ASO: Donald Runnicles with Evelina Dobračeva, Thomas Cooley, & Russell Braun

As I was walking to my car from Memorial Hall last night, I overheard a couple of people talking about the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s concert. One said that she couldn’t remember his name, but that the conductor was English and she liked him.

Me: He’s Scottish and his name is Donald Runnicles.
Woman: He’s Scottish? Not English?
Me: Yep.
Woman: I like him even better!

I was pretty excited to hear Runnicles conduct Britten’s Requiem for War. I love the work and Runnicles definitely has the sensibilities for conducting such a powerful piece. I ended up being pretty disappointed with the experience, though that was neither his fault nor the musicians’.

The acoustics were the first problem. From my seat, the deeper voices of the ASO Chorus and baritone Russel Braun didn’t seem to want to make it all the way to my ear, which made the chorus sound terribly uneven and Braun’s parts have a much weaker impact. The chamber orchestra sounded very thin, too. They were arranged facing the conductor on the pit stage, which was depressed a step or two from the stage to allow the vocal soloists to stand above them. The chamber orchestra’s strings were sometimes actually hard to hear. Even the timpani sounded weak, lacking in body almost like it was synthesized. The only good thing that I can say about the acoustics of the concert is that the voices of the Gwinnett Young Singers drifted down from their location above the balcony so very sweetly. I appreciated their role in the piece even more for it.

I find myself wondering where the best seats would be for this concert. Further back and to the left in the orchestra-level would be better for hearing the deeper voices, but I’m not sure that if I were far enough back that the children’s chorus would have as much impact. Similarly, I wonder how well the children’s chorus would sound from the mezzanine seats: the very front of the loge might not be bad but I suspect that any further back than the first row or two would lose them. If this were programmed again next season without any other changes then I might try exchanging my seat for something in the front-left balcony. I’m not sure what could be done about the chamber orchestra: if they have to be out in front of the main portion of the acoustic shell then they may be a lost cause. Depending on the sides of the pit, they may actually sound better if they were lowered further so that it could act as a resonance chamber for them the way that the pit makes the Atlanta Opera Orchestra sound stronger in the balcony at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Anyway, the acoustic issues were things that might take some of the power out of the performance for me but I could adapt to them. The real problem was with the person sitting next to me. Although there was a little of it here and there from the beginning, he began emanating such foul and noxious smells from both ends of his digestive tract starting in earnest sometime during Offertorium or Sanctus. Then, during Libera Me, he began chatting away with the other person next to him. He was such a distraction that it I really think that I’d have had a more enjoyable evening doing something else.

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