I’ve been harping on acoustics in my past few reviews, not only as a personal crotchet (which I must own), but because the issue has been cropping up of its own accord. It’s particularly frustrating that Chapin Hall at Williams is so fine to look at, while its sound it is so dismal, but to be fair, it was built for academic pomp, not music. What’s more the acoustically outstanding auditorium at the Clark is not often used for music. However, Berkshire County people are lucky to be in easy reach of several halls which are among the best in the worldÃ‚Â—I mean not only Symphony Hall in Boston, or the wonderful Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, but Mechanics Hall in Worcester (1857, sadly underused for music), the Sosnoff Theater at Bard’s Fisher Center (2003), which I’ve already discussed on several occasions, and the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, also on the Hudson, built between 1871 and 1875 to the designs of George B. Post. It’s not the only concert hall to have been constructed as a multipurpose building, but its vaulted roof and Greek temple which dominate the rooftops and steeples of this once grand commercial city is unusual. Its acoustics are legendary, and I’ve wanted to hear music there for some time. I’m grateful that my responsibilities to BFA have allowed me to give it a priority, and I’ll most certainly come back regularly to hear this great hall, the excellent Albany Symphony, and as many as possible of the other compelling events it hosts.
The first, the Amadeus Orchestra, conducted by the twenty-something Louis Lohraseb—a friend and erstwhile student of mine. These young musicians came to the hall from New Haven in a bus, played a rehearsal, and then an unforgettable concert thereafter. Featured was the excellent young cellist Cicely Parnas in the Haydn Concerto no. 1, which she played with great energy and style, the orchestral accompaniment pristine.
Rory Kinnear’s incisive Iago made a trip to The Clark a joy last week. The National Theatre’s production of Othello had a mild-mannered Othello, a hipster Desdemona, and a working-class Iago whose asides had enough energy to pass through walls and ring in the halls, though the other actors seemed not to hear them. His was a display of words — words which could go any which way and say any which thing.
The Acting Company’s As You Like It in Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Wednesday, March 13th, was quite the gentlest performance of the play I have seen. The wrestling scene was mercifully brief, the songs sweet and soft, the relationships clear as a bell without exaggeration. For me, the center of this approach was the excellent Orlando, played by Joseph Midyett. He was neither bewildered nor positive. His participation in the feigning, which is the middle of the play, had a knowingness to it which never quite went over the edge, even though there was that one kiss which came across, to me, as utterly spontaneous—a young man kissing the boy Ganymede who is really a girl, wooing him for herself by playing another.
It was excellent to read Kenneth Cooper’s words recently on how he loved the sound of Bach with great players playing great instruments in a large hall. So do I, and this is what we got and have gotten for years now on New Year’s Day in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in the annual performances by the Berkshire Bach Ensemble. We seem to have arrived at a place between the modern instrument folks (usually using old instruments altered to achieve a stronger sound) and the early music crowd (which tries to emulate the sounds of the 18th century orchestra). Each has its own political correctness, and each works.
I’m sitting now in the late sunlight, looking at my cat’s ear. A translucent point it is with its hairs shining gold. It is sweet, and I am being sentimental. That which is sentimental is always ordinary in some way. Sentimentality is a kind of comfort. I once overheard the great Bernard Haitink say in a rehearsal “What is wrong with sentimentality anyway?” This from a conductor sometimes thought of as sober and straight-laced. There is nothing so remarkable about a cat’s ear, but a cat’s ear in the sunlight can seem something from a better world. I had a feeling like this when the bells started to play in The Knights’ recent performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. We had already heard the old tune several times, and then we heard it with bells. You know the place. The performance was so honest and utterly straight that I heard the jangling as new minted. The old tune was glowing. I never really noticed the bells before; I never really heard them. There is such risk in these few bars. But this is a piece which attains to simplicity and achieves it, and they simply were there. No big event-just the simple sublime, and no other composer hears this better than Aaron Copland. ‘Tis the gift to be simple.
I always look forward to the Berkshire Bach Society’s New Year’s Bach concerts, this year their classic program of the Brandenburg Concertos straight through. I was especially pleased that they scheduled a third concert at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, allowing us to hear them in their full glory, that is, in a fully satisfactory acoustic, more than that, in fact, since the Music Hall offers a unique bloom all its own. It seemed a bit much at first, as the musicians pulled themselves together after Kenneth Cooper’s perfectly clear initial beat in the first concerto. Everyone was quite happily together after a couple of bars, and the rest was a marvellous blend of atmosphere and clarity. In fact it was really quite a revelation to hear some passages—especially the entire sixth concerto—in this unique environment.