By Gail McCarthy
Nearly 1,000 people got a sneak preview of Rockport Music's new $19 million waterfront music hall Saturday — while experts got the chance to test and fine-tune sound elements of the hall during three free community concerts in the Shalin Liu Performance Center.
A long line formed down Main Street before each of the three performances, with a genteel crowd of music lovers anxious to see the inside of the new 325-seat hall.
Beyond that, however, the "tuning concerts" also allowed the project's musical architect, R. Lawrence Kirkegaard, to check and fine-tune the hall's acoustics with a full house. The hall's official opening is June 10.
"Can you hear me?" Kirkegaard asked the audience from the stage, drawing a chuckle from the concert-goers. Indeed, the audience — from the floor to the balcony — could him loud and clear.
He explained that they were going to run a few tests during the concert.
"Your presence changes the acoustics," he said. "You also influence the sound by your silence." The audience then became so silent that one could have heard the proverbial pin drop.
The first concert featured Rockport Music Artistic Director David Deveau on piano and the Jupiter String Quartet. At the 1 p.m. show, the tide was also low, and the audience could watch the seascape beyond the enormous glass window that looks out upon the Atlantic Ocean.
One could watch as sea glass scavengers passed by on the beach while a young family and their dog frolicked in the water and a large pleasure boat bobbed in the harbor.
Peg Anderson, a Rockport resident, was among those entranced with both the view and the sound.
"It's such fun to hear this mesmerizing rich music and also look out the window and see a red and yellow kayaker paddle by," she said.
The performers also were equally entranced with the new performance center.
"It is a pleasure to be here on the maiden voyage of this beautiful music hall," said Daniel McDonough, a cello player with the Jupiter String Quartet. "We've played at the chamber music festival two other times and we loved that location, too ... but it's just a real joy to be here."
Fiddle player Hanneke Cassel, who performed at the 6 p.m. show, said Rockport Music has given the community a gem of a music hall, complete with its special window to the Atlantic Ocean. She charmed the audience with her music and personality as she got the audience to clap their hands and stomp their feet. That also gave the architect different sounds from the earlier chamber music and the 3 p.m. concert by the Triton Brass Quintet.
During the shows, the audience was shown how the screens covering the large window change the sight and feel of the hall. At the 6 p.m. show, one audience member asked out loud what many in the audience were thinking, asking, "Will we get to see the view?"
Indeed, they did.
The evening show was held at a later time to give the downtown merchants, many who have lived with the construction, an opportunity to see the hall. It also followed the Motif No. 1 Day festivities, which had largely ended for the day.
Tony Beadle, Rockport Music's new executive director, told the audience that Shalin Liu Performance Center is a world-class hall both acoustically and architecturally.
The lower level has walls covered in rectangular shapes of stone in earthy tones. The balcony walls above are a sage green. The scaffolding beyond the large window was the only indicator in the main hall that there was work remaining to be done.
Beadle explained that the overall fundraising goal of Rockport Music is $20 million, with $19 million toward the construction and $1 million for a programming fund. The organization's programs include free community and family concerts, two of which are scheduled for June 19 with Manguito and June 26 with pianist Alpin Hong.
"You are also sitting in a cinema with state-of-the-art film equipment and a movie screen," Beadle said.
Also making its debut is the new Steinway piano, selected from the Steinway Factory in Astoria, N.Y. The piano, paid for by a donor, was specially selected for the space at the new music hall. When the piano is not needed for a concert, it is stored in a space behind a stage wall.
During Deveau's opening tuning concert, he noted that 2010 represents the 200th birthday of two of the world's great composers, Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann. Deveau played works from both composers, without using a sheet of music.
"I hope we today are ushering in an era for this hall that will last 200 years," he told the audience before he began his performance.
To close the concert, Deveau and the quartet played an "allegro" movement in Schumman's Piano Quintet in E-Flat, Op. 44. The lively piece was fitting for the apparent mood of both the performers and the audience, which embodied the Italian meaning of the word "allegro."
It means cheerful.
Gail McCarthy an be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or firstname.lastname@example.org.