New concert halls and opera houses are much in the news of late, as Dallas unveiled the Winspear Opera House on Thursday and Munich remains locked in discussions about whether the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra should get a home of its own. (Much as I love both the Bavarian Radio Symphony and beautiful new concert halls, I think the answer to this question should be No, but that’s another post for another time.)
Inevitably, what comes in the wake of these discussions are questions about concert hall acoustics. I periodically get information packets from the leading concert hall acousticians: Sound Space Design and Robert Essert (who did both the Winspear Opera House and the Meyerson, also in Dallas); Acentech and Christopher Jaffe (formerly of JaffeHolden, another leading firm); Artec and the late Russell Johnson. It’s a science, it’s an art, it’s impossible to pin down, and it always seems to be open to debate. Is the Kennedy Center Concert Hall really that bad? Is the renovated Alice Tully Hall really that good?
(read more after the jump)
I found myself in yet another discussion of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall acoustics on Saturday during the Murray Perahia recital, sparked by some of my observations on Lorin Maazel’s program with the National Symphony Orchestra. At issue were the problems that ensemble seems to have in playing together, and how far the acoustics of the hall play a role in that. Not infrequently, when I write something critical of the NSO, I hear from a reader or two that I should have mentioned that musicians on that particular stage have trouble hearing each other. On the other hand, I’ve heard plenty of others orchestras on that stage sound better and play with a better sense of ensemble than the NSO often does.
The question, I suppose, is whether an orchestra’s sound can come to be influenced by a concert hall’s acoustics over the long term by the space in which they play. The famous example is the Philadelphia Orchestra, which is supposed to have developed its signature rich sound as a response to playing week after week in the difficult acoustics of the Academy of Music. So: how far is the problem with the NSO simply that it's stuck with a bad concert hall? Did the 1997 renovation change anything in the orchestra's sound? Discuss.
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