Philharmonic Fisher Geffen (?) Hall
Many years ago I was a young, wide-eyed conducting student who learned how to sneak into NY Philharmonic rehearsals (something that is pretty unlikely these days), and saw Bernstein, Szell, Boulez, Steinberg and others rehearse the orchestra in what was then Philharmonic Hall. I didn't have much to compare it with at the time - my travels had not yet taken me to the many dozens of other halls I've since experienced - but I knew that it simply did not compare to Carnegie, where you could feel the double basses in your feet. Philharmonic Hall wasn't too bad when it was empty, but it was obviously problematic with an audience in it.
Flash forward a number of years, after I had done several tours, visited some of Europe's great halls, and heard performances in such acoustically better places such as Orchestra Hall in Detroit, Severance Hall, Benaroya Hall, Symphony Hall in Boston, Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Symphony Center in Milwaukee, and many others including many of the great opera houses. I was in New York during the summer, and attended a Mostly Mozart concert (I think it was still Avery Fisher Hall at the time); they had done something interesting, covering up the bottom level of the seats in the center of the hall and placing the orchestra there, with seating on the stage. The sound was pretty good, I thought - certainly much better than in the standard configuration.
So, the recently announced major reconfiguration of Philharmonic/Fisher/Geffen/? is promising, since moving the orchestra out into the hall is a central feature (in two ways!). Also promising is the idea that very few seats will be far away from the stage...I learned over the years not to sit in any of the main balconies there, where the performance seemed to be coming from the next county. Let's hope that the renovations have the desired effect - great orchestras deserve great halls.
In a future blog, I'll talk about some of my particular experiences with the acoustics of halls.