By Glenn Rifkin
There is a full lineup of performances scheduled for the next few months in Groton Hill Music Center’s Meadow Hall as the organization’s donors and subscribers prepare for life in the world-class facility.
More than eight years after receiving a mammoth anonymous gift and five years after breaking ground, the magnificent Groton Hill Music Center, on Friday night, opened its doors and filled its 300-seat Meadow Hall with music for the first time.
The sold-out opening night performance featured the Vista Philharmonic Chamber Players under the baton of Bruce Hangen, the longtime artistic director and conductor. In the evening’s only glitch, a crestfallen Hangen had to bow out from the debut due to a bout with Covid. In his place, Steven Lipsitt, music director at the Bach, Beethoven & Brahms Society, stepped in admirably and conducted a magical program that featured works by Ravel, Wagner, Copland, and Brahms. Given the enthusiasm of this crowd, they could have played elevator music and still received a rousing ovation. But, in fact, the performances were brilliant, with an especially beautiful rendition of Copland’s masterpiece: Appalachian Spring. The moving opening composition, Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, featured harpist Li Shan Tan’s stunning solo performance.
As the number concluded, Lipsitt turned to the audience and with a sly grin and dramatic understatement, said, “First concert in the new hall.” The crowd cheered. With the promise of this splendid facility revealed, there were many reasons to be cheerful. The acoustics, engineered by Threshold Acoustics in Chicago, were impeccable, marked by an embracing warmth and clarity that bespoke the careful effort put into the design.
The sprawling 126,000 square-foot complex sits on 110 acres of former farmland and apple orchards in the distant northwest suburb of Groton. The nonprofit music organization, once known as Indian Hill Music, has created a dynamic new musical destination for the region, as well as a thriving music education program for area schools and residents. The complex is not quite finished; its 1000-seat concert hall is slated to open in January. But there is a full lineup of performances scheduled for the next few months in Meadow Hall as the organization’s donors and subscribers prepare for life in the world-class facility.
Lisa Fiorentino, CEO of Groton Hill Music, was understandably ecstatic on opening night. “Tonight is just the beginning,” she told the audience prior to the show. After the performance, Fiorentino was visibly moved by the moment.
“It’s beyond what we had imagined,” she said. “This all is just incredible. The energy and the enthusiasm of the performers. It is opening night and our community is so excited. People have come up to me with tears in their eyes because we are finally here.”
After the final number, Four Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms, the audience stood and cheered. Among those applauding were Alan Joslin and Deborah Epstein, the husband-and-wife architectural team that designed the resplendent facility. Epstein Joslin Architects, based in Cambridge, specializes in concert venues. They designed the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport as well as Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. Their venues reflect the natural landscape of the setting, taking cues from the surrounding environment. The materials in the new concert hall include soothing southern yellow pine, timber, stone, and metal, with large windows everywhere to revel in the inviting landscape.
On this night, Joslin and Epstein were especially delighted, seeing how their bold and innovative design had finally came to fruition.
“It was so moving to feel this space filled with music,” Joslin said after the concert. “The room came alive.”
Glenn Rifkin is a veteran journalist and author who has covered business for many publications including the New York Times for nearly 30 years. He has written about music, film, theater, food and books for the Arts Fuse. His new book Future Forward: Leadership Lessons from Patrick McGovern, the Visionary Who Circled the Globe and Built a Technology Media Empire was recently published by McGraw-Hill.