Show: Richard B. Fisher Center
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, New York - With its undulating canopies of stainless
steel that mirror the nearby Catskill Mountains, the Richard B. Fisher Center
for the Performing Arts at Bard College is a dramatic addition to this small
liberal arts college in the Hudson River Valley. As proven by the gala inaugural
concert in its 900-seat Sosnoff Theater Friday night, this Frank Gehry-designed
facility for music, theater, and dance has gleaming acoustics to match.
The sole work on the program was Mahler's Symphony No. 3, performed
by the American Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leon Botstein, Bard's
president and the music director of that ensemble. The epic, 90-minute symphony
heralded a building that Bard hopes will enhance the college's public profile and
revitalize the tourist economy of this bucolic, tree-lined region 90 miles north
of New York City.
Indeed, the $62 million center represents a triumph for Botstein, who has been
an important crusader for the role of the arts in academia. Nearly fourteen
years ago, he founded the Bard Music Festival, a summertime staple that concentrates
on a particular composer through two weekends of concerts and symposia.
While the festival has become a choice weekend destination for intellectually
curious New Yorkers, it has sorely lacked a suitable concert space (concerts
were held in an acoustically problematic outdoor tent). In his vision to change
this, Botstein set the bar high.
Making Vision a Reality
In 1997, Botstein enlisted Gehry, before the noted architect had finished the Guggenheim
museum in Bilbao, acknowedged as one of the world's great modern buildings.
Then, he went about raising the cash, which included $25 million from Fisher,
chairman emeritus of Morgan Stanley and a Bard board member. New York State
invested $5 million, to be distributed over five years by the Empire State Development
Botstein also stipulated that the main theater be flexible, accommodating everything
from intimate chamber concerts to expansive opera productions. There had to
be room for rehearsal studios, support facilities, and a black box theater to
house student productions of dance and drama. And if that weren't enough, the
hall's acoustics had to be adjustable so major symphonic works didn't overwhelm
the listener while a solo recital or lecture could still fill the room.
To a large extent, these requirements have been achieved. With its shallow
and wide layout, the Sosnoff Theater is a handsome, inviting space that draws
the listener in to the performance on stage. The bare concrete walls and floors
are balanced by two rows of balconies paneled in Douglas fir. Playful decorative
squiggles loop the walls. The wooden proscenium is retractable to accommodate
the staging of opera and theater works.
Acoustically, the modest theater favors treble instruments like trumpets and
flutes, at least in Mahler's brilliant sonorities. Botstein reportedly delayed
the opening for two months while he worked with acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota
in some last-minute modifications. These certainly paid off: when deployed in
full, the orchestra enveloped the listener with a halo of deep, resonant, and a bit forceful sound.
Mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby, the Concert Chorale of New York and the Brooklyn
Youth Chorus, the latter positioned in the upper balcony, contributed rich and
sonorous performances Friday. If there was any obstacle to full appreciation of the
hall, it was Botstein's hulking tempos, which depleted some of Mahler's dramatic
Nevertheless, there will be many other opportunities to experience the facility
in the months to come. A second weekend of inaugural events will take place
from May 1-3, and feature performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company
and the Kronos Quartet, the Ballet Hispanico, and the Charles Mingus Orchestra
with Elvis Costello as special guest.
In July, Bard will inaugurate Summerscape, a festival which incorporates both
the old Bard Music Festival, as well as theater, drama, and dance. This year's
festival will focus on the works of Czech composer Leos Janácek, which
will include the composer's neglected opera Osud; Botstein will conduct the
American Symphony and a cast of 40 in five performances of this rarity.
Tickets and further info is available at www.bard.edu/fishercenter
about Frank Gehry
Muschamp's architectural appraisal New York Times