Bach Choir res­onates after sea­son opener

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Magazine - By Jeremy Reynolds

Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette

Typ­i­cal con­cert hall re­ver­ber­a­tions last a sec­ond or two. At the Bach Choir of Pitts­burgh’s Sun­day con­cert, it took up to eight sec­onds for the sounds to die away.

An ensem­ble that reg­u­larly per­forms in un­usual spa­ces, the Bach Choir opened its 2017-2018 sea­son in the Hunt Ar­mory, Pitts­burgh’s largest arena prior to the Civic Arena’s com­ple­tion in 1961. The choir’s Satur­day and Sun­day per­for­mances, ti­tled “WAR,” fea­tured mu­sic by Haydn and Emi­rate-Amer­i­can com­poser Mo­hammed Fairouz with the 80-mem­ber choir bol­stered by a small cham­ber or­ches­tra. Artis­tic di­rec­tor and con­duc­tor Thomas W. Dou­glas led the con­certs.

The ar­mory, which was named to the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 1991, oc­cu­pies a full city block in Shady­side. It has just over 87,000 square feet, 80,000 of it on the main floor. The space is no longer used and the build­ing’s fu­ture is cur­rently be­ing dis­cussed. The choir last per­formed in the ar­mory in 2012.

The walls and floor are hard. The roof is rounded. There were no pil­lars or wall cov­er­ings to break up the sound, and the au­di­ence (per­haps 120 on Sun­day) didn’t soak up much sound.

Acous­tics. Acous­tics. Acous­tics. Clocked with a stop­watch, some of the longer re­ver­ber­a­tions lasted a full eight sec­onds. Faster pas­sages blurred and dis­torted to the point of near ca­coph­ony, al­though Mr. Dou­glas ex­ag­ger­ated pauses be­tween phrases to give the sound time to die away.

The echoes cre­ated a lay­er­ing ef­fect that worked well for some of the mu­sic. Mr. Fairouz’s five­move­ment “Any­thing Can Hap­pen” paired solo in­stru­ments play­ing a re­peated phrase or os­ti­nato with re­duced choir. The space took on a life of its own as the mu­sic rolled around, har­mo­niz­ing and clash­ing with it­self.

A cou­ple of flick­er­ing, flu­o­res­cent lights con­tribut­ing to the am­biance. Bari­tone soloist Khristo­pher Smalling’s voice filled the space par­tic­u­larly well.

“The Sec­ond Com­ing,” also by Mr. Fairouz, was lively, but de­tails and dic­tion were in­dis­tin­guish­able. Haydn’s “Ada­gio” for

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