Sunday, February 7, 2010

Alice Tully Hall

We heard our first series of Beethoven String Quartets on Friday night played by the Brentano String Quartet. This quartet that has been around since 1994 played the op. 127, the 18, no. 1, and the 59, no. 3 with tremendous authority, vigor, and passion. It was a terrific concert. Both the 127, which opened the show, and the 59, which closed it, were particularly fine.

As I listened, though, my eyes were often drawn to the warm, glowing interior of the Starr Theater, the grand performance space of Alice Tully. Apparently, just about the entire theater is covered in an extremely thin layer of an African hardwood known as Moabi. It is a very beautiful wood and finish and the thinness of the wood allows light to shine through it. As a result, the space often seems suffused in hues of soft orange and light brown, which create this very welcoming, comforting effect, as if the entire hall were warmed by a large, low burning fireplace.

Also, the walls and the ceiling that are covered in this beautiful wood are molded in such a way as to avoid flat surfaces and hard angles. Everything curves smoothly and gracefully. The walls on the side of the stage continue this pattern and you really can’t discern any crack or opening in those walls. So I am always just a bit startled each time one of the walls pushes open to reveal the musicians striding confidently toward center stage. You sort of wonder, how does that beautifully curving wall hide that opening so imperceptibly?

Also, the ceiling of the Starr fairly soars with a series of overlapping, wing-like surfaces that also look a little like great masts that are meant to fly or sail you away to some impossibly beautiful and remote island. It is truly an auditorium designed to transport audiences and in our limited experience, anyway, it still hasn't come close to missing yet.

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