Friday, November 12, 2010

The Vaz Perspective

You may or may not know that Patrick Vaz likes to sit close to the action. Really close, in the first three or so rows of whatever performance he's attending. Me, I shy away from this for various reasons, especially following the unfortunate choice of a seat in the second row for a performance of Turangalila. My god but that was loud. I decided to be more careful in the future.

So this past weekend, I turned up around fifteen minutes before the Ensemble Zellig concert at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, expecting to be able to get a seat without any difficulties. To my surprise, I got a $20 community rush seat, when I'd been expecting to pay $42. More to my surprise, the seat was in the front row not too far off center, two seats from Patrick, who'd actually bought a ticket two days earlier.

I thought about moving, in part because I don't like to have my turned for the duration of a performance, but then figured I might as well experiment. Because of the small forces on the program (piano, cello, clarinet, flute), there was little risk of a Turangalila-style sonic overload.

"Little risk" turned out not to mean "no risk." One of the works on the program was pretty darned loud, giving me that head-between-the-speakers feeling. It was cool to be so close to the flute player for the solo flute work that opened the program - and just how did she make a plucking sound on a flute in one of the other pieces?? - but I'm not going to try this again.

I missed the lack of hall perspective and having an easy view of the whole stage. I would have been a lot happier someplace in the center toward the back of the hall; it's not as though there is ever a problem with hearing what's going at Hertz. So for now I'll consider this a one-time experiment that I'm unlikely to repeat.


pjwv said...

Wow. A syndrome named after me! I'm humbled.

I will admit there are some performances where I realize (generally too late) that I should have been farther back. These are for big music things, like the Turangalila, not that they're performing that up here. And I definitely prefer to be up close for opera or other dramatic performances. There is, or can be, a bit of a trade-off with the sound, but in many cases I actually prefer the rawer strength of the close up to the more refined blend farther back, though I wouldn't argue the case with anyone who disagrees. I also like front row because I have less of a sense that I'm hemmed in by people.

And sometimes those seats are actually cheaper (though that was not the case for me with Zellig, or indeed anything at that venue).

Lisa Hirsch said...


Not sure I'd characterize the blend as more refined, but there's definitely more space and air around the sound, a different blend, in the middle of a hall.

pjwv said...

I guess I was thinking of the opera house when I said more refined (as in my Faust experiment/experience last June). Honestly, the farthest back I've sat at Hertz is the middle. I wonder what it's like all the way back there. . . .

Lisa Hirsch said...

I only sat in the very front of the opera house once, for one act of Alcina, which was not at all typical. I find the sound better blended in the middle of the orchestra than in the balcony, where the sound is so immediate it can sound raw. I will get to make a comparison on the 28th when I see Makropulos for the second time!