An entirely suitable Story.

We had the privilege of attending a performance by the accomplished pianist, Liz Story, and her special guest, Lisa Downing, (another accomplished pianist), at the Musical Instrument Museum last week. You might be asking why I’ve chosen to write about a musical performance when the focus of this blog is [largely] architecture.  Indulge me, if only for a moment.  You’ll be glad you did.

The Musical Instrument Museum, (or MIM for short), is a rather remarkable facility, and it contains a collection of instruments that is second-to-none.  …and yes, while the deftly-executed building, (including exhibit spaces, conservation laboratory, offices, gathering places and the surrounding hardscape), is certainly worth an entire afternoon of careful inspection, it’s the 300 seat auditorium called the Music Theater that prompts my post.

To sit smack dead center in row E, or maybe row H or row M, and savor the talents of Liz Story on a Steinway Model D without the use of any amplification whatsoever is, well, it’s almost impossible to describe.  …it’s better – much better – to experience this space in person.

Weeks prior we had similar epiphany, though on this particular evening, it was the Danish String Quartet performing, again, sans amplification.  Four extremely-talented performers seated toward the front of the stage, each coaxing everything they possibly could out of their instruments.  As I said, we’ve attended a number of performances in the past year, but that quartet – and then Liz Story – were our first entirely acoustic experiences in the Music Theater.

The lights dim, a door opens toward the back of the stage and the artist(s) emerge(s) to rising applause.  After taking their seat(s), we might catch a quick glance from the artist(s), then a brief pause and then the first few notes float up from the stage – bliss!  For a time, we are entranced/enthralled/captivated/rendered speechless, then a tiny sliver of silence and then more applause.  This ebb and flow of aural alchemy continues for almost two hours.  We emerge different people.

Martha and I have known about Liz Story for decades, and we’ve heard her perform at several different venues in the past, but not at the MIM.  I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the so-called “house sound” in the Music Theater.  I find it to be a little too bass-heavy for my taste, but then again, there is always – and I do mean always – going to be some sort of compromise the engineers must make when outfitting an auditorium – even this one – for amplified sound.

But, my, oh my, to sit in this very same space and listen to an extraordinarily-accomplished artist create something so entirely ephemeral and yet so entirely memorable is quite simply magic, pure auditory magic.

Form does follow function, especially in an auditorium like this one.  The walls are clad in irregular rectilinear forms made of stone and wood.  The ceiling plane is broken at irregular intervals, tinted a pleasing off-white, and punctuated with just the right amount of lighting.  The slope of the floor, the angles of the walls and ceiling panels, the curve of the rear wall; all have been meticulously engineered to maximize the quality of the sounds produced on that stage. Even the shallow crescent forming the back of each seat, (fabricated from a lightly-toned laminated wood panel), has been carefully thought through. Stainless steel details, (railings, fittings and fixtures), complete the picture.

If you happen to find yourself in the greater Phoenix area, definitely make time to visit the Musical Instrument Museum, particularly if you can take in an acoustic performance one evening – I’m highly confident you won’t be disappointed.  …we certainly weren’t!

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