This week I experienced two events that pointed up how a venue can be as integral as content to the complete success of a show. (And, once more, how lucky we are to live in this town!) One was a concert by the Tallis Scholars at the renovated Alice Tully Hall, part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival (through Nov 18); the other was MoMA‘s mammoth exhibition, Abstract Expressionist New York: The Big Picture.
The Abstract Expressionist exhibition (through April 25, 2011) pointed up how closely related the genre is to MOMA, even though the museum was opened in the 1920s. This show, curated by a team from MoMA led by Ann Temkin and dating primarily between 1940—60, comprises more than 250 works drawn solely from the museum’s inventory. That fact alone boggles the mind—so many of the works are paragons, key building blocks in the history of modern art. While much of the work is textbook familiar, certain revelations emerged. Adolph Gottlieb’s contributions came across as perfectly structured and witty. Joan Mitchell’s shines, finally juxtaposed with her far better known (mostly) male counterparts. And the size of many of the walls in MoMA’s galleries? Tailor-made for Pollock’s iconic horizontal paintings, such as One: Number 31, 1950.
A little farther uptown, the Tallis Scholars, based in the UK and led by Peter Phillips, presented a program of a capella vocals keyed around compositions by contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part, including works by several largely mid-16th century composers such as Tallis,Allegri, and Palestrina. The production couldn’t be more simple—the ten superb singers stood mid-stage under a title board that displayed the song lyrics, and music stands held extra scores. It showed the renovated Tully Hall at its best, revealing clear renderings of the softest notes, even during a section featuring an offstage section. The group no doubt boasts some of the most pure tones that the human voice can offer, and there seemed to be nothing hindering each beautiful voice.
In both cases, perfectly matched venue and content.