Standing at a towering 41 feet, 10 inches, the golden statue of Athena in Nashville’s Parthenon is said to be the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western Hemisphere. Surrounded by huge stone columns and Tennessee pink marble floors, the Parthenon is certainly a sight, but a new concert series is set to explore how the space can sound.
Tourists come from all over the world to see the architectural grandeur of the Parthenon, but it is precisely this architecture that makes one thing particularly difficult inside the building.
"We've always wanted to do a music series in the Parthenon, but it's a really challenging sonic space," says Justin Tam, the Parthenon partnership director for The Conservancy.
By funding arts programs and lectures inside the building, The Conservancy works to preserve and enhance the Parthenon for visitors. But with a reverb time around five seconds, it's been a struggle to find the right music for the space.
"A band doesn't really sound that great in the room... really loud noises and really percussive things don't sound that great," Tam explains. What does work? Strings, vocals, horns, and instruments typically found in classical chamber ensembles.
In order to showcase the building's acoustics, The Conservancy decided to create a series of concerts featuring music specifically written for performing inside the Parthenon. It's called “Echo,” as a nod to both the room's significant reverb and the mountain nymph of Greek mythology. The series will feature four concerts throughout the year from local musicians.
Composer Jordan Lehning says he saw the sound decay not so much as a challenge to overcome, but as an integral part of his composition: "My piece is written for three horns, three violins and four singers. And the decay of the room is certainly the other musician because the piece really doesn't work without the decay."
Lehning's piece, "The Birth of Minerva," begins with strings playing a quick, chromatic ostinato that, in conjuction with the other instruments and the Parthenon's reverb, builds into what Lehning describes as a "cluster of sound." He says that the effect would be lost in a performance space without big, echoing walls.
Tam hopes the series will appeal to Nashvillians who are used to having the Parthenon right in their backyards, and especially those who may not have ventured inside the building since childhood school field trips.
"The building gets about three hundred thousand visitors every year, and the majority of those at this point are out of town visitors. And part of this series... is to bring more in town visitors," he explains.
With “Echo,” The Conservancy hopes to give Nashvillians a chance to experience one of the city’s most iconic spaces in a brand new way.