How does the venue and the audience affect the music you play? Fred Hersch



Fred Hersch
Photo by Hollister Dru Breslin

When I play solo, I prefer a concert hall (non sound system!). Since I don’t have other musicians to interact with (and since my programs are largely improvised), the three things that affect my performance the most are (in order of importance):

  1. the piano itself (the tone of the instrument and feel of the action)
  2. the acoustics (I react to the acoustics and “use the hall”–or be done in by them)
  3. the audience (yes, love from across the footlights is a good thing…)

In other words…dead piano and dead acoustics = I’m toast! I always prefer to control bright pianos and bright acoustics rather than trying to “get blood out of a stone” in a dead situation…except….

When i’m playing with a rhythm section. Concert hall stages can be very difficult if a presenter doesn’t provide a shell for us to play in (i.e. create a more intimate space on the stage for us so we can play “chamber music style” to each other) – and if we have to be dependent on stage monitors to hear each other (which also means being dependent on a sound system and a sympathetic, intelligent and competent sound engineer). So for a trio situation, I prefer a club or a more controlled acoustic environment (that’s not to say totally dead either).

  • solo piano: Jordan Hall, Boston; Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
  • jazz trio: Village Vanguard, NYC; Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay CA
  • favorite all-around concert hall: Town Hall, NYC (stage sound is great, isn’t too deep or high so the sound really gets out into the audience instead of swimming around on stage, great sight lines for audience)

To conclude: the venue makes a difference. Some places just seem to have “the vibe” and have more inherent music-making possibilities than others…