Monday, August 01, 2005

Quick fix

As I had the pleasure of playing as concertmaster of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra for three summers, it is only natural that I follow closely their situation at present. They seem to be in fine shape today; a far cry from the strike and canceled season just a couple years ago that almost killed the orchestra.

The Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall opened in 1962 and was initially praised. Its acoustical problems became evident soon, however, and by 1976 it had undergone a major acoustical reconstruction, with Cyril Harris as the acoustician. By this time the building had already been renamed Avery Fisher, after a major benefactor. Midsummer Serenades started in 1966, to be called Mostly Mozart in 1972. The series proved to be a big hit, perhaps partially because people could enjoy an air-conditioned space, with easy-to-listen music, in the middle of a hot and humid Manhattan summer.

Happiness with the new hall design didn’t last all that long and for many years the primary occupant, New York Philharmonic, had expressed dissatisfaction with being stuck there. A deal was almost made which would have returned them to Carnegie Hall, but that fell through. This summer the Mostly Mozart Festival has moved the stage into the hall, as a rather expensive experiment. There are now seats behind the orchestra, right where musicians used to sit. Initial reactions from audience members, musicians and the press have been somewhat mixed. Just about everyone agrees there is more intimacy, which is not surprising since distance between the new stage and the listeners is shorter. Some prefer the new sound, others complain that the sound of the higher strings is too muted. Many simply feel that anything new and different is a step forward.

Perhaps a hall would have to be built from the ground up, to fully benefit from this setup. After all, this experiment is intended to be a quick fix. Sometimes one doesn’t work, other times it does, but seldom as well as in this story a friend forwarded to me:

Doctor Bloom, who was known for miraculous cures for arthritis, had a waiting room full of people when a little old lady, completely bent in half, shuffled in slowly, leaning on her cane.

When her turn came, she went into the doctor's office, and, amazingly, merged within half an hour walking completely erect with her head held high. A woman in the waiting room who had seen all this walked up to the little old lady and said, “It's a miracle! You walked in bent in half and now you're walking erect. What did that doctor do?”

She answered, “Miracle, shmiracle ~ he gave me a longer cane.”