By GAIL FINEBERG AND HELEN DALRYMPLE
The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Auditorium in the Thomas Jefferson Building is a busy place these days. It is filled with music once again, now that the sounds of hammers have been replaced with the sounds of voice and violin.
For the first time since 1989, the Library's Music Division has prepared a full program of concerts for its home venue, the Coolidge Auditorium, for the fall 1997 and spring 1998 season. Although the hall was reopened briefly for five concerts and two open rehearsals in June 1990 for the Summer Chamber Music series when construction was delayed, it has been mostly closed for eight and a half years.
From 1990 to 1994, the Library's free chamber music concerts were held at the auditorium of the National Academy of Sciences; and from 1995 to 1997 at the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The 1989-90 and 1994-95 seasons were dark.
Library staff and music lovers alike agreed, however, that it just wasn't the same. "The logistics of producing the concerts off-site were often difficult," said concert producer Anne McLean, "and it was hard to maintain the Library's identity when we were presenting our concerts at other institutions. But we were grateful that we were able to continue our live concert series with only two breaks while the Coolidge Auditorium was closed."
During the long interval, the Library maintained its presence on the airwaves by offering a series of broadcasts drawn from its recorded archives, which span a 40-year period, beginning in 1937. These programs were carried nationwide from 1989 to 1997 by 130 public radio stations as well as by international broadcast networks in France, Italy, the Netherlands. Russia, Australia and New Zealand.
An outgrowth of the successful broadcasts was a new cooperative agreement with Bridge Records, which is co-producing with the Library a series of CDs featuring rare or never commercially recorded performances by such artists as the Budapest String Quartet (resident quartet at the Library from 1940 to 1962); pianist Nathan Milstein; George Szell at the piano with the Budapest String Quartet; conductor Leopold Stokowski; and mezzosoprano Jan DeGaetani and pianist Leo Smit with Aaron Copland reminiscing about Appalachian Spring; this was recorded from the stage of the Coolidge Auditorium on the occasion of his 81st birthday.
The first releases appeared in February 1996, and they have been receiving excellent reviews in the music press, from Gramophone to Chamber Music to Classical Pulse! Tune called the series "a major historical documentation of the best of the best." And most recently, James R. Oestreich reviewed the Bridge CD of the Beethoven quartets in the Nov. 23, 1997, New York Times, writing: "In all, these versions sound more flexible and affectionate than their studio siblings, as the players seize every opportunity to animate a phrase with a felicitous coloration or a subtle change of speed."
Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who is said to have enjoyed a good party, surely would have smiled upon the festivities that celebrated the reopening of the chamber concert hall she created for the Library and gave to the nation in 1925.
The "new" Juilliard String Quartet played the Library's old Stradivari instruments on Oct. 29 and 30 in the Coolidge Auditorium. The Oct. 30 concert was held on "Founder's Day," the anniversary of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge's birth in 1867, which was also the date of the Music Division's inaugural concert in the auditorium in 1925. The first bars of the opening E-flat major quartet, Op. 12, by Felix Mendelssohn dispelled any doubts that the hall's acoustics might not have survived the renovation.
"Absolutely grand," said acoustical engineer George Izenour, after listening intently to the strings, whose sounds were much more pleasing than the shots fired from blanks in a pistol on stage on Sept. 29, when he measured the sound reverberation time and pronounced the acoustics unchanged from test results nine years ago. "The sound sends chills down your spine," he said after the performance.
From their first audible, upbeat inhalation drawn in unison before striking their opening note crisply, to their breakneck-speed conclusion of Schubert's Quartet in D minor, D. 810, followed by a "Whew," the newly reconstituted Juilliard, LC's resident quartet, made clear on Oct. 29 that it remains among the Library's treasures.
Succeeding Robert Mann as first violinist, Joel Smirnoff, formerly the quartet's second violinist, led new violinist Ronald Copes, in second chair, and veteran members violist Samuel Rhodes and cellist Joel Krosnick through a performance that displayed their virtuosity, musicianship and teamwork. This was the first Washington performance of the four, who played their initial public concert together in August.
Tim Page, Washington Post music critic, gave high marks both to the performance ("the revamped quartet has maintained its unity and integrity") and to the Coolidge Auditorium: "On such a night, the hall itself takes priority. With a design that complements the smooth, elaborate arches and filigree of the library itself (which was also recently restored), this is a handsome space, neither large nor small, blessed with comfortable seats and an intimate atmosphere. In short, it is just right for chamber music."
The October and November concerts marked not only the reopening of the Coolidge Auditorium and the beginning of the Juilliard's 35th season with the Library, but also the 100th anniversary of the Music Division and the Thomas Jefferson Building, which opened on Nov. 1, 1897.
Preceding the first two concerts with the Juilliard String Quartet, Cyrilla Barr, chair of the musicology department of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music of the Catholic University of America, brought Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge to life during an hour-long lecture. Schirmer Books will publish her full-length biography of Coolidge next spring. The Library has just published a short form of Ms. Barr's work in The Coolidge Legacy, rich with photographs and Ms. Barr's engaging history. Ushers handed out copies of this new monograph to concertgoers.
Ms. Barr portrayed Coolidge as an intelligent, strong-willed woman both limited and advantaged by the Victorian upper class into which she was born. Though she was a talented young pianist, she was expected to marry well rather than to perform. Following the death of both parents and her husband between January 1915 and March 1916, she channeled her considerable energy and inheritance into projects to aid musicians and foster new music. In 1922 she turned her attention to the Library of Congress and Carl Engel, chief of the Music Division, with whom she had deposited manuscripts from the Berkshire music festivals she had sponsored.
During the next three years, Coolidge collaborated with Engel to build an auditorium and establish an endowment at the Library. On Nov. 12, 1924, she presented Engel with a check for $60,000 to build the auditorium, and on Jan. 23, 1925, President Coolidge signed into law the bill enabling Congress to accept her gift. On March 3, 1925, Congress passed another bill that established the Library of Congress Trust Fund and created as its guardian the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board. Elizabeth Coolidge transferred $400,000 to the Library to establish the Coolidge Foundation, which has enabled the Music Division to further the study, composition and appreciation of music, commissioning dozens of new works, and conducting periodic festivals. Her legacy continues.
Descendants of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge attended the opening concert in October and listened to the story of her life. "It was stunning," said her great-grandson Jeffrey, whose family traveled from Bolton, Mass., to attend the event. "I manage the family's archives, and I heard stories about her from my parents. But I have learned more about her life from people who loved her, such as [Music Division Chief] Jon Newsom and Cyrilla Barr."
Since the pair of Juilliard String Quartet concerts that reopened the Coolidge Auditorium in October, the Music Division has presented a variety of programs: a performance by the Italian baroque ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico, of Milan (which had the concert producers feeling very nervous when the artists arrived less than an hour before the performance was scheduled to begin because their flight could not accommodate the string bass player's instrument); a young Peruvian guitarist named Jorge Caballero; the Borromeo and Brentano string quartets; National Symphony Orchestra conductor Leonard Slatkin leading a special chamber orchestra in the original 13-instrument version of Appalachian Spring; a week-long Schubert and Brahms Festival; and a concluding concert on Sunday, Nov. 22, with the Juilliard String Quartet. The concerts will continue in February after a two-month break.
Music Division staff have been working for months in preparation for the 1997-98 centennial concert season. Concert producer Michele Glymph worked closely with the Architect of the Capitol for the past year to ensure that the auditorium would be ready for the opening. Program coordinator Oxana Horodecka has arranged for TicketMaster to distribute tickets and is organizing volunteer ushers.
All of the concerts are free, although TicketMaster charges a fee for its services ($2 per ticket if tickets are ordered in person at a TicketMaster outlet). According to Anne McLean, however, the chances of getting a seat without a ticket on the evening of the concert are "excellent," because there are always a number of no-shows -- and those seats are given away to standbys on a first-come, first-served basis.
Concert producers Norman Middleton and Anne McLean took care to plan a diverse 1997-98 concert season. Performers range from traditional chamber groups to guitarists, vocalists, violinists and dancers, and from Bach to Dean Drummond's inventions played by Newband on such exotic instruments as a "cloud chamber bowl." The spring season offers a "Violin Summit" featuring rising stars Fabio Biondi, whose Vivaldi concertos have captured the admiration of European critics (March 20); Chee-Yun, winner of the Avery Fisher Career Grant and Young Concert Artist International Auditions (March 21); and Mark O'Connor, whose own composition, commissioned by the Library, will make its premiere (May 6) in a program that also showcases his music for the PBS series "Liberty: The American Revolution."
On March 4 conductor and musicologist Gillian Anderson will come home to the Library to lead a premiere performance of a new film score written by composer Elmer Bernstein. Commissioned by the McKim Fund of the Library, Mr. Bernstein's work for violin and piano will accompany the showing of "The 400 Tricks of the Devil (The Adventures of a Professor) Fantasie-Film," a hand-painted Dutch film from the earliest days of the cinema. Ms. Anderson left the Music Division to have more time to reconstruct and restore the original orchestral scores for more than 20 great silent classics; she has been presenting and performing them in Europe, the United States and South America.
A two-man cabaret tribute to Jelly Roll Morton, the New Orleans jazz pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader, is scheduled for April 25.