Spotlight: National Arts Centre

Spotlight: National Arts Centre

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Major upgrades and a new orchestra shell at the National Arts Centre

September was an exciting month at Threshold Acoustics, as the National Arts Centre (NAC) opened its newly renovated hall. A project that Threshold first began working on in 2012, it addressed the outdated design and systems of this 1960s venue, bringing it into the modern era while also dramatically improving the acoustics in Southam Hall.

Renovations to the NAC have included upgrades to equipment that was out-of-date and in need of replacement, with many original components dating back to 1969 when the NAC was built. New lighting, audio-visual systems, rigging, and infrastructure improved the functionality and usability of Southam Hall. Renovated front-of-house spaces were designed an eye towards how modern audiences use the spaces compared to fifty years ago.

The highlight of the work at NAC is the stunning new orchestra shell in Southam Hall, which opened in September with a Beethoven Festival by the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Working closely with the architects to make the shell look like a part of the room rather than a separate piece of stage scenery, the shell is visually stunning. The new design incorporated a darker ceiling and lighter walls, a change from the previous black walls, which pulls the focus onto the orchestra musicians and their performance rather than the white of musicians’ shirts and sheet music pages.

 A before (left) and after (right) of the new orchestra shell

A before (left) and after (right) of the new orchestra shell

But the visuals are nothing compared to the acoustic impact that the new shell has had on the orchestra’s sound in Southam Hall. Changes in flooring and replacement of seats in the theater had already improved the acoustic environment in the concert hall, but the shell has made the most major and dramatic impact.

“The new orchestra shell and the extensive production renewal work that has taken place in the NAC will dramatically improve the experience for both artists and audience alike,” said NAC President and CEO Christopher Deacon.

Modern concert halls are multifunctional – not only presenting the symphony orchestra, but also ballet, opera, touring shows, speakers, and with a myriad of other multi-purpose uses. For this reason, extra panels were added that move and rotate to bring in a proscenium when needed. But in addition to these other uses, the need to take into account the modern-day symphony orchestra’s programming was a key component of the design. While classical music is core to the orchestra’s programming, the NAC Orchestra also presents pops, casual Friday series, visual projection needs, and interactive presentations from the stage.

Acoustically, the shell gives the orchestra an instrument that enhances their artistry and connects them with the audience in a way that hasn’t been experienced in Southam Hall. Working with Diamond Schmitt Architects and Fisher Dachs Associates, the new shell took 18 months to design and manufacture, with subsequent installation and testing to tune the shell with the orchestra.

The opening concerts of the NAC Orchestra in its new shell highlighted the range and skill of the orchestra in its first concerts of the season to great success. “NACO finally has the hall it deserves”, remarked Natasha Gauthier of Artsfile.

For more news and information on the NAC’s renovations and the new orchestra shell in Southam Hall, visit:

Significant Modern Theatres: Disney Concert Hall by Carl Giegold

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“From most places in the hall, it is easy to feel a part of the concentric gathering around the performers, and the effect is warm, social, and satisfying.”

How has LA’s Disney Concert Hall challenged architects and designers to think differently about performance space architecture? Threshold Acoustics partner Carl Giegold takes us through the history, the challenges, and the dynamic result of this groundbreaking concert hall in the quarterly publication of Theatre Design & Technology.

Survey Says... An Exploration into the Effect of Noise on Audiences in an Outdoor Music Pavilion

Paper written by Shane Jerome Kanter, consultant

Introduction

As designers of venues for performance, we spend a considerable amount of time and effort on creating spaces suitable for performance: spaces in which performances can be enjoyed by performers and patrons alike. A large sum of the effort embedded within the design is concerned with maintaining a low background noise level while the acoustically critical spaces are in use. The typical noise sources within concert halls, such as mechanical systems and light fixtures, are predictable and controllable. Just as background noise is inferential, audience noise within the common classical music venue is generally understood and under control. When one imagines seeing the symphony, images of finely dressed individuals sitting quietly in rows of a concert hall are conjured. Once architectural elements such as wall, roofs, and seats are removed, and events are free to the public, ambient noise and audience noise are looser variables. With the use of an audience survey, the impact of outdoor/city noise and audience noise on the experience of concert goers was explored at a The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (Chicago, IL) in order to answer the following questions:

  1. How noticeable was the ambient noise (city noise, traffic, etc.) during the performance?

  2. Did the ambient noise have an effect on the performance experience?

  3. How noticeable was the audience noise (other patrons chatting, drinking/eating, etc.) during the performance?

  4. Did the audience noise have an effect on the performance experience?

Information about the Pritzker Pavilion pertinent to this exploration:

  • Location – Downtown Chicago

  • Seats – 11,000 people in three seating sections

    • Paid section of fixed seating (~1,700 seats) for those who paid for tickets or hold paid season tickets.

    • Free section of fixed seating (~2,300 seats) which requires those who want seats to arrive early to secure a spot.

    • Free lawn section (~7,000 seats) for anyone interested in a free concert or

  • Home to Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Grant Park Music Festival - free music series

  • Wide range of music: Mainstream rock bands to classical musicians and opera singers

Overview of results:

The survey was distributed at 3 concerts for a total sample size of 473 responses. When analyzing the overall data trends across all respondents, ambient noise (city noise, traffic, etc.) was reported as mostly non/slightly noticeable, and had no impact (positive nor negative) on the patrons experience. The audience noise (other patrons chatting, drinking/eating, etc.) was reported to be slightly more noticeable, and had a slightly more negative effect on the concert going experience. 

This aligns with our general findings when gathering anecdotal comments. For the most part, city noise is understood and expected during performances because it is a part of the experience of enjoying outdoor entertainment in the heart of a bustling city.

Results by Seating Location:

When dicing the data up by seating location, it became more apparent that where one sits corresponds directly to both noticeability of noise sources, and the impact of the noise sources on one’s experience. On the data below, brighter colors correspond to greater percentages of respondents.

Ambient noise was found to be more noticeable with a greater negative effect in the fixed portion of seats. Along with that, audience noise was reported to more noticeable in the lawn, yet positively affected the patron’s experience. When walking around the site during a performance, it is clear that those in the fixed seats, and closer to the front of the lawn are much more tuned into the musicians on stage, whereas those from about 2/3rds of the way into the lawn and back are more focused on spending time with those accompanying them to the performance than the performance on stage. This trend in behavior is apparent in the survey data.

Results by Reported Age:

Dividing the results granularly by specified age show some interesting outcomes. Generally, trends (shown by thick bright green lines) show that as patrons age, ambient noise become more noticeable and both ambient and audience noise more negatively affect the concert experience. Younger concert goers even report that both the ambient and audience noise positively affected the event.

While combing through this data, we analyzed several metrics. Only those showing clear and meaningful data trends are reported. In this profession, we spend hundreds of hours on each individual project. The end goal of this effort is to yield a high quality, enjoyable experience for those who have an opportunity to experience the finished space. We do our best to maintain an understanding of the impact a venue has on concert goers, but rarely have a chance to reach such a large group that this exploration granted. With thanks to The Pritzker Pavilion staff and management, and Threshold staff, we were able to gather a great understanding for how audiences enjoy attending outdoor concerts.

After digging through piles of data we think about the human aspect behind survey responses. A key takeaway from this exercise is not to forget that at its heart, the concert-going experience is a social one where spectacle or performance is the inspiration that brings people together. While we believe that it is still appropriate to provide a venue where the experience can be shared with greater focus placed on the artist, the beauty of the festival environment, or the outdoor experience, especially at Pritzker, is not that the event has been lessened by the environment, but that the spectacle of the venue itself elevates the presentation of the art. It can be seen and felt as larger than life, lifted over the din, not just to be louder, but intensifying the sense of enclosure with a presence that carries the crowd along. Whatever the reason, they do come back again and again. Perhaps there are moments when the conversation lulls, and the performers reach in and stir something in the soul of the city.

Announcing Our Principals

Threshold Acoustics partners Dawn Schuette, Scott Pfeiffer, and Carl Giegold are delighted to announce the promotion of Constance WalkerRobin Glosemeyer Petrone, and Gregory Miller to principals of the company. All three of them continue to manage projects; all of them look far beyond their consulting roles to contribute to the quality and vibrancy of our practice; and all of them embody the combination of expertise, dedication, and wit that leadership of a company demands and that make them a pleasure to be around.