The New York Philharmonic on Wednesday, June 23.
I haven’t attended many Philharmonic concerts over the past year or so, and as I sat through this one, the finale for the 2009–2010 season, I settled upon one reason why: I hate Avery Fisher Hall. The venue has a reputation for bad acoustics that, frankly, seems deserved. From what I’ve read, much has been done over the years to improve the space and—who knows?—maybe those efforts have created a better experience for listeners down on the floor in the orchestra seats. I, however, routinely sit along the side of the hall in its third tier, and from that vantage point, phasing and balance issues are nearly always noticeable. I’m perfectly content sitting in the cheap seats at the Metropolitan Opera House and Carnegie Hall, but in Avery Fisher, a cheap seat inevitably feels like a very cheap seat. Attending concerts there can be tantalizing. Too often, something feels off about otherwise marvelous music, and it’s frustrating, in part because I don’t know who to blame. The musicians? The conductor? The hall itself? If I’d forked over more money, would I be hearing a better performance? I don’t know.
The performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis Wednesday exemplified that kind of experience. The New York Choral Artists sounded wonderful, but the soloists did not. They dragged. Their voices strained against one another without balance or blend, often muddling into a mess of centerless vibrato. At the time, I blamed the soloists, but in retrospect, I’m not entirely sure that’s fair, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, the concert was less than I had hoped. Why should it matter why?