The acoustically revolutionized new Robinson Center Performance Hall, part of a $70 million reconstruction of the venerable building, got its baptism by musical fire Saturday night in its inaugural concert by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
I'd say we got our money's worth.
Music Director Philip Mann, on the podium for the "Return to Robinson," picked the four pieces on the program to showcase the hall's brand-new acoustics (kudos to Mark Holden of the Norwalk, Conn., acoustics company Jaffe Holden).
Every surface was designed with acoustics in mind, including the firmly blue-padded seats, the seven-on-a-side new boxes and the two balconies. A stage extension (over the first two rows of seats) moves the string players right out into the hall.
The improvement over what the acoustics had become in the old hall are absolutely night and day. But moving the strings that far forward may be, balancewise, at the expense of the woodwinds and the timpani, which even right back up against the red-wood orchestral shell, just didn't come out at the level they should have. The adjustments should be fairly simple, and it's all fixable in time.
Those deficiencies showed up most vividly in the curtain raiser, Mikhail Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla; it was easier to hear the winds in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's much sparer-scored "Haffner" Symphony.
The absolute highlight was violinist Philippe Quint soloing with Mann and the orchestra in the Violin Concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a brilliant piece brilliantly played. (Quint got a Grammy nomination for his 2009 recording.)
Here was the sonic proof that the new acoustics work. Quint's gorgeous, warm tone filled the hall without him having to push, making it possible for him to play pianissimo passages and still effect a near-perfect balance with the orchestra. And yet, tearing off broken bow hairs in the latter stages of the performance proved it didn't lack intensity.
The finale, Otterino Respighi's titanic symphonic poem The Pines of Rome, with an augmented, 83-piece orchestra, an onstage organ, six offstage brass players and the recorded voice of a nightingale, was supposed to be the calling card for the concert, and the finale, one of the most exciting, and certainly one of the loudest, rocked the hall just the way it was supposed to.
Quint, Mann, the orchestra and the new acoustics will all be back onstage at 3 p.m. today at Robinson, West Markham Street and Broadway. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 666-1761, Extension 100 or online at ArkansasSymphony.org.
Metro on 11/20/2016