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#655665 - 12/28/01 11:41 PM Philadelphia New Hall  
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 560
MacDuff Offline
500 Post Club Member
MacDuff  Offline
500 Post Club Member

Joined: May 2001
Posts: 560
Southeast, U.S.A.
What's the initial acoustical verdict on the Philadelphia Orchestra's new hall?

#655666 - 01/01/02 10:58 AM Re: Philadelphia New Hall  
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 2,506
AndrewG Offline
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AndrewG  Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Joined: May 2001
Posts: 2,506
Denver, Colorado
Here's one of the reviews:

In Philadelphia, New Hall's Sound Is in the Ear of the


PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 16 — So after all the anticipation
and nervousness, how are the acoustics at Verizon
Hall, the new home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the
main component of the new Kimmel Center for the
Performing Arts?

That was the big question hovering over the three-day
gala opening weekend of Kimmel Center, the $265
million complex occupying nearly an entire block on a
stretch of Broad Street south of City Hall known as the
Avenue of the Arts. However Verizon Hall is ultimately
judged acoustically, Philadelphians already have much
to be proud of.

The architect Rafael Viñoly has created an awesome
yet welcoming public space covered by a huge, vaulted
glass roof that houses the 2,500-seat Verizon Hall. The
center includes the 650-seat Perelman Theater (still
unfinished), which will be used for chamber music,
dance and drama presentations; classrooms for
educational programs; and shops, restaurants, roof
gardens and snack bars. The official public
ribbon-cutting ceremony took place this morning,
followed by a full day of free performances, tours,
activities and workshops. But the most anticipated
event, for which an international roster of critics showed
up, was Saturday night's concert by the Philadelphia
Orchestra, its first in its new home. So what about the

In fairness, it's too early to say. If this sounds like a
hedge, you have to remember that only part of
assessing a hall's acoustics involves objective
measurements of reverberation rates and such. A big
component is subjective, what could be called psycho-
acoustics. Does knowing that Carnegie Hall has
famously wonderful sound predispose you to enjoy
music there? Suppose you did not know that the
Academy of Music, the Philadelphia Orchestra's
previous home, an elegant old place built as an opera
house in 1857, has long been thought to have dry
acoustics. If you heard a knock-out performance of
Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony there, you would
probably think the hall had a wonderful sound.

The ambience and look of Verizon Hall are already in its
favor. Instead of the traditional shoe-box design of
acoustically splendid places like Boston's Symphony
Hall, Verizon is curvaceous, like a cello, as Mr. Viñoly
has said. The upper tiers of seats extend in back of the
stage, surrounding the orchestra.

The first hint of its acoustics came on Friday night with
a glitzy black- tie gala show and buffet dinner (with a top
ticket price of $5,000) for an exclusive audience of
patrons and supporters. And the hint was not

Critics were discouraged from coming. Many who
wanted tickets were not accommodated. It began with
the Bright Hope Baptist Church Celestial Choir in a
soulful rendition of "God Bless America" and ended
with Elton John, who had been paid $2 million for his
appearance, singing his songs from the piano for
nearly an hour.

Sir Elton's fee was covered by the center's namesake,
Sidney Kimmel, the Philadelphia-born businessman
and philanthropist who made the largest single
donation (some $30 million). At one point Mr. Kimmel
and a surprise celebrity guest, the singer Paul Anka,
performed "My Way," a song whose lyrics, by Mr. Anka,
were redone for the occasion.

The Philadelphia Orchestra was represented only by a
contingent of brass and percussion players who
performed Copland's short "Fanfare for the Common
Man." The rest of the program was fairly lightweight,
offering the pianist André Watts in a novelty (his
transcription of Bernstein's Overture to "Candide") and
two mezzo-sopranos, Denyce Graves and Frederica
von Stade, accompanied by Warren Jones.

In the hall that night Mr. Watts's piano sound was thin
and distant, and the voices of Ms. Graves and Ms. Von
Stade lacked bloom and presence. I assumed and
hoped that the problem was the huge riggings of lights
suspended from the ceiling that Sir Elton had brought
along. For his portion of the show he employed heavy-
duty amplification that was painful to the ears. I went
fleeing after three songs. Call me a classical music
wimp, but in my profession I need to keep my hearing
safe for harpsichord recitals.

On Saturday morning, during a Kimmel Center tour, I
caught some of the rehearsal of the Philadelphia
Orchestra. This time the sound in the empty hall was, if
anything, overly bright and reverberant. That night
during the concert with people in all the seats the
acoustics seemed much better. The local media had
already reported that Wolfgang Sawallisch, the
orchestra's esteemed music director, and many of the
players were thrilled with the new home. Finally, they
said, they can hear one another from the stage, which
was a problem at the Academy of Music.

The musicians had had only two rehearsals in the hall
before Saturday's concert. They had been kept out by
carpenters and painters working around the clock to get
the place ready. As the musicians get to know the hall
better, their reactions may change.

All one can do at this early stage is offer first
impressions. After a rousing performance of the
national anthem, the program opened with a
commissioned work, "Color Wheel" by Aaron Jay
Kernis, a Philadelphia native who has gone on to a
Pulitzer Prize-winning career. Mr. Kernis clearly felt that
the occasion called for a splashy public piece.

He describes "Color Wheel" as a 15-minute concerto
for orchestra, and it's a whirlwind of spiraling riffs,
pulsating "Rite of Spring" poundings and a moody
Gerswhinesque middle section with an ambling
electric bass. It seems a consciously accessible,
neo-Romantic work with big surging melodic moments
and a brassy climactic, cymbal-clashing finale. The
work certainly gave the orchestra a chance to show off.
Yet even with the hall full the sound was bright, a bit
clinical. Balances favored the percussion and brass.
The violins came through more fully than the cellos.

Then Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax
appeared onstage to perform the violin, cello and piano
solos in Beethoven's Triple Concerto. This time with the
orchestra reduced to Beethoven-symphony size the
sound while still clear seemed less present and
lacking in warmth. For example, heard in Carnegie Hall
Mr. Perlman's violin tone can be lush and silken almost
to a fault. Here it seemed leaner and less burnished.

But I must say again that many factors affect the
perception of acoustics. In the Largo movement, Mr. Ma
played the wistful opening melody for cello solo so
elegantly that for a while you forgot all about the

There was a frightening moment in the spirited third
movement when Mr. Ma, swaying on his chair, tipped
over and fell backward off the short riser he was seated
on. He landed on his back on the floor. Though he
looked badly shaken, he got right up and played a cello
passage standing, not missing a note, then sat back
down, once a violinist from the orchestra retrieved his
chair. He seemed to be O.K., for he played excellently

The concert concluded with a plush, rhapsodic yet
refreshingly rhythmic account of the Suite No. 2 from
Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloé," for which the orchestra was
complemented by the Philadelphia Singers Chorale,
stationed in the upper tiers behind the stage. A trusted
critic colleague from Paris, who had been unhappy with
the sound in the hall from his seat in the orchestra
section, where I also sat, moved to the top balcony for
the Ravel and reported that the acoustics were quite

It is too early for pronouncements, for it takes orchestral
musicians months, even years, to adjust to a new hall.
In this case they will have the capability of adjusting the
hall itself. The acoustician Russell Johnson from Artec
Consultants has incorporated adjustable components
into the building so that in a sense it can be tuned like
an instrument.

Suspended above the stage is an acoustic control
canopy system in three sections, each of which can be
lowered or raised to alter balances among the
instruments. There are also acoustic control curtains
and banners, which can be extended from the walls to
soak up reverberation if desired.

If the goal is to enhance reverberation, there are 100
control chambers lining the side walls of the hall on
every level. When opened, they will increase the space
within which the sound in the hall can reverberate.

During Saturday's tour, Mr. Johnson explained that for
several months, at least when the Philadelphia
Orchestra is in the hall, the chambers will be kept
closed, and the other adjustable elements will be left at
their current settings. This is to give Mr. Sawallisch and
the musicians time to explore the hall's characteristics
before they start tinkering.

Though having the capability to alter the hall may seem
an important innovation, it's a complicated matter.
Musicians become very adept at adjusting to a hall.
Some people believe that the characteristic richness of
the Philadelphia's string sound comes from decades of
having to work hard to be heard at the Academy of
Music. If the conductor can suddenly adjust the hall's
acoustics, rendering the sound one way for a Mozart
symphony, another for the Berio Sinfonia, then you can
imagine rehearsals becoming endless tinkering

All this will be worked out in time. For now the
musicians say they are happy. And happy musicians
play better. When music is played well, it makes a
concert hall's sound seem better. Such is the nature of
psycho- acoustics.

#655667 - 01/06/02 09:11 PM Re: Philadelphia New Hall  
Joined: Jul 2001
Posts: 433
Amy Offline
Full Member
Amy  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Jul 2001
Posts: 433
Upstate New York
I just found out today that I am going to the new hall at the end of this month. I am going on a day trip with my symphony to hear a concert and take a tour of the hall. I guess that a couple of orchestra members are going to take us backstage and everything! I'm very excited to hear them play!

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#655668 - 01/08/02 11:03 PM Re: Philadelphia New Hall  
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 10,827
Rich Galassini Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Rich Galassini  Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Joined: May 2001
Posts: 10,827
Philadelphia/South Jersey
Dear Amy,

What ensemble do you play with? Community group? Here in Philly? Are you in school?

Anyway, enjoy your visit and let us know what YOU think.

Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Co.
Phila, Pa.
(215) 991-0834 direct line
Check out the Science Channel's "How Its Made" featuring our piano restoration:
#655669 - 01/09/02 09:11 PM Re: Philadelphia New Hall  
Joined: Jul 2001
Posts: 433
Amy Offline
Full Member
Amy  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Jul 2001
Posts: 433
Upstate New York
I play bassoon with the Binghamton Youth Symphony Orchestra. It is in upstate NY and it is all highschool age.
The webpage for the orchestra is www.binghamtonyouthsymphony.org

*Visit my page! http://www.expage.com/pianopalace
#655670 - 01/17/02 01:27 PM Re: Philadelphia New Hall  
Joined: Jun 2001
Posts: 902
PianoMuse Offline
500 Post Club Member
PianoMuse  Offline
500 Post Club Member

Joined: Jun 2001
Posts: 902
Philly, PA
I am going to go to the hall a few times this semester ( i live 20 minutes away from Philly--) I have seen it driving by, though..it is soo beautiful. i can't wait to get inside!

"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music." ~Rachmaninoff

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