TAM taps a maverick

From the short list of seven firms under consideration to design its new facility, the board of the Tacoma Art Museum has opted for the most dangerous choice. Dangerous because Antoine Predock of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a maverick who has built a national reputation by ignoring architectural fashion, avoiding personal mannerisms, and incessantly invoking the spiritual side of the builder's craft.

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These are all traits capable of making conservative clients very nervous, and in fact commercial projects have played a small role in Predock's 30-year design career. Since the Nelson Fine Arts Center for Arizona State University put him on the national map about 10 years ago, a good half of his buildings have been for schools, museums, and civic centers.

What Predock will come up with for the crowded and stylistically diverse Tacoma site (its 50,000 square feet will be flanked by the Roman-esque dome of Union Station, the Federal Courthouse, the new State Historical Museum, and Dale Chihuly's proposed glass museum) is anybody's guess. The vast majority of his buildings were created for the wide-open spaces in sunny climates. About the only work in his publishedoeuvre that gives a hint of what he'd do in a grayer, damper setting is a fascinating project for the Danish National Archives, which looks like a hybrid of a dark Druid monument and a house of cards assembled from gigantic computer circuit boards.

Like most architects, Predock talks a lot about building to suit the existing context. But what he means by context is an almost mystical vision reaching from the invisible geologic underpinnings of the site through the human history of the surroundings to acute consciousness of the direction, intensity, and color palette of available sunlight.

When you hire Predock, about all you can be sure of is that the finished building will strike the eye from afar, invite approach, provide visitors with a complex sensory experience, and challenge surrounding structures to match its integrity. Tacoma's search committee deserves top marks for electing to go not with a safe design choice or a trophy name but someone whose work will challenge visitors and Tacoma itself to look at the city in new ways.

Schwarz to the rescue

It's an old story, but it never fails to satisfy: the senior conductor unable to appear, the younger thrown into the breach on short notice, the opening night triumph . . .

Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves: Opening night's not until this Monday. But the Boston Symphony's Seiji Ozawa did pull out of a Tokyo staging of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, pleading exhaustion, and last Wednesday the Seattle Symphony's Gerard Schwarz flew to Japan to stand in for him, with San Francisco's George Cleve in turn taking over the SSO subscription pair set for May 4-5.

Conductors are accustomed to covering for one another in emergencies, but not that many stick wielders have Pelléasin their repertory, and even fewer meet the musical standards of maxi-diva Teresa Stratas, who is singing Mélisande in the New Japan Philharmonic production with the Met's Dwayne Croft and José van Dam as the rivals for her affections.

Schwarz is a veteran in the Hairsbreadth Harry role, having pulled off last-minute saves of an Elliott Carter piano concerto at Aspen and a Schoenberg Gurre-lieder with the LA Philharmonic. Compared to those spiky monstrosities, Pelléas in Tokyo should be a snap: Schwarz led Seattle Opera's 1993 production, to great acclaim. And this time he won't have the inflatable-beach-toy decor of Dale Chihuly distracting attention from the music: The sets and costumes are borrowed from San Francisco.

Sixties flashbacks

With Hair already set for a Broadway revival, it's sure starting to look like the 1960s may be the Next Big Entertainment Thing. Not content with passive recycling is Seattle-based composer-musician Jim Ragland, who thinks the time is ripe to produce his long-dreamed-of "rock 'n' roll oratorio" based on the legendary artistic and personal collaboration of the youthful Patti Smith and Sam Shepard.

With Ragland's accumulating credits (among many others, writing and performing the score for Intiman's award-winning Kentucky Cycle on Broadway), producers are beginning to take serious interest in the show, titled after a Smith poem about Shepard, Amplifier Heart, but the sheer scale of the project (two singer-actors plus a six-piece band) and the $50,000 nut needed to mount the show have Ragland and longtime associate Nikki Appino (who would direct) scrambling for support. Ragland has raised some substantial financial backing already, and A Contemporary Theater's Gordon Edelstein is excited about the show's possibilities, but the piece is just too expensive for ACT to take on without some front money from producers who can see the show's commercial potential. Bill Graham—or Boyd Grafmyre—where are you now that we need you?

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