the orchestra world

Acoustics – can you hear me now?

A good article on acoustics for the audience, and how, even in a great hall, where you sit can make a huge difference in what you hear. For example – in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall here in Portland, you spend the most money for the Dress Circle seats, which are in the formost portion of the huge overhanging balcony, but these seats are probably the second worst in the house (after those on the main floor which are underneath the balcony) – they are great for looking, but not necessarily for listening. The best seats for just hearing the overall sound of the orchestra are those waaay up in the nosebleed section, the highest part of the balcony. They’re also cheapest – go figure!

Here’s the link to the Anne Midgette article in the NY Times.

By Charles Noble

I'm the Assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony.

4 replies on “Acoustics – can you hear me now?”

Has there been some modification to the acoustics of the Schnitzer Hall in the last two years? My wife and I have subscribed to the Oregon Symphony classical series since 2000. As pieces get repeated it seems they sound much better the second time around.

We both thought the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Kyoko Takezawa made a much better impression than with Joshua Bell in 2001. Also, the recent Scheherazade was much more dynamic than the last time you played it.

Does the hall have better acoustics or has the orchestra improved? Or has our perception improved though listening?

There haven’t been any really meaningful changes to the hall in the time frame you describe. There has been some tweaking of the shell to help with sound levels and hearing across the stage for those of us who are on stage, but nothing that would really be audible in the seating area proper. Most of what you describe is improvement of the orchestra, and it’s gratifying to hear! The orchestra has made great strides in playing together, playing with a greater dynamic range (mostly soft passages being much softer, and the loudest levels being reserved for when they’re actually demanded by the composer), and the general level of musicianship has gone up tremendously since Carlor Kalmar arrived. Thanks for coming to our concerts – we need more listeners such as yourself!

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