At long last: a small concert hall on this side of the Bay to rival Berkeley’s Hertz Hall.
It took Ruth Felt’s San Francisco Performances a full year and a half after the opening of the de Young Museum to set the debut of Koret Auditorium as a concert hall, but it was worth the wait, although size is a problem: 280 seats vs. Hertz’s 678 and Herbst’s 928 — different scales of economy.
On Sunday evening, Marino Formenti, an eccentric titan of the keyboard with a thousand voices, gave Koret a workout that’s difficult to imagine, even while witnessing the concert, and the hall came through most impressively.
Koret’s acoustics are clean, perhaps not as warm as some prefer, but with an immediacy of sound, no excessive overtones and crisp as all get-out. It’s a pleasure to listen to an instrument there, and one hopes for a similar welcome venue when it comes to the voice.
Koret is steeply raked, with perfect sightlines, a small stage of parquet and dark walls covered with a felt-like material. It is visually attractive, with a huge "panoramic" screen (a complex sound system embedded behind the porous canvas), a grillwork above it, opening to the street, where passers-by can be seen, a bit distracting during a concert.
Thanks to the work of Auerbach & Associates and acoustician Charles Salter, the sound in Koret far exceeds what one may expect from a hall without sufficient hard surfaces in evidence.
Formenti makes up for all the interruptions one suffers when symphonies and song cycles are chopped up by ignorant applause. Probably to the dislike of some, the pianist plays through all pieces, not pausing, creating one uninterrupted work of many — often disparate — components.
With his virtuoso brilliance, seductive intensity and fluid chameleon shifts in the music, Formenti presented Kurtág, Ives, Bartok, Webern, Bach, Stravinsky, Haydn before intermission, then Purcell, Kurtág, Ligeti, Liszt (and manymore) and two never-before heard arias without taking a breath.
With its variety of dynamics and timbre, this unique fare from a great pianist gave the hall’s acoustics a trial no mechanical test could. The grade, to these ears, was A-plus.
Formenti performs a similar program Wednesday. On Saturday he offers "Nothing Is Real: Music for the Present and for the Future," supposedly playing two or three pianos ... at the same time. On Sunday he appears in a family matinee.
Presented by San Francisco Performances
Where: Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday; family program 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $8 to $29
Contact: (415) 392-2545 or www.performances.org