Sounds of America Gramophone’s guide to the classical scene in the US and Canada

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Smith Center for the Performing Arts (left) boasts three performance spaces, including reynolds Hall (bottom right) and the Cabaret Jazz room (top right)

StAndinG tAll: A CUltUrAl oASiS in the heArt of lAS veGAS the gambling mecca now boasts more than casinos, thanks to the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts. At last, writes Joshua Kosman, local residents can enjoy classical performances by international artists to fly into Las Vegas is to be confronted forcefully by the sheer improbability of the city’s existence. The view out of the aeroplane window offers up mile after mile of unbroken desert – and then, in the time it takes to ask the flight attendant for a soda, the panorama suddenly fills with expanses of manicured golf courses, swimming pools and gleaming high-rise hotels. The sense of an outpost created out of nothing but ingenuity and the force of will is palpable.

Now the city’s cultural landscape has acquired an artistic oasis that is comparably arresting. The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a five-acre complex that opened in March in the heart of Las Vegas’s downtown area, promises to bring the local population something that has been largely missing from the city’s trademark swirl of gambling, glamour and glitz: symphonic and chamber music, ballet and modern dance, full-length Broadway musicals and, most importantly, an elegant and acoustically top-notch home for those offerings.

For Myron Martin, Smith Center’s president, the goal of this $470 million project – funded by a combination of public and private money – was to redress what seemed to him an obvious civic failing. ‘This was the largest city in North America without a world-class performing arts venue,’ he said. ‘When I moved here from New York in 1995, I frankly felt that I was moving to a cultural wasteland and I said so publicly. So I and a number of people set out to change that. And in a city where we tear our buildings down every 10 or 15 years, the idea was to build something that would last.’

Smith Center embodies that ambition. Designed by architect David Schwarz and acoustician Paul Scarbrough – who collaborated