LENOX, MASS. — * The real test of any new concert hall is the sound that emerges when the musicians and audience are added. Acousticians can work their technical magic, but no one knows for sure until the notes float out over the heads of listeners.
A June 30 Monitor article dealt with the architecture and aesthetics of the new Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home. The striking photographs showed a modern, yet at the same time comfortably traditional, brick-and-wood structure.
One recent damp July night, I attended a prelude concert at Ozawa hall to hear a summery Schubert quintet and to test the building's seats and other amenities. Schubert was charming, but the hall (designed by William Rawn, with acoustic consultant R. Lawrence Kirkegaard) was the more impressive artwork.
The building holds an attraction that goes beyond the visual and points to higher qualities. The abundance of wood gives one the feeling of being enclosed in an ark or a rustic sanctuary. Patterns of repeating squares made me think of the ``city [that] lieth foursquare'' mentioned in Revelation. The hall seems to have enough room for all the sounds - high and low - to layer themselves. Schubert's notes were conveyed tenderly but without dragging, and the musicians played the hall as if it were one of their instruments.
Down to more practical details: To my relief, the seating is as comfortable and sturdy as it is well designed. The openwork backs of the chairs are like personal ventilation systems, and the legroom is substantial. In the rear balcony's last row, seats perch on legs so tall that footstools are provided (children are entranced by these adult highchairs).
Giant sliding panels at the back of the hall open onto the sloping hillside outdoors. In front, behind the performers, long slender windows frame even more hills and sky. The many staircases lead to galleries and balconies on which to congregate and people-watch. Unfortunately, the hall itself has no restrooms; these are found (inconveniently) in an outlying building.
Seiji Ozawa Hall collaborates with musicians for a concert experience that engages both eye and ear.