NEW YORK, USA (AFP) – The New York Philharmonic is preparing to open its brand new venue next month – and it’s not just the instruments that need to strike perfect pitch.
The hall itself undergoes rehearsals, with the famous symphony testing their pieces while acousticians make adjustments to wall and ceiling panels to ensure warm, rich tones.
It’s “almost like going on a sound safari,” says Jaap van Zweden, Music Director of the Philharmonie since 2018. “It’s about reinventing the sound of the orchestra.”
The Dutch-born conductor told AFP that the former hall’s outdated design has for years contributed little to the acoustics produced by the instruments.
But now “they’re getting a lot of sound and beauty back, it’s a bit new to them…this honeymoon between them and the hall is going to take some time.”
Opened in 1962, the $550 million overhaul of the space was accelerated after concerts at David Geffen Hall ceased in March 2020.
As halls across the country went dark, the Philharmonic, in partnership with Lincoln Center — the arts complex on Manhattan’s Upper West Side — finally moved forward with rebuilding their home, talks of which dated back to 1995.
More than 600 construction workers have invested hours at all times, six days a week, working multiple shifts and overtime to transform the building into a state-of-the-art space with improved acoustics and a more accessible design.
The renovation will reduce capacity from 2,738 to 2,200, but visibility will be improved for almost every seat in the house.
And some seating is now positioned behind the orchestra, whose stage is 24 feet (7 meters) from its previous wall location, giving the concerts a surround-sound feel.
The walls have been carefully reconstructed and clad in beech wood, explained chief acoustician Paul Scarbrough, to support the room’s bass frequencies.
Another new feature is an adjustable acoustic canopy: “We were able to fine-tune how much energy is returned to the musicians on the platform so they can hear themselves and play together versus how much is directed to the audience.” said Scarbrough.
“To give them a rich, enveloping experience of the orchestra.”
– New energy’ –
Working with Van Zweden, a team from Acoustics chose a variety of works “that would bring out different colors, textures, timbres and instrumental layers,” Scarbrough said.
Then they began to make subtle adjustments to the properties of the space to perfect the sound quality on stage and in the audience.
Violinist Yulia Ziskel called the experience and design “amazing,” describing how the orchestra members discuss the sound before making any changes to the space, and five minutes later “things would be completely different, suddenly sound different.”
“This hall is flexible enough to accommodate so many different options,” said the musician, who has played with the Phil for 22 seasons.
The hall’s attunement, begun in August, marks a homecoming for the Philharmonic, which has been a nomadic symphony since March 2020.
The pandemic and then major renovation that turned its old venue into a skeleton of itself meant that one of America’s oldest music institutions reopened its subscription season last fall in temporary homes in Lincoln Center’s other spaces.
Ethan Bensdorf, a trumpeter nearing his 15th season with the company, said returning feels like “buying a new pair of jeans.”
“You’re really looking forward to wearing the new jeans, maybe they feel a little stiff at first,” he said. “But the more you get used to them, the more they adapt to your body.”
The public opening of the Philharmonic is scheduled for October 8th and will include a performance of Etienne Charles’ “San Juan Hill”. The subscription season will then begin on October 12 with the premiere of “Oya” by Brazilian conductor Marcos Balter.
“I’m excited to see what the audience will see,” said musician Bensdorf. “That’s why we perform, that’s why we’re musicians, that’s what we get from live music, that’s why live music is so magical.”
“I’m really looking forward to this energy in the hall.”
mdo / wd
© Agence France-Presse