By Glenda Winders
Nashville might owe its reputation to country music, but if you aren’t lured by the twang of guitars spilling out from local clubs and honky-tonks or the Grand Ole Opry, you will still find plenty to do besides — excuse the country reference — counting flowers on the wall.
Just two blocks away from the nightlife on Lower Broadway is the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, where the Nashville Symphony performs under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero. The hall, which opened in 2006, adheres to the city’s tradition of neoclassical architecture while employing state-of-the-art acoustics design that renders it a world-class performance space. The shoebox shape, high ceilings and tiered seating make for sonic clarity, and a system of movable banners and panels can alter the acoustics for cabaret, jazz and blues concerts. A custom-built concert organ adds to the richness of some performances.
The night I was there the program consisted of a Beethoven piano concerto and Rachmaninoff’s last complete work, written when the composer knew he was dying. The piece has all the gusto of someone who knows he has nothing to lose, and the musicians delivered that intensity to a spellbound audience. It was a night to remember. When the concert was over, many members of the audience headed to Lower Broadway to catch the country action there. This is, in every sense of the word, Music City.
The visual arts are also abundant. My interest was piqued during a stop at the Parthenon, a replica of the original in Greece that was built for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial to celebrate the city’s reputation of being the Athens of the South. Originally it was constructed of bricks, wood lath and plaster to be a temporary pavilion during the exposition. But the locals fell in love with it, and in 1920 the city authorized a rebuilding that is an exact duplicate of the original Greek temple.
Art pieces from all over the world that had been on display were moved to what had been the building’s basement. Now the centerpiece of the main hall, as it was in ancient Greece, is a 42-foot-10-inch sculpture of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The sculpture, unveiled in 1990, is the work of Nashville artist Alan LeQuire. He created the piece from gypsum cement with chopped fiberglass reinforcing on a steel frame and later gilded it with 8 pounds of 23.75-karat-gold paint. A 6-foot-4-inch Nike, goddess of victory, stands in Athena’s hand.
An added bonus after seeing this Athena, the largest indoor statue in the western world, was getting to visit the sculptor’s gallery, watch him at work in his studio and talk to him about his works in progress.
“Guests see the finished pieces displayed in a beautiful environment and then are invited ‘backstage,'” said Elizabeth Cave, director of the LeQuire Gallery. “It’s like going to a concert and having backstage passes. It completes the experience to the fullest.”
The studio/gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and LeQuire is there working most days. If you want to make sure you get to meet him, simply call ahead for an appointment. If time doesn’t allow for a visit, several of his other works are on view around town, among them “Musica” at the Music Row Roundabout and “Flying Torso” at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
One reason Nashville was given the moniker “Athens of the South” was because of its many educational institutions, among them Fisk University, established after the Civil War to educate freed slaves. Today the school’s art gallery boasts an extensive international art collection that ranges from baroque to modern, with several pieces from the Harlem Renaissance. Its Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery houses an outstanding collection of African-American art as well as the Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern Art, which was donated to the school by the photographer’s widow, Georgia O’Keeffe.
Art lovers will have other stops to make, as well. One is the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Housed in a Depression-era art deco post office building, it maintains no permanent collection but serves as a venue for traveling exhibits from other museums.
The mansion at the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art was once the home of the Cheek family, who developed a blend of coffee so good it was served at the Maxwell House hotel and later became a leading brand. Today the home showcases a collection of 19th and 20th century American art that includes the work of William Edmundson, who in 1937 was the first African-American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The 55 acres on which it sits comprise herb, seasonal, wildflower, Japanese, water and other types of gardens as well as a mile-long sculpture trail.
If you’re in town at the first of the month, a real treat is the First Saturday Gallery Crawl. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. downtown galleries such as the Rymer Gallery, Studio 83 and the Tennessee Art League host receptions and openings, often serving wine and other refreshments. Free shuttles provide transportation among the galleries throughout the evening.
Be sure to see a performance of the Tennessee Repertory Theatre at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. The company was established 25 years ago with the mission of being a regional theater to serve Middle Tennessee. Along with producing such classics as “The Crucible,” the group supports the development of new works, especially musicals — a fitting way to wrap up a fine arts tour of Nashville.
IF YOU GO
For general information: www.visitmusiccity.com
Schermerhorn Symphony Center: www.nashvillesymphony.org
The Parthenon: www.parthenon.org
LeQuire Studio and Gallery: www.alanlequire.com
Fisk University: www.fisk.edu
Frist Center for the Visual Arts: www.fristcenter.org
Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art: www.cheekwood.org
Downtown galleries and First Saturday Gallery Crawl: www.nashvilledowntown.com
Tennessee Repertory Theatre: www.tennesseerep.org
For elegant dining experiences:
Allium: www.alliumnashville.com. Classic bistro food and Sunday brunch. Reservations are encouraged — 615-242-3522.
Watermark: www.watermark-restaurant.com. Pricey but memorable. For reservations: 615-254-2000.
Glenda Winders is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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