In the 1970s, Modernist architect Louis Kahn designed a special boat with a pop-up concert stage for Robert Boudreau, founder and conductor of the traveling ensemble the American Wind Orchestra Symphony. With its sleek, silvery walls, squat, square body punctuated by oblong windows and pop-up stage, Point Counterpoint II, as the 195-foot-long vessel is called, is a one-of-a-kind combination space capsule/barge/floating performance space. Unfortunately, Boudreau, who is in his 90s, can no longer operate the boat, and the craft seemed destined for the scrapyard. Boudreau had hoped that the City of Chicago would acquire the boat (it is docked in a Chicago suburb), but it failed to do so, putting the future of the vessel at risk.
Wanting to save this unique architectural and musical icon, world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma wrote a letter that was published in the New York Review of Books pleading for its preservation. The letter set off a chain of events that suddenly put Kingston in the national spotlight, thanks to the efforts of a resident to bring the boat here.
It happened like this: Kingston-based microtonal composer and musician Henry Lowengard posted the Ma letter on Facebook. Peter Wetzler, a Kingston-based musician who composes music for film, theater and TV, saw the post and was immediately inspired to bring Point Counterpoint II to Kingston. Wetzler e-mailed Boudreau (it turned out that Boudreau had done a concert in Kingston 25 years ago), who called him right back. Boudreau accepted Wetzler’s invitation to visit Kingston for the August 3 concert in the City hosted by the Midtown Arts District (see accompanying article) and stay at the Church des Artistes B & B that Wetzler owns with his wife, Julie Hedrick. Wetzler also contacted mayor Steve Noble, who was supportive of the idea; a subsequent article in the Chicago Tribune about Wetzler’s efforts to bring the boat to Kingston quoted both Wetzler and the mayor.
Wetzler also talked to Jack Weeks, a longtime volunteer and board member at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, who suggested a possible dockage for the boat. And he contacted Carl Slevin, owner of the Brickyard (which hosted the two recent Bob Dylan concerts), which has dockage on the Hudson River; Slevin expressed interest in docking the boat there.
The biggest challenge is raising $2 million, which is what Boudreau is asking for the boat. On August 4, Wetzler and Boudreau are meeting with Slevin and other interested parties, including potential funders.
According to Wetzler, a private collector had made Boudreau an offer exceeding that amount, but the conductor turned him down, wanting to keep the boat in the public domain, where it can continue its mission of exposing youth in cities and towns along the nation’s navigable waterways to classical music. The August 3 concert, which is curated by Wetzler, is the perfect vehicle showcasing Kingston’s commitment to do just that, Wetzler noted.
He said that since Kingston made its offer, other cities are expressing interest in acquiring Point Counterpoint II, including Buffalo, Pittsburgh and municipalities in France and Italy. Weighing in Kingston’s favor is not only its ability to accommodate the boat and its community-based arts movement, but also its boat-maintenance resources. Key assets are the Maritime Museum’s boatbuilding facility, located in the former Rosita’s restaurant – currently the crew is restoring the sloop Woody Guthrie – and the barn erected on the museum grounds that serves as the maintenance facility for the sloop Clearwater, which is docked and maintained here in the winter months. Boudreau “would love to have artisans working on the boat,” said Wetzler, adding that the conductor knew and admired Pete Seeger. “Boudreau thought if we parked Point Counterpoint II next to the Clearwater, it would be awesome,” Wetzler said. “There’s a lot of synergies here.”