A Conversation with KI Festival Leader, Henry Leck
A venue that fits your ensemble just right can take your performance to new heights. Sure, acoustics are important, but what other elements do you need to consider? Part of traveling to Europe for your performance tour is knowing you will perform in venues built specifically for a certain repertoire; a characteristic of European venues that is hard to replicate. However, venue size, location, versatility, history, grandeur and local community participation can all play an equally critical role in your choice.
To dig deeper, we went to a source of great experience; someone who has led many of KI’s European festival tours. We sat down with KI festival leader, Henry Leck to tell us what he thinks makes a great venue. Our conversation began by traveling down memory lane to where Henry first got his start in music. We ended with a checklist of venue characteristics every director should look out for when planning their performance tour.
Henry, where did your music journey begin?
“I got my start singing in school and in the church children’s choir…I had an elementary teacher who encouraged all of us to pursue our talents to the fullest. This led to high school involvement in music, both band and choir, a number of college degrees and a full life of teaching music. I have taught middle school and high school choir and orchestra and then 27 years teaching choral music at the collegiate level. Most notably during that time I started the Indianapolis Children’s Choir which I conducted for 30 years. This choir sang at four national ACDA conferences. Early on, when getting calls to conduct, I really focused on doing my best work and being in the present moment. It all just built from there. I have conducted in nearly every major concert hall and on every continent except Antarctica. I’ve been so blessed along the way to live my passion and travel all over the world.”
What are some of your most memorable performances?
“Perhaps when I conducted mass at the Vatican the first time and of course, the very first time I conducted in Carnegie Hall. But one year, I led the choir in singing the National Anthem at the Superbowl with Kelly Clarkson. This performance was fed out to 130 million people! The acoustics were challenging and there was really no room for error….We also sang the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 race. We started with one soloist singing “God Bless America” in the key of G, a cappella, right after taps was played in F. It had to be exact because later in the piece, the brass came in. There was a huge echo and reverberation in the space, but, we pulled it off!”
So, What Makes a “Great” Venue?
“There is really no singular reason a venue can be great. It is because so many factors can enter into each performance. I consider various things such as: size of stage, size of audience, acoustics, versatility, repertoire, number of singers, reputation of the hall, etc.” Henry says.
Performance groups range in size, sound, and make-up. This, along with choice of repertoire and ensemble needs (like risers for example), makes a versatile venue essential. Henry says, “Go check out venues in advance if you can. See what can be done and how you might have to adjust your repertoire in the space. Think about what is going to work logistically for the performance – how many singers? Is there a grand piano or way to bring one in? Where is the organist in relation to your singers? Every detail makes a big difference!”
At KI, this makes us think of Perchtoldsdorf Castle in Austria, a distinctive local venue with notable community support. This venue offers two different types of performance rooms. One hosts an audience of almost 750 and has a concert hall feel. The other space is much more intimate, still with acoustic greatness, seating about 200; offering a versatile experience for your ensemble.
With any performance, you’ll want to garner excitement from the local community and attract an audience to attend your concert! Audience size in relation to the venue size can really make a difference in the energy of the space. Henry explains, “If you choose a venue in a big city for your performance [like Saint Agnese Church, Barcelona’s Nuestra Senora or Sydney’s Opera House (pictured to the right)] your venues will have more seats to fill. This can be phenomenal but can be very challenging! Sometimes smaller spaces in lesser known venues can create the feel you’re looking to achieve and it’s easier to fill!”
When considering your destination, it’s important to understand the local community engagement in the regions where you’d like to perform. For example, a very small town in Tuscany at the top of a steep hill with an extremely close-knit community will provide your singers an audience experience they could not get from one of the more iconic, well-known venues.
Henry explains, “Cathedrals are often tuned to a certain key, so shifting tonal centers can affect sound. In an extremely resonant space, pieces with rapid articulation, will simply become a blur. This limits what you can do effectively in each venue. Do your due diligence and make sure the repertoire will meet the venue’s capabilities!” Make sure you have your performance goals solidified ahead of your venue inspection. If you are sold on a certain city and venue, your job then becomes selecting the appropriate repertoire for that space.
“When I stood at the podium in Carnegie Hall the first time, I was in complete awe as I realized every great conductor had stood there before me. The venue you choose can be daunting!” Not every venue requires this level of prestige to invoke an excellent reputation for you and your singers. Often, the quality of acoustics along with a perfect match of repertoire, ensemble and audience is what leads to a great experience for you and your ensemble. An outstanding venue is one which is made to create a rich sound that resonates and has clarity. So, when considering a performance location, think about each of the above factors as well as its historical and recognizable significance. While it is great to sing in famous halls, a great performance experience is not determined exclusively by name recognition.
Whatever destination you choose, remember to keep these venue elements in mind as you plan your tour.
If you’d like to learn more about performance travel tours with KI Concerts, let us know!
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