August 26, 2008

Classic venues, classical music - The best places to hear that crazy long-hair sound

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Musical experience is enhanced by its setting in many ways — especially for un-amplified classical music, where the walls, floors and even the atmosphere of concert halls become sounding boards. It’s all about the acoustics. What you can hear and — too often — what you can’t. 

In the who-what-when world of classical music in Louisville, the question not to be left out is where — as in where to hear who doing what

The big stage for classical music in Louisville is Whitney Hall, home of the Louisville Orchestra and Kentucky Opera. But there are smaller halls around town with better sound, and of course some hidden gems.

Here’s a 10-cent tour.

Submitted Photo - Whitney Hall
Submitted Photo - Whitney Hall

THE BIG ROOMS

Whitney Hall 

(Kentucky Center, 501 W. Main St., 584-7777,

www.kca.org)

The grand stage for classical music in Louisville has all the amenities that go with big-city classical music — soft carpets, comfortable seats, professional presentation. But it just doesn’t have the sound it should.

Broadway Across America musicals do very well in Whitney Hall; amplified rock bands can zing electric notes throughout the house. But the orchestra suffers. The musicians are playing better than we hear them.

Attempts to make the sound bigger and better with clouds, baffles, electric amplification and reflective screens have failed. For strings, woodwinds and brass, the sound either resonates naturally or it doesn’t.

Some enterprising patrons have located spots they prefer in Whitney. One veteran tries to buy seats for Louisville Orchestra performances in rows far back on the main floor — past Row P is all he’ll reveal. He says the edge of the Grand Tier above deflects sound toward those seated below. Another says regardless of the quality of sound, you can’t beat the grand view of opera from a lofty box.


Comstock Concert Hall

(University of Louisville School of Music, Belknap Campus, 852-6907; concert line 852-0524,

louisville.edu/music)

The finest musical auditorium in Louisville, by far, doesn’t look like a concert hall from the exterior. In fact, you can’t see it from outside — and can hardly find it inside.

Comstock is hidden within the music school at the University of Louisville, surrounded by hallways and classrooms. But if you manage to find a door that leads into the auditorium (it’s a signage mystery), you suddenly find yourself inside a beautiful hall with high, wood-paneled walls that work for the music the way a spruce top works for a violin.

A smaller companion theater at the music school, Bird Recital Hall, is another excellent venue for recital-sized performances, with beautiful acoustics.

Comstock is the home of U of L’s concert orchestras and bands, and two continuing professional musical series: the Chamber Music Society of Louisville and the Hattie Bishop Speed Endowed Concert Series, presented by the Speed Museum. The Speed acts are often touring soloists, while the Chamber Music Society is more about string quartets and small ensembles. The skill of the performers (last season, the Julliard String Quartet, Diaz Trio and Artemis Quartet appeared in the series) and the vibrancy of the hall make the Chamber Music Society shows the best sound in Louisville.


Paul W. Ogle Cultural

and Community Center

(Indiana University Southeast, 4201 Grant Line Road, New Albany, 812-941-2544, www.ius.edu)

Submitted Photo - Ogle Center
Submitted Photo - Ogle Center

Another hall that resounds in sound is the Ogle Center on the campus of Indiana University Southeast. This small auditorium has what musicians describe as a “warm sound” — one shared by audience and performers.

Ogle is the home of IUS’s musical groups and a wide variety of touring acts, including the locally based Commonwealth Brass Band and the Ceruti Chamber Players. There are also occasional appearances by concert groups from Indiana University’s renowned Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington.

Of course, like so many interesting experiences north of the Ohio River, Ogle Center events are regrettably underattended by Kentuckians. (Probably the shoes thing.)


W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre

(315 W. Broadway, 562-0100,

www.kentuckycenter.org)

Submitted Photo - Brown Theatre
Submitted Photo - Brown Theatre

The venerable Brown Theatre is just right for the Louisville Youth Orchestra. Still elegant after all these years, the Brown is a genuine big-city concert hall where the Youth Orchestra stars can show their big-city stuff. 

A tip on the Brown: Pass up the more expensive first-floor seats for a perch in the balcony. Better sound, best view.


HIDDEN GEMS

You never know where you’ll meet a nice concert hall. Musicians like the acoustics of several high-school auditoriums and churches around town — especially the Ballard High auditorium (6000 Brownsboro Road, 485-8206, www.ballardhighschool.com) and Calvary Episcopal Church (821 S. Fourth St., 587-6011, www.calvaryepiscopal.org).

Many churches offer classical music programs. The Louisville Bach Society hops around among various local churches — appropriately enough, since most of Bach’s music was written for a church venue. The special music programs at Broadway Baptist Church (4000 Brownsboro Road, 895-2459, www.broadwaybaptist.org) regularly attract top players for special performances, as does St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church (6710 Wolf Pen Branch Road, 228-1176, www.stfrancisinthefields.org).

The organ series at the Cathedral of the Assumption (433 S. Fifth St., 582-2971, www.cathedraloftheassumption.org) is a different kind of experience, starring

the soaring pipes of the Cathedral’s famous organ.

Outdoors, the big summertime draw is ROARchestra at the Louisville Zoo (1100 Trevilian Way, 459-2181, www.louisvillezoo.org). Unfortunately, the zoo lawn provides neither a great view of the orchestra nor great sound — though that might not matter much on a blanket after dark.

For the best summer setting, you can’t beat the Iroquois Amphitheater (1080 Amphitheater Road, 368-5655, www.iroquoisamphitheater.com), which has undergone a very cool remodeling. A high new roof soars above the stage and extends over much of the seating.

Submitted Photo - Iroquois Amphitheater
Submitted Photo - Iroquois Amphitheater

You won’t find any concert hall in town that more people know less about than the Woman’s Club of Louisville Auditorium (1320 S. Fourth St., 634-9437, wcl1320.com). It’s very 19th century in style — squarish, with high ceilings and a big grand piano. Good vibes.

Another classical gem with the deadest sound in town (on purpose) is the sound studio at the headquarters of Louisville Public Media (619 S. Fourth St., 814-6500, www.louisvillepublicmedia.org), where the public FM stations regularly broadcast live shows such as the lunchtime presentations by Kentucky Opera, with commentary and singing by principals of the upcoming opera. (They also serve lunch.)