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Sound Mined: Cheryl Anderson directed the Cabrillo Symphonic Choir for last weekend's performance of 'Stabat Mater,' but acoustical problems kept the audience from feeling the full impact of her work.

Something's the 'Mater'

Acoustic problems vex fine SC symphony performance

By Scott MacClelland

Once again, the Civic Auditorium effectively conspired against the Santa Cruz Symphony. This time the Cabrillo Symphonic Choir got the worst of the room's notorious acoustics, denying Cheryl Anderson's well-prepared singers the intensity and urgency of their efforts on behalf of Antonin Dvorak's 90-minute Stabat Mater. To those seated at floor level last Saturday, the chorus sounded as from the other side of an acoustic curtain that contradicted its presence in the room.

Ironically, the same could not be said of Larry Granger's orchestra, which made its impact with relative ease. Selected to honor the composer on the centenary of his death, the performance was also offered as consolation to those who had suffered loss during the past year (as eloquently explained by Granger before the performance began). Granger's efforts on the podium were muted however, smoothing the dynamic energies that might have produced a more vivid portrayal of the grieving Mary at the foot of the cross.

Exaggerating the choral dynamics would also have further energized the performance, to say nothing of restoring the articulation of the Latin text that coursed through the evening on intoned vowels and swallowed consonants.

The vocal quartet of well-seasoned voices included Aimee Puentes, Michele Rivard, Richard Johnson and Art Schuller. Their singing produced satisfying results, especially the solos of Rivard and Johnson, to those sitting in their foreground, but it seemed unlikely that they were well heard on the sides of the auditorium.

While Granger generally honored the written dynamics, he made no particular accommodation to the room deficiencies. That forced the audience to work harder to get the details of the piece. (Hopefully his judgment in that regard will produce a better result in the KUSP broadcast this Sunday at 11am.) The piece itself, while attractive in a variety of ways, is rarely memorable. The finale picks up some of the anguished drama of the long first movement, and the appeal to Mary to share her pain is set as a lullaby. The tenor solo, "Fac me vere tecum flere," uses a folklike melody reminiscent of the tunes and rhythms heard in Dvorak's Slavonic pieces.

The one obvious acoustic modification not tried at the Civic remains those sound-absorbing tiles that cover the ceiling. This layer undoubtedly accounts to some degree for why the room is so hostile to live music. It would seem worth the expense to find some material to paint over the tiles with a surface that gives back instead of taking away. The Symphony, as well as the Cabrillo Festival, delivers quality goods, as its increasing audiences document. That its efforts are compromised by the venue is not a pity. It's a sin.

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From the May 5-12, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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