Larry Birkelbach - Festival Hill’s Michelangelo
There is one man who comes to the concerts at the Festival Institute not just for the music but for the thrill of listening and seeing the reaction of the audience
The source of their surprise and adulation is the interior of the concert hall every inch of it adorned with hand carved motifs. While the inspiration for the design came from James Dick and Richard Royall, the man who executed the work - the intricate moldings, the inlaid Texas star punctuating the hardwood floors and ceiling, the gothic-style architecture, the harp pattern which is a continuing theme throughout, whose expanse can be measured not in feet and inches but in years spent - is Larry Birkelbach.
Larry grew up as a master carpenter along with Festival Hill. He started work there as an apprentice to Arnold Prosivka, with a cloth bag of begged and borrowed tools, soon after he left school more than forty years ago. He cut his carpentry teeth on restoring and beautifying the repurposed Victorian homes and chapel, culminating in Festival Hill’s and Larry’s own pièce de résistance, the concert hall itself.
It took Larry and three assistants twelve years to complete the carved decorative features – three times longer than it took Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. There were no blueprints to work from. James Dick and Richard Royall came up with ideas, or a design pulled from a book, and sketch it on a plank of wood or a scrap of paper. Then Larry would draw on his own ingenuity to find a way to achieve it and create what today is one, if not the finest concert halls in America.