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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Orchestra of St. Luke's Opens DiMenna Center

The DiMenna Center: 450 W. 37th St.
Photo courtesy the Orchestra of St. Luke's.
The Orchestra of St. Luke's has been around since 1979, but has never had a building or venue to call its own. That changed yesterday, when the OSL officially opened its new midtown Manhattan home.

The morning ceremony featured Mayor Bloomberg, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, the orchestra, and a whole bunch of writers and reporters including that guy who writes Superconductor.

The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, (named after two donors who spearheaded the drive to raise the money for the project) is a multi-leveled $37 million dollar space built out of the shell of two off-Broadway rehearsal theaters. It is part of the complex located at 450 W. 37th St., right over the hellmouth of the Lincoln Tunnel., which also houses Mikhail Barishnykov's dance troupe.

One would think that a classical music venue next to heavy traffic patterns might be a bad idea. But, as yesterday's facility tour showed, the two concert halls, practice rooms and control center have excellent soundproofing, designed as "floating rooms" in the architect Hugh Hardy's "box-within-a-box" design. (The traffic was rendered silent.) The rooms are all equipped with removable walls of great complexity, allowing them to be reconfigured as needed for chamber music, orchestral work, or anything else that is needed.

I was on the tour group that got to hear the OSL play in one of the spaces, Cary Hall. This is the larger of the two auditoriums, a subterranean wooden concert hall with the walls covered with acoustic dowels for maximum sonic clarity. Judging from the warm sound of the Orchestra (heard as they rehearsed the Overture to Mozart's Die Zauberflöte), the room allows the large instruments to bloom with firm, round tones. The acoustics also allow clarity between instruments, making smaller voices in the orchestra (particularly the oboes) stand out.

Both Cary and its smaller brother Benzaquen Hall are designed to be used primarily as rehearsal spaces and recording studios. There will be occasional concerts for the general public, and for those, temporary seating will be added. We also saw the musicians' lounge, the central recording room (temporarily bare of equipment as the Center will be inviting producers and engineers to bring their own) and the Orchestra's library room.
A cutaway view of the DiMenna Center with the two concert halls visible.
© HH Hardy Collaborative Architecture courtesy Orchestra of St. Luke's
The morning event concluded with a short concert and ceremony in Cary Hall. Involuntary is a new composition by David Lang, for piccolos, trumpets and drum. It was commissioned by the Orchestra for the occasion. With its dueling piccolos and martial percussion, it served as a short, pert curtain-raiser.

Speeches were made, by St. Luke's president Katy Clark, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Susan Grahame. There was a bizarre ribbon-cutting ceremony with dignitaries and artists taking shears to a copy of a Beethoven score. A short program followed, featuring Ms. Graham singing "Bless This House" and the actual Magic Flute overture, conducted by Patrick Summers.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats