Magazine article The Spectator

Sound Effects

Magazine article The Spectator

Sound Effects

Article excerpt

The Tallis Scholars' 50th concert in New York City - the first was in 1988 - took place in St Bartholomew's Church, Park Avenue, on 26 March. Since we have sung now in 15 different spaces in NYC - more than in any other city in the world and including the Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art - this was an unusual choice of venue for a celebration.

St Bart's is famous for a number of things, but since reverberant acoustics is not one of them I feared we would have an uphill task appealing to a new audience.

One of the things St Bart's is properly famous for is hosting the largest organ in New York, and the tenth largest in the world. (The size of organs, like the batting averages of leading cricketers, has a mysterious appeal for a very special kind of anorak. It's almost sexual. ) This instrument has five manuals and rank upon rank of stops to match. Why any player needs all that firepower beats me; and some of it seems redundant - the fifth manual appears almost apologetic, smaller and tilted above the other four, unsure of its status. One of the first musicians to be employed at St Bart's - the blurb says he was 'brought from Europe by St Bart's' - was Leopold Stokowski, who was known to enjoy the odd fortissimo in his music-making. However, on the occasion of our concert, the current incumbent, William Trafka, launched the evening with Robert Gower's arrangement of the Fanfare from Dukas's one-act ballet La Peri. He played it beautifully - and there really are times when reverberation would be one thing too many.

St Bart's was the church where, in the 1981 film Arthur, Arthur's (Dudley Moore) wedding to Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenberry) was due to take place. Less happily, it was also the church that became the subject of a much-publicised case concerning air rights in the New York real-estate market, which clashed directly with issues of historical preservation. The parishioners wanted to replace the community house and open terrace with a speculative high-rise commercial structure that would boost the parish's depleted funds. Eventually, the Landmarks Preservation Commission turned down their plans for a 59-storey office building, the case having snowballed into a national debate about whether churches and religious buildings should be exempt from historic ordinances. …

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