Bach Choir resonates after season opener
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