Acoustics in Music Hall

Music Hall is world renowned for its superb acoustics. Artists who've performed on Music Hall's stage and praised the acoustics, include Beverly Sills, Roberta Peters, James Levine, and Arthur Fiedler.

Each person who sits in the audience for Cincinnati Symphony, and Pops and other performances has his or her favorite location, but it's often said that the best sound comes from sitting in the gallery.

Until recently, the classical recording company Telarc International recorded the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops orchestras in the hall. (The label's contract with the CSO wasn't renewed due to financial concerns.)

It seems that the acoustics in Music Hall work for everyone -- except the orchestra. Musicians have long grappled with the way they heard each other, and themselves, and have had to work to adjust their performances to compensate. The way the sound travels in Music Hall, those musicians who sit behind the proscenium wall experience a delay in hearing the sound of those who are positioned in front.

In 1997, the CSO, through a generous grant from Mrs. Louise Nippert, installed a new acoustic shell to help distribute the sound more effectively. The shell consists of towers and canopies that contain ''coffers''. These coffers work both to reflect sound out into the hall as well as back onto the stage for the musicians.

Still the musicians found that sound problems continued. Even visiting orchestras were affected by the sound, forcing their members to crowd onto the stage in front of the curtain line to play in, and hear, the sound which they usually heard in their respective halls.

Research conducted by SPMH Vice President, and CSO violist, Robert Howes, sheds much light on the on-stage acoustical problems.

In the late 1870s, Springer Auditorium was built to accommodate choruses, as well as meetings and the occasional exposition. In the 1895 remodeling, the purposes expanded to include operas and then concerts. Each of these purposes has distinct acoustic needs; in fact, Music Hall is the only facility in the world that is still used for all these purposes. Most major orchestras have built their own facilities.

For the 1895 renovation, architect Samuel Hannaford, working with a small budget and under orders to keep the same number of seats, came up with the idea of two prosceniums: the ornate proscenium that audiences see when they are in the hall, and a smaller proscenium further backstage from the more visible one.

When the orchestra played on stage, the configuration was such that the strings and woodwinds -- because they were in front of the proscenium -- were in a different acoustic environment than the rest of the orchestra.

In 2009, after much discussion, among themselves and with Music Director Paavo Järvi, the musicians moved further downstage, toward the audience. This helped to some degree. At this writing, the issue is on hold, pending the revitalization of Music Hall. The work being planned for the auditorium will affect the acoustics, but the CSO is working with an acoustician to make sure that any change is positive for both the audience and the orchestra.

RELATED INFORMATION

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchesta has a great webpage devoted to the renovation of Music Hall.

Artec, the company that designs and plans performing arts facilities, installed a new acoustical shell in Music Hall for the CSO in 1997. Read about their work in Music Hall.

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