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Q: Major U.S. Concert Hall Acoustics ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Major U.S. Concert Hall Acoustics
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Performing Arts
Asked by: beauregard-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 28 Dec 2003 15:21 PST
Expires: 27 Jan 2004 15:21 PST
Question ID: 290934
Recently I?ve read that two major concert halls have gone through, or
are going through, acoustic upgrades. These halls are Davies Symphony
Hall in San Francisco, and Avery Fisher Hall in New York.
Additionally, the new Disney Hall in Los Angeles has just opened. Can
you find any articles which discuss the success (or failure) of the
upgrades and the acoustics of the new hall? While you're at it, maybe
you could find some information about the pipe organ in the Disney
hall. I'll up the ante for this information.
Subject: Re: Major U.S. Concert Hall Acoustics
Answered By: googlenut-ga on 28 Dec 2003 20:19 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello beauregard-ga,

This was a very interesting question to research.  These three halls
are in three very different places with regard to their status as
concert halls.


I will start with the Davies Symphony hall in San Francisco. Davies
hall was built in 1980.  It had a poor reputation for acoustics for 12
years, until it underwent a major renovation in 1992.  Since that
time, it seems to be accepted as a world-class concert hall.

San Francisco Symphony
Davies Symphony Hall History
?Completed in September, 1980 after more than two years of
construction, Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall is the home of the San
Francisco Symphony. More than six thousand individuals, foundations
and corporations gave the money needed to build the Hall. The City of
San Francisco donated the land and the State and Federal governments
gave a total of $10 million toward the $28 million project. The San
Francisco Symphony's home owes its name to the efforts and
perseverance of Mrs. Louise M. Davies, the largest individual
contributor to the building.

During the summer of 1992, Davies Symphony Hall underwent a major
renovation, enhancing its acoustics to ensure an even better musical
experience, and making an already stunning interior more beautiful
still. Special care was also taken to provide improved facilities for
the physically disabled.?

This article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 10, 1992
Davies Hall Renovation Applauded
Symphony Opens With Glorious Sound
By Robert Commanday, Chronicle Music Critic
?Davies Hall reopened last night with the new sound that everyone has
been waiting and hoping for. The acoustics, which were the
controversial issue for the first 12 years of the hall's life, have
been remade to provide an excellent and exciting symphonic sound.?

San Francisco Chronicle 
THE SCENE: Overheard at the Symphony 
'Sound clouds' make beautiful music
Jesse Hamlin    Monday, December 30, 2002
?"It's a tunable sound shell," says Jacobs, who helped install the
canopy in 1991 under the direction of the man who designed the
computer-run winch system that runs it, now-retired house electrician
George van Buren.

The $850,000 canopy was conceived by acoustician Larry Kirkegaard, who
worked with the Symphony on the $10 million renovation of Davies in
1992, the primary goal of which was to improve the hall's notoriously
spotty acoustics. The panels were the first step in that renovation,
which greatly improved the hall's sound.?
Love at first sound
?One of these was San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall, with over
3,000 seats, completed in 1980. It was so bad that only 12 years later
the inside was completely altered, reducing the seating capacity but
vastly improving the acoustics. Kirkegaard was involved in the Davies
renovation, converting one of America's worst concert halls into one
if its best.?

?SHOOT THE HALL, NOT THE MUSICIANS?, By Paul Hertelendy, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music 
Week of Nov. 1-8, 2003,  Vol. 6, No. 28
?This lesson has been emphatically brought home on numerous occasions
by the San Francisco Symphony, which I have heard in several halls in
Northern California. Hear them at home in Davies Hall, these players
sound like a vibrant, world-class ensemble. Hear them anywhere else,
and they?re usually just another band off in the distance, neither
invigorating nor very stimulating.?


?But how many cities can afford such a single-purpose hall? Davies
cost some $30 million in 1980---much more in today?s dollars---and Los
Angeles? new Disney Hall that just opened ran $270 million, mostly
raised through the Walt Disney legacy and other private funds. They
are tops acoustically,  just like the Philharmonie Hall in Berlin.
None of these is a proscenium hall; they are one-room spaces, with the
audience embracing the stage.?


Avery Fisher hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, is widely
criticized for it?s poor acoustics.  It was built in the early 1960s
and has apparently undergone several upgrades with no real success.

Brandeis University
Architectural acoustics: The $20,000,000 mistake
?But concert halls have to do more than merely look good; they have to
accommodate a certain quality of sound. Unfortunately, despite the
efforts of some of the world's foremost authorities, the orchestra,
its conductor, as well as audiences found Avery Fisher Hall's
acoustics unsatisfactory, to put it gently. The orchestra sounded dry
and lifeless, its bass sounds were weak, and echoes at some seat
locations caused a single note to sound like two notes. Worst of all,
musicians in the orchestra could not hear what they themselves were
playing --or what their neighbors were playing.

Between the hall's opening in the early 1960's and the end of 1974,
there were five separate attempts to solve these problems. Finally,
Columbia University's Cyril Harris, an acoustics expert, ordered that
the hall be gutted and rebuilt, virtually from scratch. It took tens
of millions of dollars to redo the concert hall.

The original design for Avery Fisher Hall was flawed, flawed, flawed.
Despite the efforts of the world's pre-eminent architects, the hall
was an unmitigated disaster. One problem was that the original
architect had not raked, or tilted, the floor sufficiently. Because
the stage was not terribly high and because the audience seating was
relatively flat, sounds created on the stage tended to be absorbed by
the bodies and clothing of people in the first few rows, leaving
little residual sound for the ears of people who sat further back (in
the cheaper --and quieter-- seats). This error is astonishing; after
all, this maneuver was something the ancient Greeks had worked out
long before.?
A Lot of Night Music
The Site and the Sound, by Alan Rich
?These gala openings had been preceded for months, maybe years, by
claims that the acoustics in those halls would rival, if not surpass,
the legendary sounds of Boston's Symphony Hall or Vienna's
Musikverein. It never happened. Vancouver and San Francisco have
undergone improvements; the brash, bright sound of Davies these days
is, in fact, a perfect mirror of Michael Tilson Thomas' music making.
Everybody knows that, even after several highly publicized remakes,
however, the only salvation for Avery Fisher Hall lies in the
wrecker's ball liberally administered.?

In June of this year, it was announced that the New York Philharmonic
would be leaving Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center for Carnegie Hall
in 2006.

The New York Sun, Jun 3, 2003
Is Carnegie Hall a Winner or a Loser? 
?The Philharmonic, a tenant in Lincoln Center?s acoustically
problematic Avery Fisher Hall since 1962, is certainly thrilled to
have a home. "Carnegie Hall becomes our home. We?re partners in the
whole thing," said Zarin Mehta, the executive director of the New York
Philharmonic. "We will have everything to say about the running of the


?What seems obvious is that the merger is a major coup for the
Philharmonic, whose board was going to have to help raise $400 million
to overhaul or renovate Avery Fisher Hall and its famously bad

As recently as last fall, the Philharmonic planned to tear down the
hall and build anew. But earlier this year the orchestra and Lincoln
Center determined it would cost too much. In February, Norman Foster
was chosen to submit plans for a renovation to the hall, and Skidmore,
Owings & Merrill to carry out a feasibility study on the logistics of
rebuilding vs. renovating.?

However, this deal fell through in October and the future of Avery
Fisher Hall is still uncertain.

Carnegie Ends Merger Talks with New York Philharmonic 
By Brian Wise,
?NEW YORK, NY (2003-10-08) A much-heralded but controversial plan to
merge the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall ? two of New York?s
most powerful cultural institutions ? has collapsed after three months
of talks. ?


?Many questions remain, particularly how renovations will proceed at
Avery Fisher Hall now that the Philharmonic will be staying. Before
the announcement of the merger the orchestra commissioned a report
from the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that detailed
several renovation options: $400 million for rebuilding Avery Fisher,
$300 million for renovating its interior, $25 million for more modest
improvements and $100 million for moving to Carnegie with
reconstruction there.?

Can Crisis Save Lincoln Center From Disaster? 
by Clay Risen, The New York Observer, 10/27/03
?Lord Foster?s second challenge is to settle once and for all Avery
Fisher?s infamous acoustic deficiencies. This means going beyond the
complete gutting and refitting that the hall received in 1976.
Fortunately, this is another reason why Lord Foster is an excellent
choice for the renovation. Not only can he do the bulk of the
engineering work in-house, but he has a great track record of working
with specialty firms on matters beyond his ken.

"If anyone can figure it out, he can," said Mr. Pedersen. "He?ll
probably find someone to work with him; he?ll hook up with [Yasuhisa]
Toyota or one of the other great acousticians."?

Memo to Philharmonic: Stay Put and Redecorate 
by Charles Michener, The New York Observer, 10/20/03
?Second, everyone, starting with the Philharmonic?s chairman and his
board members, should stop talking about the hall?s alleged acoustical
shortcomings?a complaint that, as many of the world?s top musicians
will tell you, is a load of hooey. (Suggestion: enlarge the
prison-like balconies, which is where all the best sound goes.) I have
attended a number of Philharmonic concerts this season and, under
Lorin Maazel?s Mephistophelean baton, the orchestra has never sounded
more exciting. Mr. Maazel may not be a pin-up whippersnapper in the
mold of the Los Angeles Philharmonic?s Esa-Pekka Salonen, but not even
the feverish Finn can match this veteran maestro at revving the
hoariest works vividly into the present tense. Mr. Maazel likes to
conduct without a score, and his command over these world-class
musicians, if sometimes overbearing, is breathtaking. World-class,
edge-of-the-seat ensemble playing is the result.?

Philharmonic Returns to Lincoln Center
VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press
Miami Herald, Mon, Oct. 20, 2003
?The orchestra's plans to move to Carnegie were scuttled Oct. 7. The
orchestra and Carnegie Hall cited the impossibility of accommodating
the Philharmonic's large number of concerts without compromising

The uncertainty came as Lincoln Center was grappling with the launch
of a massive decade-long redevelopment project. For now, the project
is modest: a $16 million grant is kick-starting renovation of Alice
Tully Hall; a new streetfront approach to is in the works.

A linchpin of the renewal has been plans for Fisher Hall, whose tricky
acoustics took years to adjust and are still unsatisfactory to many

By moving to Carnegie Hall, the orchestra would have saved itself a
redevelopment price tag that could top $300 million for Fisher Hall
alone, while having to find a temporary hall in which to perform
during construction.?


Researching Disney Hall was particularly interesting since I live in
Los Angeles.  I have driven by Disney Hall, but I have not been
inside.  Walt Disney Concert Hall celebrated it?s opening night with
much fanfare on October 23.  Thus far, the acoustics of Disney hall
seem to be living up to the high expectations.

Music Center / Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County
Walt Disney Concert Hall Acoustics
?Walt Disney Concert Hall is a synthesis of acoustical and
architectural design. The architect, Frank Gehry, and the acoustician,
Yasuhisa Toyota, from Nagata Acoustics (Tokyo, Japan) came to the
design process with very specific goals, but with no preconceptions
about the form of the hall.
Gehry was interested in a room with a sculpted shape that would be
evocative of music and that would create an intimate connection
between the orchestra and the audience.

Toyota wanted a space that would create a warm sound, but also a sound
of exceptional clarity.

The Walt Disney family insisted that the hall have an acoustical
quality that would equal or surpass the best concert halls in the

Brentwood Magazine
The LA Philharmonic finally gets the home it deserves
?Unlike the multipurpose pavilion, ?Disney Hall is designed for the
specific acoustics and exactly for the orchestra?s needs,? said Arvind
Manocha, director of strategy for the hall. ?The L.A. Philharmonic now
has the hall it deserves,? Van de Kamp said. ?It is an absolutely
perfect acoustical hall.? Nagata Acoustics and project chief Yasuhisa
Toyota handled acoustics, which were made pitch-perfect for the
293,000 square feet of space. Seeing the inside of the enormous and
empty main auditorium gives one an appreciation for its visual
majesty, as well as its acoustical design. As I stood near the back
row of the auditorium in a sea of 2,265 seats, weeks before the hall
opened to the public, whispers from technicians on stage were easily
audible, as they bounced off the soft billowing curves of the Douglas
fir ceil-ing, through side honeycomb paneling and around the
magnificent organ, made up of 6,100 curved wood pipes, that commands
the room.The shoebox-style seating makes it possible for the audience
to sit facing the conductor during a perfor-mance, and only furthers
the hall?s acoustical majesty.?
The San Diego Union-Tribune
Disney Hall opens with a bang
?The acoustics were responsive, ensuring a high degree of clarity
during the ever-so-eclectic program, which positioned musicians not
just on the stage (as with "The Star-Spangled Banner" sung by jazz
vocalist Dianne Reeves) but all around the hall.

From the balconies, trumpets and trombones gloried in the reverberant
sonorities of Gabrieli's "Canzon septimi toni no. 2," written in the
late 16th century for Venice's St. Mark's Cathedral. From the
main-floor steps, the Los Angeles Master Chorale excelled in the
otherworldly harmonies of Ligeti's "Lux aeterna," familiar from the
movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."?


?If performing at the Chandler Pavilion was like paddling in a murky
river, Disney Hall was the equivalent of a pristine swimming pool. The
clarity was exciting and a bit merciless. Such was the case when the
orchestra's admirable concertmaster Martin Chalifour (a veteran of San
Diego's Mainly Mozart Festival) smudged a snippet of rapid-passage
work during the "Preludio" from Bach's unaccompanied Partita No. 3,
performed amid the wildly angled organ pipes.?

UCLA Today
Music faculty at home in Disney Hall
?Hanulik added: ?The sound is much clearer, much more defined, and it
has a wonderful presence that the Dorothy Chandler just wasn?t able to
project to the audience. In an inferior hall, the mid-to-low range of
the orchestra gets swallowed up. At Disney, that?s not the case. There
is now a very real bass presence, and it?s very exciting.??


?Neill added, ?We haven?t ever been able to be heard the way we want
to be heard. We?d go out on tour and play in some of these great halls
all over the world, and we?d sound fabulous. And we?d say, ?Too bad we
don?t have a place like this at home.? And now we do.??

Miami Herald, Oct. 21, 2003   
Disney Hall Raises LA Arts Scene Profile
Associated Press
?It's already been a hit with the musicians and singers whose job it
will be to add life to the building.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale recently took the hall "for a test
drive," in the words of chorale director Grant Gershon. "This hall
rewards good singing," he said as acappella notes rose up the gently
sloped terraced seats into the balconies.

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic
for 39 years, swallowed much of the sound, forcing musicians to play
harder just to be heard. "A velvet haze hung over the sound over
there," Gershon said. "It took off all the edges, good bad or

Said conductor Salonen. "In the new hall, a normal Los Angeles music
lover will have the first opportunity to hear what the orchestra
really sounds like, and I think they will be pretty astonished."

The acoustics were designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, who also worked on the
Suntory Hall in Tokyo and with Gehry on the Bard College Performing
Arts Center in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Adjustable bowed strips of wood and curved surfaces produce a crisper
sound without as much effort. The 2,265 seats, which surround the
stage, are cradled in swooping panels of Douglas fir, creating a warm,
intimate sound.

A pipe organ, which will be completed next year, sits in the back of
the hall, its square wooden pipes askew, like pencils tossed into a
coffee cup.?

Friday, October 24, 2003 - Page updated at 10:39 A.M.
Opening gala at L.A.'s Disney Hall heralds new era for West Coast 
By Melinda Bargreen, Seattle Times music critic
?When the Philharmonic did arrive just before intermission, it was
worth waiting for: sparkling Mozart, the brief Symphony No. 32. And
the finale was the Philharmonic's signature piece, Stravinsky's
challenging "Rite of Spring." In both cases, the sound proved vibrant
to overwhelming, with lots of clarity and a big bass response. Seats
close to the orchestra, however, hear a lot of direct, unreflected
sound, mainly from the closest instruments (the French horns were
almost deafening from my seat, just behind the violins).?

A Lot of Night Music
The Right Rite, by Alan Rich
?Everything ? well, almost everything ? about that seductive,
welcoming room of wood, set within the incandescent curves and
sparkles of its lustrous metal wrapping, deserves place in the
jubilation. There are, of course, problems; did you ever hear of a new
performing space that emerged unbeset by problems the first time out?
Salonen and the orchestra have already encountered, and for the most
part solved, small matters of echo and dead spots here and there, and
the tweaking will go on into the future. In the opening-night gala
there were things that didn?t work. I detected serious unbalances as
the Master Chorale sang a complex, densely grained work of György
Ligeti (the Lux Aeterna, which has also had a movie career, thanks to
Kubrick?s 2001). The Gabrieli Canzona for antiphonal brass ensembles
might have worked better if some of the players had performed in a
balcony area, rather than across the orchestra seating.?


?Certain other problems may require more imaginative solutions. The
very liveness that endows the sounds of music making in the hall also
resounds to its detriment. A cough anywhere in the hall, a dropped
program or ? heaven forfend! ? a cell phone is immediately and
emphatically audible. So are footsteps on the wood flooring or, worse,
on the stairways in the terrace and balcony levels. On the opening
nights, the voices of broadcast engineers behind the balcony area also
carried throughout the hall. Members of the orchestra have spoken
about the problems in getting used to their new performing area; it
must also happen that audiences will face these problems. Somewhere in
this world, people take off their shoes before entering public

The NPR website includes four audio programs about the Disney Hall.

The Disney Hall Radio Documentaries 
From KCRW-FM, Santa Monica, and KUSC-FM, Los Angeles

I think you will particularly enjoy the second audio program, ?From
the Inside Out: The Art of Construction?.  It?s a 29-minute program,
which includes a detailed discussion about the design of the hall and
the acoustics with the architect Frank Gehry and the acoustics
designer Yasuhisa Toyota.  It also includes a discussion with the
designer of the pipe organ, Manuel Rosales.

The pipe organ is still in work.  It won?t be completed for a year. 
For more information about the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ, visit
the website of Rosales Organ Builders, .

Click on ?Opus List? in the upper center of the page.  Scroll down to
?Opus 24?.  Click on ?More? for photographs and additional


Other references:

Gehry Partners

Nagata Acoustics, Monday, Oct. 27, 2003
Perfect Pitch
Nagata Acoustics, a virtuoso in sound, brought a new dimension to
Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall
By REBECCA WINTERS,8816,524463,00.html


I hope you have found this information helpful.  If you have any
questions, please request clarification prior to rating the answer.


Google Search Terms:

davies symphony hall san francisco acoustics

Avery Fisher Hall  New York acoustics

disney hall los angeles acoustics
beauregard-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $15.00
How could I ask for clarification? You've certainly outdone yourself
this time and I can only thank you for your complete research. I have
read quickly the articles you quote from and will read them again.
Seemingly the pipe organ isn't finished yet, and that explains the
lack of information on it. One article said that it would be completed
next year (2004) and I wait with baited breath the reviews of it.
Thank you again.

Subject: Re: Major U.S. Concert Hall Acoustics
From: googlenut-ga on 29 Dec 2003 00:25 PST
Thank you for the 5-star rating and the generous tip!

I'm glad you found the information helpful.

I'm looking forward to visiting the Disney Hall myself sometime soon. 
Maybe I should wait until the pipe organ is finished.

Happy Holidays!

Subject: Re: Major U.S. Concert Hall Acoustics
From: googlenut-ga on 02 Oct 2004 18:41 PDT
Hello beauregard-ga,

In case you haven't heard, the pipe organ is finally finished.

Disney's vital organ
After months of preparation, concert hall's majestic new instrument
ready to pump up the volume for L.A. Phil,1413,211~33712~2434889,00.html
Subject: Re: Major U.S. Concert Hall Acoustics
From: beauregard-ga on 03 Oct 2004 00:50 PDT
Google (may I call you Google?).

I hadn't heard that the organ was finished. Thank you very much for
the update. I'll just have to travel to Los Angeles and hear it. Or I
can just surf on over to and wait for a CD to be made.

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