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Classical Music's Stunning Good Looks

New ideas in concert hall design concentrate as much on beauty and atmosphere as sound.

by Drew McManus
January 3, 2005

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There’s been a bizarre trend over the past five years in classical music, even though many organizations are melting down financially, the building of top notch concert halls seems to be on the upswing. So rest assured, even if musicians become extinct, at least their fossilized shells will remain to remind people just how stunning classical music really is.
 
One positive aspect of this design frenzy is that some of the results have been visually stunning as well as acoustically innovative.
 
Across The Globe
 
Auditorio de TenerifeFirst, let’s look at what’s been built in other parts of the world. In Spain, the Auditorio de Tenerife sits as an ultra modern gem of a multipurpose performing arts center in the Canary Islands. 
 
Seating over 2,000 patrons in a vertigo inducing seating incline, it’s been likened to an orchid or one of the many pacific waves crashing into the shoreline. Since its completion, the concert hall draws nearly as many visitors as a tourist attraction as it does for its cultural fare.
 
Shanghai Oriental Arts CenterOn the other side of globe the recently completed Shanghai Oriental Arts Center is a glittering touch of finesse set amid the Chinese city. It’s soft yet dominating light draws attention to itself while creating a sense of a warm inviting interior – and all for about $120 million, a relative bargain.
 
Designed to look like a butterfly, the building follows a similar pattern as its Spanish cousin by mimicking nature, albeit in grand scale. The performing arts center features three venues; the largest is a dedicated music hall seating 2,000 patrons. The 1,100 seat opera hall and 300 seat theatres turn the building into a true multi use performance facility.
 
At Home In The U.S.
 
Walt Disney Concert HallFrank Ghery has established himself as the architect of our age, having two of his performing arts facilities completed this past year. First was the $274 million Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with seating for 2,265 fortunate patrons.
 
This shimmering stainless steel exterior ended up being such a bright beacon for the city of Los Angeles that it is blinding passing motorists and has to be sandblasted in order to remove some of the glare. The building’s acoustics are considered to be among the finest in the world and have established a benchmark for contemporary acoustic design.
 
Pritzker PavilionFly a few hours to the East and you can visit Ghery’s other pioneering stainless steel home; the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, home to the Grant Park Festival orchestra.
 
The outdoor band shell utilizes a first of its kind acoustic amplification system designed to make every seat audibly accessible. With a whopping seating capacity of 11,000 (4,000 seated, 7,000 lawn) the facility is one of the largest classical music venues in the country. The Pavilion, part of the 24.5-acre, $450-million Millennium Park is located in downtown Chicago.
 
Schuster Performing Arts CenterProving that you don’t have to be big or designed by Frank Ghery to make an impression, the interior of the Mead Auditorium at the Schuster Performing Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio features a modern starlit “sky” for a ceiling.
 
Functioning as a convertible multi performance center, the concert hall, designed by Paul Scarborough, seats 2,155 patrons. In an attempt to function to the best of its ability in a mid sized town, the Schuster complex also houses a small office tower. The concert hall portion of the center cost approximately $80 million to build and is home to the Dayton Philharmonic.
 
 
Schermerhorn Symphony CenterMoving toward America’s heartland, construction for the new Schermerhorn Symphony Center started in late 2004. Bucking the contemporary trend in concert hall design, the neo classic (nice name) design was selected to help the building settle in with its Nashville neighbors.
 
But don’t let the classical exterior full you, the 1,900 seat concert hall will feature over 100 computerized lights that can rapidly, and in synchronization, focus, change color and direct their beams to any part of the concert hall.
 
Other unique features include a motorized system which can remove the tiered seats on the orchestra level to reveal a flat 5,400-square-foot hardwood ballroom floor. Thirty soundproof windows will allow natural light to enter the $120 million dedicated concert hall.

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