At the end of this year’s May Festival, Cincinnati’s Music Hall will close for extensive renovations. The Cincinnati icon, which first opened in 1878, will open again in the fall of 2017. I knew I ought to attend at least one more performance there before the closing and working in part of the May Festival has been in the back of my mind. A number of things lined up Friday that made attending the first night of the MusicNOW Festival possible and attractive. I may still try to make it back for the May Festival but the pressure is off and I had a most enjoyable evening.
MusicNow, the brainchild of Bryce Dessner of The National, was first held in 2005. Although The National was formed after he moved to New York, Bryce is a Cincinnati native and frequently involved with the city’s music. An Australian tour prevented him from attending this year’s festival but one of his compositions opened Friday’s concert and another was premiered on Saturday.
With about an hour to go, the lobby was pretty empty and I grabbed a couple of pictures. There are a number of large chandeliers in the building with one of the most impressive hanging in the center of the lobby..
I used some of the extra time to head upstairs. On the second floor, I snapped pictures of the upper level of the lobby and the balcony of the main concert space, Springer Auditorium. The third photo is of the Springer Auditorium Gallery. The seats in the foreground are about where I sat to watch Big Brother and the Holding Company in October 1968. This was the performance that was paused while Janis and the band watched the Beatles on the Smothers Brothers Show.
I believe that 1968 show was my first at Music Hall. Many, wildly diverse, have followed. If Big Brother is at one end of the range, Andrés Segovia might be at the other. He was solo and acoustic when I saw him in 1982. So was Bruce Springsteen in 1996. But Bruce was 47; Segovia nearly 90. That little old man and that little old guitar on the big old stage remains one of my most memorable concerts and a great demonstration of the wonderful acoustics of that big old space. There were numerous Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concerts that included a variety of soloists; several performances of the Nutcracker ballet; the Kinks; John (not yet Mellencamp) Cougar; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and others I’ve temporarily forgotten. But my purpose in going to Friday’s show was not to trigger old memories. I wanted to firm up my impressions of the building in anticipation of next year’s changes. It was standing at the back wall of the Gallery and looking at the distant stage that prompted the most ancient memories then not-quite-as-ancient memories just followed.
My seat was a last minute pay-what-you-want bargain. From the left side of the second row the visuals consisted largely of orchestra member’s ankles and partially obscured profiles of featured performers but the audio was fantastic. The Kronos Quartet performed first followed by violinist Jennifer Koh with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. After an intermission, the quartet and orchestra performed together. Mandolinist Chris Thile closed the show. He performed, like Segovia and Springsteen, solo and he even stepped in front of the mic to do a couple of songs completely acoustic. Not suprisingly, it sounded great from a few yards away but I almost bolted from my seat to see if he reached the rear of the audtorium as well as Segovia had. I didn’t. I wish I had.
The Cincinnati Opera has put together a rather nice Music Hall Renovation FAQ in which they specifically mention that “The large chandelier in the auditorium will be restored.” I don’t know if that means the others will not be but it does raise the question. I hope that’s not the case although if only one can be saved, this is certainly the right one.