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Audio Discussions
Topic: Acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall

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Posted by jp on 12-13-2009
Ive attended a half dozen performances this year and I find the acoustics of this hall quite terrible.  Apart from some of the orchestra's lackluster and sloppy performance at times, the sound generally doesnt seem to carry well in this hall.  It sounds washed, the details smeared and there is a general lack of dynamics.  Ive sat in the "prime" orchestra level seats smack in the middle one time and another in the middle off to the side on orchestra level and they were all quite unsatisfying leaving me to feel that I much prefer listening to their live rebroadcast on FM.  I found it odd that it didnt seem to bother the other attendees...

However, I attended the Bruckner 4 performance yesterday with Christoph Dohnanyi as conductor and sat on the first row off to the side and was finally able to hear details, dynamics and much of the nuance that Ive missed before.  It certainly made the experience better, including being able to hear some obvious mistakes by the brass section and poor playing by the flutists... 

These experiences are markedly different from my one experience at Boston Symphony Hall this year when I went to hear Haitink conduct the Brahms Symphony 1 and some yawn inducing piece by Ibert- Flute Concerto.  I was sitting on the top balcony level off to the right side.  The acoustics in this hall was wonderful in comparison. Did it help that I was sitting in the balcony level? Im not sure so I looked up Avery Fisher Hall to find out its history and discovered:

"The seating capacity is large (around 2,600 seats) and the sidewalls are too far apart to provide early reflections to the center seats. The ceiling is high to increase reverberation time but the clouds are too high to reinforce early reflections adequately. The bass is weak because the very large stage does not adequately reinforce the low string instruments."

Well that explained things in part.  In any case, I will be back in Boston a few more times this year, in particular to hear Yo Yo Ma in January, and look forward to attending again.

Posted by Romy the Cat on 12-14-2009


when I was in Avery Fisher Hall I very much did not like the sound of the Hall. I am not a huge fun of sound of Boston Symphony Hall, despite what people commonly say. However it it not a macro-word of the total Hall sound is what important but the micro-word of your specific listening location. If the Avery Fisher Hall is your concert Hall where you most frequently go then you need to invest some time into research where you would like to sit in order to have sound properly balanced for your taste. Soon or later you will discover those locations it will be a few sits here and there. Later on you will discover what are the most desirable locations for in your Hall for you listening the different type of music. It is very possible that piano concertos, cello duos, coral pieces, string symphonies and Mahler and symphonies you would like to hear from very different locations. Then there are the guest conductors and guest performers. You might learn/predict how your home conductor/orchestra would mix the sound of the sections in given music but you would never know what guest would do. In some cases it is a good idea to go for rehearsals and to see what they are trying to do. In a musically-civilized society the rehearsals would be live-broadcastable…

Anyhow, do not blame in bad sound only the Hall’s acoustic – it is partially is your inaptness. A better Hall would give more opportunities to sit in multiple locations but even in bad Hall the good sits still might be there. Yes, do exist the VERY bad halls.

One of the worst examples in history I think is one of the concert halls from the city where I was born – the Odessa Philharmonic Hall.  It was build in 1899 as Odessa Stock Exchange at that time people traded on floor and the demand was to built so that people could not overhear each other's conversations.  He communists after 1917 made in there a … concert hall – how fucking smart! Nowadays  Odessa Philharmonic is trying to present it as “myth” but anyone who ever stood in the floor of that hall know how it sound – you will not able to hear a person 10 sits away – those Italians knew how to build! Anyhow, they have a very good site that describes a lot (obviously very polarized) about the Hall acoustic, including the Russell Johnson research results.

The Cat

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