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What should we expect from Summer Festivals?


A lot has been said in this rag about the superlative qualities of Rockport Music’s new Shalin Liu Center. But how does it compare with what we expect from a summer music venue? For those of us not attending the likes of the Salzburg Festival in our mothball-infused finery, summer festivals mean mosquitoes, moths, straight backed pews, heavy summer air, birdcalls (and even droppings) and various other distractions such as thunder storms, fog horns, surf and imperfect acoustics.

The Shalin Liu Center is an Orphic Temple dedicated to the undisturbed reception of fine music. What the architect, Larry Kierkegaard has said (ad nauseam in the pre-concert fund raising movie) is that “…we want nothing to come between the audience and the music.” His creation is utterly without the grittiness one has previously expected and sometimes endured from summer venues. It is hermetically sealed with perfect air, perfect acoustics and no sense of the world without except for the view, silently delivered through the1inch plate glass stage wall.  And that view is both a charm and a curse. For afternoon concerts the resultant glare is a real distraction- indeed a dozen or more viewers wore sunglasses at a recent concert. And the metronomic oscillations of sailboat masts also distracted since they were always set to largo. Yet Shalin Liu has set a new standard for the presentation of chamber music. One is very grateful to hear the music and not the hall.

Concerts at Newport’s Breakers, an opulent Temple dedicated to Mammon, have many of the qualities we love and dread in summer festivals. We like the idea of alternative venues and we make allowances for the concomitant distractions. At the Breakers the doors were open to the veranda allowing the sounds and smells of the sea to infuse the ballroom-sanctum. The air was damp and heavy- jackets were removed and tuning was frequent. Compared to the Shalin Liu Center one heard the sound as if in a marble sarcophagus, and the musicians needed to over-articulate to compensate.

Concerts in such places serve the cause of drawing the un-initiated into the Orphic realm and providing summer jobs for starving artists. And they also add luster to some resort destinations.

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