Concert Halls of the Future Face a Tuneup


If Pierre Boulez has his way--and he often does--the concert hall of the future will be a place to spend a weekend day.

“Right now, an orchestra is like a restaurant,” said Boulez, perhaps the 20th century’s most formidable and influential composer-conductor-administrator. “It opens at 8, closes at 10, and what happens the rest of the time is of no interest to the public. But people should be able to come and spend the whole day, the way they do in a museum.”

The orchestral performance in Boulez’s imaginary hall would be just a part of the experience. Visitors could read scores and listen to recordings in an in-house library; watch videos of lectures, operas and past performances; examine displays of musical instruments, and even try out their high-tech descendants; take CD-ROM tours of individual works; attend open rehearsals; or dip into ongoing chamber music concerts of works related to the evening’s program.


Some of that has already begun to happen under Boulez’s aegis and with French government money in the Cite de la Musique, a new musical center in the Parisian suburb of La Villette. And Chicago’s recently renovated Symphony Center includes a children’s room full of computers and music games.

In Rome, the city’s long-homeless philharmonic, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, will soon move into a new complex that includes an outdoor amphitheater (doubling as an ice-skating rink), restaurants and a museum of musical instruments.

It may seem self-evident that a concert hall should be for music, but the past three decades have seen a proliferation of auditoriums designed to accommodate shows for every taste such as pop concerts, kids’ shows, acrobats and jazz.

The new halls, by contrast, will be dedicated to symphony orchestras, with acoustics designed to their specifications and with ancillary activities taking place in other buildings. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra got more living space of its own last year, and by early in the next century, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pacific Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra will too. Orchestras that live in sumptuous old halls are getting them refurbished: Chicago’s Symphony Center and the Kennedy Center’s orchestral auditorium were recently overhauled. The Cleveland Orchestra’s Severance Hall is next.

On the other hand, said Gary Hanson, the associate executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, who has toured auditoriums all over the world, “The concert hall of the future will be smaller.”

Once, the symphony orchestra’s unique appeal lay in its ability to deliver massive rumbles and gut-punching chords. Today, even the scrappiest garage-band rockers can command great volume at low cost, and what is most exciting about a symphony orchestra (or a string quartet or solo piano) is the ability to achieve feather-stroke levels of quiet.


“The live music experience is becoming more about intimacy than about grandeur,” Hanson said, capping the size of the ideal hall at roughly 2,000 seats (compared with 2,800 in Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall).

It’s not size, now, but suppleness that is the new Holy Grail, and the concert hall of the immediate future, Carnegie Hall’s just-begun “third stage,” will be a space that can quickly metamorphose from recital hall to rehearsal space to full-fledged theater to classroom. The 640-seat underground auditorium, located under the existing hall and slated to open during the 2001-02 season, will have movable floors and detachable seats, so that performers can be placed on a traditional proscenium, on a raised platform in the center of the hall, or anywhere on a plain, flat floor.

Part of the challenge in designing and updating a concert hall is to keep one step ahead of Silicon Valley and be able to accommodate each new technology. It is lost on no one that Lincoln Center, the showcase hall of the early 1960s, was built fully wired--for black-and-white television. At Carnegie Hall, officials envision being able to broadcast nightly concerts live over the Internet and conduct music classes in New York that are available to students in Nebraska.