Give credit to the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. It's trying to make Charlotte more stimulating.
In April, it will present its second concert linking art works from its collection with musical works. It's the follow-up to a February program that spotlighted two 20th-century greats: painter and sculptor Alexander Calder and composer Samuel Barber.
The turnout in February could hardly have been more encouraging. The lobby - where the concert took place - held nearly 200 people.
An untitled, abstract painting by Calder rested on an easel near the piano. Bechtler president John Boyer discussed the lives and attitudes of the two creators, both of whom grew up in Philadelphia. Cellist Tanja Bechtler - of the art-collecting family - and pianist Paul Nitsch turned in a dramatic performance of Barber's Cello Sonata.
Barber's sonata was rooted in tradition, while Calder's painting reveled in abstraction. But they shared a love for broad, forceful strokes - not that the museum's lobby made much of a showcase for them.
From where I was sitting, the heads of the people in front of me blocked most of Calder's painting. Barber's sonata turned muddy as it ricocheted through the atrium-style space. The music's quiet spots had to compete with the whoosh from the heating vents.
Meanwhile, a 300-seat auditorium downstairs was presumably locked and dark.
The auditorium is meant to serve all the groups in the South Tryon complex. With its wood-paneling accents, it may be the coziest spot in the entire area. From a glimpse, I think it's easily more appealing than the Knight Theater, which relies on lighting to camouflage a spartan decor. The auditorium has just one problem: It isn't much used for music.
The museum's original plan was to hold the concert there. But when the staff and musicians checked it out, they found the acoustics were dead - soaking up the sound rather than projecting it. The platform down front was too small for a concert grand piano, not to mention other instruments alongside it.
So the museum put the concert in the space it had: the lobby.
During the long push to get the city and county to pay for the complex, the common auditorium - built by Wachovia - was touted as a money-saving boon of having the arts facilities and office tower together.
While they were all on the drawing board, I asked the Wachovia executive coordinating the project, Bob Bertges, if the auditorium was being designed so it would suit small concerts.
No, he said, that wasn't the idea. The auditorium was meant for meetings, lectures and such.
For art museums to put on concerts was hardly revolutionary. But maybe Bertges' answer fit the mindset of Charlotte of the time. The Mint Museums, unlike bigger-city institutions, hadn't typically paired concerts with exhibitions. The Bechtler didn't yet have a staff to be strategizing about it.
So here we are today. The Bechtler has been open less than three months, and it has already run up against limitations of the cultural campus' design.
The Bechtler may yet plan concerts that will work in the auditorium, Boyer said last week.
For now, the museum is angling to make the lobby work as best it can. In the April program, the audience will be kept to the back part of the lobby, in hopes the sound won't be so boomy where the ceiling is lower. To compensate for the loss of seats, the musicians will give two performances, April 23 and 25. Artworks by France's Alfred Manessier and Spain's Pablo Picasso will be paired with music from their countries by composers including Claude Debussy and Manuel de Falla.
Next season, the museum plans to expand the series to eight programs, Boyer said.
"There are so many great ideas out there," he told me, "and so many (musical) groups that want to partner with us."
A more versatile auditorium would've been a great idea, too. It wouldn't have just helped arts groups. With more ways to be used, it could've brought in more rentals for Wells Fargo.
So let's make a note to ourselves: If Charlotte is ever able to build another theater or museum, whatever the size, try to think ahead.