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Photo Journal: Nashville, 'the Athens of the South,' Gets a New Temple to Music

By Matthew Westphal
10 Sep 2006

The exterior, auditorium and lobby of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville.
photo by Tom Gatlin (exterior and lobby) and RK Powers (auditorium)

The "Athens of the South"? Yes, all you skeptical Northerners, that really is one of Nashville's nicknames. And not without reason: Tennessee's capital is full of neo-Classical architecture — including a full-size replica of the Parthenon — and the city is home to two formidable universities, Fisk and Vanderbilt.

And for all that Nashville is the center of the country music industry, its orchestra is definitely on its way up. The Nashville Symphony made great strides under its music director of 22 seasons, Kenneth Schermerhorn, who died last year: five recordings on Naxos, several tours, an endowment of over $20 million and a very well-received concert at New York's Carnegie Hall in 2000.

Now the orchestra has added a new achievement to its record and a new piece of neo-classical architecture to the city's collection. Last night the Nashville Symphony inaugurated the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, its $120 million new home. Leonard Slatkin, the music director of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., and the Nashville's newly-appointed artistic advisor (basically a sort of interim music director), conducted a program of Shostakovich's Festive Overture, Barber's Essay for Orchestra No. 2, a brand-new Triple Concerto for Banjo, Double Bass and Tabla by Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck and Zakir Hussain, and the fourth and fifth movements of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony.

Architect David M. Schwartz designed the exterior of the Schermerhorn in a straightforward neo-Classical style to fit in with Nashville's other public buildings; he and acoustician Paul Scarbrough planned the 1,872-seat auditorium to match the shoebox shape of the fabled Musikvereinsaal in Vienna and Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, with the sizable windows of the former and the alcove seating of the latter.

Early reports of the acoustics are quite favorable, and the orchestra musicians are reportedly thrilled.

For more information on the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, visit www.nashvillesymphony.org.
Exterior and interior views of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville.
photo by RK Powers (top), Ted DeDee (upper center), RK Powers (lower center), Tom Gatlin (bottom)





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