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Rockport rules

A new beginning for the music festival
By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  June 15, 2010

BRAVO! Rockport’s new Shalin Liu Performance Center is instantly one of the most beautiful halls in the country.

Pianist David Deveau, celebrating his 15th year as director of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival (now Rockport Music) and the opening of the elegant, $20 million Shalin Liu Performance Center on Main Street, said that the sound in the new hall, at the rehearsal he'd heard that afternoon of the original chamber version of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, had moved him to tears. And that night, when the Borromeo String Quartet began the Wagner, its natural, warm, vibrant sound, and the profound tenderness of its playing, got to me in the same way.

It was a thoughtfully chosen program. Wagner wrote the Siegfried Idyll to celebrate his young wife's birthday and their infant son; Cosima Wagner regarded the music as a consecration of their house. And though Aaron Copland didn't know that the score he was composing for choreographer Martha Graham was going to involve a young couple and their new house, that's what Appalachian Spring, which closed the Rockport concert, ended up being about. Then, what could be more appropriate than a newly commissioned work by an American composer with local roots? In this case, it was Scott Wheeler's new piano trio, Granite Coast. There were evocations of wind, water, and gulls, plus a Chinese folk song to honor the new building's generous donor, Shalin Liu, with references to Deveau, Liu, friends' names, and Schubert's B-flat Trio (a recording of which, with Deveau, is a fond memory of Wheeler's) all woven into the thematic material. Perfect for the occasion, though I think this piece will continue to have a life long after the occasion and the musical numerology are forgotten.

Bruce Hangen, familiar to Pops aficionados, led the original chamber versions of the Wagner and Copland pieces with shapely affection and buoyancy. Joining the Borromeos for the Wagner were flutist Paula Robison and a roster of Boston Symphony Orchestra principals: oboist John Ferrillo (whose enchanting interaction with the Quartet was the evening's high point), clarinettist William Hudgins (who had his best moment introducing "Simple Gifts" in the Copland), bassoonist Richard Svoboda, trumpeter Thomas Rolfs, and bassist Edwin Barker, plus a pair of slightly unsettled horns. In Granite Coast, Deveau, dominating the keyboard, was joined by scintillating violinist Bela Keyes and cellist Michael Reynolds (whom someone came out to identify — one of the few glitches was that the program didn't list the personnel for each piece, and not everyone received a program).

Architect Alan Joslin and his partner (and wife), interior designer Deborah Epstein, created an intimate 330-seat shoebox (similar to Ozawa Hall, on which Joslin worked), luxurious yet informal, with a spacious (though stuffy) reception area. It's instantly one of the most beautiful halls in the country, with its interwoven wooden slats, stonework walls (actually composite material from Vietnam), and, at the back of the stage, a floor-to-ceiling window on the ocean that four sliding Douglas-fir panels (also "woven" and light-permeated) can cover. Opening night, the winds sounded more cohesive and modulated when the panels covered the glass. Acoustician Lawrence Kirkegaard, who also worked on Seiji Ozawa Hall, was responsible for sealing the noise out and the sound of the instruments in. At best, the sound is rich and ravishing, though some fine tuning will be required to improve the balance. Nothing here was remotely as problematical as the Ozawa Hall opening, when Yo-Yo Ma played John Williams's new Cello Concerto and you couldn't hear the cello.

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