“The little maid came into the silent room. I looked at her stocky young body, and her butter-colored hair, and noticed her odd pale voluptuous mouth before I said, ‘Mademoiselle, I shall drink an ap
Archives for December 18, 2003
“My philosophy of dance? I make it up, and you watch it. End of philosophy.”
Mark Morris, quoted in Joan Acocella, Mark Morris
The tempo of pre-holiday life is accelerating rapidly, leaving OGIC and me with less time for blogging, just as you probably have less time for reading.
We promise something new every day–beyond that, all bets are off. But we won’t forget about you!
I returned last night to Zankel Hall, the brand-new 650-seat concert hall located underneath Carnegie Hall, to hear a double bill by two of my favorite jazz singers, Luciana Souza and Karrin Allyson. The show was terrific–I would have fallen down dead with surprise had it been anything else. But what about Zankel Hall itself?
If you were reading this blog in September, you’ll probably remember my long posting about Zankel’s press preview concert. (If you didn’t see it, or want to refresh your memory, go here.) I promised to report in due course on the impression the hall made upon closer acquaintance, and this seems like a perfect occasion, so here goes.
Design. Back in September, I called Zankel “attractive enough but somewhat sterile-looking, a typical exercise in safe concert-hall modernism.” That’s more or less what I thought last night, though I should add that the stage picture is quite handsome, thanks to skillful lighting and three vertical black hangings placed behind the performers for acoustical reasons (about which more later). The ceiling, an exposed black lighting grid which I compared to “a giant assemblage by Louise Nevelson,” still looks terrific. What remains oppressive-looking are the slabby walls on either side of the audience, which made me feel as though I were penned in.
Comfort. The lobby seemed more inviting this time, possibly because of better lighting and more elaborate decoration (it had previously struck me as “cramped and claustrophobic”). This time, though, I noticed with displeasure the street-level entrance and vestibule to Zankel Hall, which has no box office of its own (you have to go to the main box office at Carnegie Hall to pick up your tickets). It’s functional and ugly, a discouraging-looking transition from Eighth Avenue to the escalator, and does nothing whatsoever to put you in the festive mood appropriate to concertgoing.
Acoustics. Souza, Allyson, and their bands were amplified, so I can’t tell you anything new about the hall’s natural acoustic. I can say, however, that last night’s concert sounded infinitely better than the performance I heard in September by the Kenny Barron Quintet. The on-stage hangings, which I’m told are intended for use at amplified performances, seemed to have improved things, and I also suspect the hall’s managers now have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t, electronically speaking. Whatever the reason, the drums weren’t nearly as boomy last night as they were in September (though I also suspect both drummers were under orders not to play too loudly), and the amplified bass sound was clearer and more concentrated. It still lacked the kind of low-end punch for which I’d hoped: this is definitely a bass-shy hall. Generally speaking, I thought the amplified sound of both bands was a bit tubby–too much midrange, not enough treble and low bass. It’s tolerable, and certainly better than what one too often hears in New York nightclubs, but it’s not there yet.
The subway. Zankel Hall is only a few feet from a subway tunnel. At the press preview concert, subway noise was audible–and obtrusive. I couldn’t hear it at all last night, though the performers could (Allyson mentioned it midway through her set). I can’t tell you how much of a problem it will continue to be at classical concerts, but it appears that it won’t be a problem at performances that make use of amplified instruments.
Again, these are purely preliminary reactions. Zankel Hall isn’t going anywhere, nor am I. We’ll have a lot of time to get used to one another. Still, I thought you’d like to know what I thought of the place now that some of the newness has rubbed off, and my feelings, though not uncontrollably enthusiastic, are nonetheless more favorable than they were three months ago. That’s good news.
I’m thinking of a famous 20th-century author who used to be immensely popular for his comedies, which made him the most successful commercial playwright of his generation. For a brief time he was even taken seriously by the critics, who saw in his work a reflection of the spirit of the age, and who also thought that at least some of his plays might have a permanent life in revival. Then he hit a bad patch, turning out a string of ineffective scripts at the very moment that a new generation of theatergoers was looking for something new. Tastes changed, and he woke up one day to find himself unfashionable.
If you thought I was talking about Neil Simon, whose Rose’s Dilemma opens tonight at the Manhattan Theatre Club (and which I will be reviewing in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal), you were right. But with one small addition, the same things could be said of No