The ghost of Van Cliburn must have been hovering over the Renzo Piano Pavilion on Thursday night. There was no official connection between man and building, but there was plenty to remind everyone present of Fort Worth’s most famous musician.
For one thing, Cliburn Competition gold medalist Olga Kern was playing the official inaugural recital in the auditorium of the new annex to the Kimbell Art Museum. For another, she played a program that could hardly have been more representative of Cliburn’s musical tastes.
There were specific references as well. Kern, in touching preliminary remarks, dedicated the program (and a repetition to be played Friday night) to the late pianist. And Cliburn Foundation president Jacques Marquis announced that a special concert will be held in Sundance Square on Feb. 27 to mark the first anniversary of Cliburn’s death.
The auditorium was filled Thursday night (both performances are sold out). It’s a small space, only 298 seats, but there’s a need in Fort Worth for a venue of this size for solo and small-scaled performances.
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It’s a handsome space, with wood (or faux wood?) reflective panels on the ceiling, both sides and rear. The warmth of their light brown color is balanced by a large expanse of reflective glass fronting concrete at the rear of the stage. The seats, which are bright red and a bit narrow, are separated into three areas by two aisles carpeted in tan.
There are two rows of seats in a balcony overlooking the auditorium. These will be used for some performances but were not sold on Thursday night.
The auditorium is below ground and is reached by two long stairways from ground level. They make for quite a climb on leaving the hall, but there’s an elevator for those who don’t want to make it.
The acoustics are quite live though not excessively reverberant. The majestic opening of Kern’s first work on the program, Schumann’s Carnaval, was almost too loud, with fortes magnified to fortissimo. This was also the case with the scherzo of the second work, Chopin’s Sonata No. 2, which turned harsh in loud passages, though the middle part was dreamy, in strong contrast.
Also on the program were three EtudesTableau and nine preludes by Rachmaninoff.
Overall, Kern’s program was full of subtleties in tempo, dynamic contrast and emphases. Despite the familiarity of Carnaval and Chopin’s second sonata, she managed the exceptional feat of making both works seem fresh. Interest never lagged.
There was an interesting visual phenomenon. The glass wall just behind the stage projected two ghostly reflections of Kern from different angles. So it was possible to see three Kerns at work.
The acoustics of the hall are adjustable, so there should be some tinkering with the sound in coming programs.
By the way, the Piano piano was selected by Kern from a Steinway collection in New York. It will be based permanently in the hall.