The new Clayton Center for the Arts on the Maryville College campus in Maryville opened last week with the expected congratulatory ceremonies amid general feelings of local pride, anticipation, and excitement. Frankly, congratulations are most definitely in order, for it took considerable financial wrangling in the public and private arenas to overcome the objections from some in Blount County for support of an arts facility. But, now it stands completed, awaiting a future of performances of all kinds and qualities, a bold statement that the arts are an essential ingredient of a community’s well-being.
A number of concerts marked the grand opening week, including a recital in the Center’s new 252-seat recital hall (officially, the Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall), by two of Maryville College’s music alumni, mezzo-soprano Delores Ziegler (’73) and tenor John Wesley Wright (’87).
I was pleasantly surprised at how both Ziegler and Wright have become excellent recitalists as mature performers. It is one thing to project both voice and a character in large opera houses throughout the world, as Ms. Ziegler has done throughout her long career; it is quite another to have the adaptability to successfully pull back and enter the realm of intimate subtlety in a small hall.
The program choices had no real thread other than the probable desire to touch a number of styles. The two opened with a duet of Henry Purcell’s birthday ode Sound the Trumpet, only one of two pieces on the program not from the 20th Century. The other was Ms. Ziegler’s performance of the lied Erlkönig of Franz Schubert. I was very impressed by Ms. Ziegler’s ability to maintain the urgent vitality of the characterizations which, frankly, is essential to prevent the piece from being pedestrian. And I was equally impressed by the solid driving piano line effortlessly played by guest pianist R. Timothy McReynolds. In fact, Mr. McReynolds fully deserved the audience recognition he received for his brilliant accompaniment over the evening’s works.
Mr. Wright, who has concentrated of late on his work in the American Spiritual Ensemble, brought four spirituals to the program for both himself and Ms. Ziegler: “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?”, “ ‘Roun’ About the Mountain”, “Climbing High Mountains”, and “Oh, What a Beautiful City.” These really were the highlights of the evening.
Although I will undoubtedly be commenting later in more detail on the acoustics of the hall, I can say that I was reasonably impressed with both the design and the “potential” acoustic excellence. The sound it offers solo performers is bright, but not harsh. In its present configuration, though, with its reverberation-absorbing curtains not in use, the hall was just a bit too reverberant. I am certain as time goes on, the hall management will seek the guidance of expert listeners to get just the right balance of brightness and warmth.