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 A project that Threshold first began working on in 2012, it addressed the outdated design and systems of this 1960s venue, bringing it into the modern era while also dramatically improving the acoustics in Southam Hall.
Renovations to the NAC have included upgrades to equipment that was out-of-date and in need of replacement, with many original components dating back to 1969 when the NAC was built.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.
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:
Video and short blurb on the project via NAC: https://nac-cna.ca/en/stories/story/renewing-the-nacs-performance-halls-and-production-facilities
Video on the seat renovation, etc.: https://nac-cna.ca/en/nac2017/updates/15844