchair access to the hall from the east end of the building to the main entrance on the west end. No exterior renovations are planned.

Tafelmusik, a tenant of the building, will raise most of the budget although the church will kick in half the cost of a new stage. A permanent stage will replace the current dais and choir stalls to provide an elevated area for the orchestra while leaving an empty space at the front for Sunday services, which church leaders now prefer to preach from the floor.

The church, which dates to 1889, already functions as a performance space for numerous other occasional tenants, including the Talisker Players, Soundstreams, Exultate Chamber Choir and the Fringe and Luminato festivals, and provides office space for 15 community groups.

"The solution is to keep this building active; it's an outstanding example of a community space," Baldwin said. "It's not just a church on Sundays; it's a 24/7 vision."

Tafelmusik also plays in Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, especially during the summer months when TSP is hot and airless, but Baldwin says that hall is better suited to the orchestra's less intimate programs such as those featuring Beethoven or next month's performance of Mozart's Requiem.

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Toronto architecture firm E.R.A., which specializes in heritage buildings, and its principal Edwin Rowse, will oversee the project. The firm has also worked on the Distillery District and collaborated on the renovation of Maple Leaf Gardens.

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