Quietness, Comfortable Sound and Excellent Acoustics NAGATA ACOUSTICS


News 07-01 (No.229)

Issued :January 25, 2007

[ Japanese Version ]

Mariinsky Concert Hall Opens

by Dr. Yasuhisa Toyota


Interior of Mariinsky Concert Hall

On November 29, 2006, the new concert hall that has been under construction in St. Petersburg, Russia held its official opening. (Previously, I wrote about this project in the May, 2005 News & Opinions.) The new, mid-size hall seats 1,100 and is part of a campus of buildings belonging to the Mariinsky Theatre, led by Artistic Director Valery Gergiev. The hall will primarily be the venue for chamber music, solo recitals and other concerts by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra (also known abroad as the Kirov Orchestra), which will use the new facility as its home hall. Guest performances by other ensembles and musicians are also planned. The concert hall's architect is the Paris firm of Fabre, Speller, Pumain Architects. The Russian general contractor NEVISS-Complex built the facility.

<< From Calamity to New Concert Hall in 22 Months >>

The Mariinsky Concert Hall project had its inception in an incident that occurred in September 2003. A Mariinsky Theatre warehouse located a few blocks from the theater caught fire, destroying almost all of the theater's sets and costumes. Artistic Director Gergiev turned this calamity into a true "blessing in disguise" with his visionary idea to construct a concert hall on the site of the destroyed warehouse building.

At present, the land immediately adjacent to the Mariinsky Theatre awaits the building of a new opera house (seating 2000 and designed by architect Dominique Perrault). This project is currently in the design phase and is known as the "Mariinsky 2" project. To distinguish the concert hall project from the new opera house, the concert hall project came to be called "Mariinsky 3."

Because the Mariinsky 2 project is a development under the auspices of the Russian government, all of its progress is subject to the procedures and rules of an organization with a large administrative structure. The processes that must be followed can be time consuming. For the Mariinsky 3 project, Artistic Director Gergiev directly solicited private donations as the sources of funding.

The design period for Mariinsky 3 lasted eight months, from August 2004 to April 2005. The scheduled construction period of May 2005 to June 2006 provided a mere 14 months to complete the building, an aggressively fast timeline that usually would be considered out-of-the-question. Work proceeded with round-the-clock shifts, even during the winter months. Activity on the construction site could be seen 24 x 7, morning, noon and night. In June 2006, while the project was not fully complete, some 90% of construction was finished, and the orchestra was able to check the acoustics with a rehearsal on the hall's stage. Thereafter, five more months of "finishing touches" enabled the hall to hold its official opening in November, 2006.

<< Overview of the New Concert Hall >>


Fig-1 Plan of Mariinsky Concert Hall


Fig-2 Longitudinal section of Mariinsky Concert Hall

The new concert hall's dimensions measure 22 m. (72 ft) wide, 52 m. (171 ft) long and 14.5 m. (48 ft) from the stage floor to the ceiling. Longitudinal section and plan of the hall can be seen in the Figures 1 and 2. While the hall's configuration basically has a shoebox shape, we made room for many seats around the stage area and gave considerable slope to the first floor's main seating area, two room design elements that distinguish this hall's configuration from the configurations of halls known throughout the world as the exemplars of the shoebox shape. The steep slope of the hall's first floor main seating area enables a large portion of the audience to view the entire stage, one of the room design's goals. The sloped floor also creates a feeling of oneness between stage and audience areas and contributes to the sense of presence experienced in the hall.

The hall's interior uses wood throughout the hall, for the ceiling, walls and floor. From an acoustical perspective, the ubiquitous use of wood in the hall interior created a challenge for us to obtain the requisite surface mass. In particular, for the ceiling's wood material, we resolved this need by specifying a thickness of as much as 20 cm. (8 in.).

During the construction phase, we installed a total of 230 sq. m. (2500 sq. ft) of perforated board panels backed with absorbent glass wool on the hall interior's walls. However, for these panels, we used an installation approach that would allow us to remove the panels at a later date and we reserved our final decision regarding the optimal amount of sound absorbing surface area until the orchestra began rehearsing in the hall and we could use actual listening and other methods to make the most informed assessment. In the end, we removed almost all of the sound absorbing panels, leaving only the upholstered audience seating as the sole sound absorbing elements in the hall. When the hall is unoccupied, its reverberation time measures 2.1 seconds (at 500 Hz) and, based on this measurement, we expect a reverberation time of 1.9 seconds (at 500 Hz) when the hall is fully occupied.

<< Pre-opening Listening Opportunities and the Hall's Opening Night >>

In advance of the hall's official opening, I listened to a full range of test performances, including string instrument, wind instrument and piano soloists, male vocalists and female vocalists, ensemble performances and then full orchestra performances. Through these listening opportunities, I confirmed that from the solo pianissimo of a harp or string instrument to the full orchestra's fortissimo, and for every variation of ensemble configuration in-between, the hall exhibits a high level of acoustical performance both in terms of the sound volume produced in the hall and the its overall appropriateness as the venue for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal configurations.

The hall's fundamental ability to resonate means that the music robustly reaches every audience seat, and while the hall's sound gives the sense of richly and warmly filling the hall's space, the sound produced by ensembles has clarity, with every instrument distinctly heard. On stage, as well, the musicians report that they can hear themselves and their fellow players well. Maestro Gergiev has also let us know that we successfully satisfied his hopes and expectations.

The new concert hall's opening concert began with Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol, followed by the compositions of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, in a nearly 3-hour-long program of Russian composers' works that culminated in a finale of Stravinsky's ballet music, L'Oiseau de Feu . For the immediate present, the hall will offer two to three concerts each month, and plans to gradually increase the frequency of performances so that, by this year's St. Petersburg "Stars of the White Nights Festival," in June, the new concert hall's calendar will be fully booked.

Inter-Noise 2006 Congress

by Toshiko Fukuchi


Global Noise Policy Workshop

The International Congress and Exposition of Noise Control Engineering (Inter-Noise) is held annually at changing locations around the world. This year, the Institute of Noise Control Engineering-Japan and the Institute of Noise Control Engineering-USA co-organized the event, which took place for three days, from December 4 to 6, 2006, at Hawaii's Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. On the days immediately preceding the congress, from November 28 to December 2, I attended the 4th joint meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the Acoustical Society of Japan, also held in Honolulu, making the entire week a succession of major gatherings of acoustical engineering professionals.

The day prior to the first sessions, the congress activities began with Opening Ceremonies in one of the hotel's grand conference rooms, followed by the Opening Reception on the hotel's Diamond Head Lawn. The reception included hula dancers and traditional Hawaiian music as entertainment, creating a colorful party atmosphere.

The Inter-Noise Congress presenters delivered research papers on a broad range of noise and vibration topics, including results of surveys on many varieties of noise sources, noise and vibration mitigation and prevention strategies and methodologies, and reports on the specifications and characteristics of sound isolation and acoustical building materials. These presentations were spread across a total of 24 sessions and numbered some 680 presentations, including three Distinguished Lectures by specially invited guest speakers.

At one of the general sessions, Nagata Acoustics' Chiaki Ishiwata presented a paper entitled "Results of Field Measurements of Generated Sound of Japanese Drum 'Taiko' and Consideration Towards its Sound Isolation." The presentation covered the perceived transfer of sound into other rooms in addition to sharing findings based on measurements taken, on site, during Taiko drumming practice sessions and performances.

Under the auspices of the International Institute of Noise Control Engineering (I-INCE), engineers come together at the international level to jointly study specific noise engineering subjects and concerns in Technical Study Groups (TSGs). Currently, there are six TSGs pursuing selected noise engineering topics. Another initiative promoting international standards across national borders was the Global Noise Policy Workshop, which took place on the first day of the congress. Engineers representing nine different countries presented reports on noise control regulations in their countries, followed by a question-and-answer discussion period. During this workshop, a spokesperson from the Japanese Ministry of the Environment delivered a report on Japanese environmental standards and noise control regulations. Since each of the workshop's participants have the perspective and background of their own countries' standards, the workshop's Q-and-A discussion period proved to be a very lively exchange of ideas. By continuing to pursue workshops such as this one, the result will be that the noise control standards set by countries around the world will come to reflect broadly recognized and accepted standards achieved through the collaboration and healthy debate of the professionals who attend these kinds of workshops.

In addition to the programs promoting international professional exchanges, the congress provided space for exhibitors of noise and vibration measurement devices and sound isolation and anti-vibration materials vendors to display their products. These vendor booths were a popular destination for large numbers of congress attendees on every day of the event.

The congress dates preceded the Honolulu Marathon by one week and wherever I went around town, I saw runners preparing themselves for the race. The season's weather was exactly as one would want it to be, and I found that a walk on the beach at Waikiki really hits the spot for bringing refreshment to both ears and mind after a long conference day.

Out-of-print Book Review: Grand Opera, The Story of the World's Leading Opera Houses and Personalities, edited by Anthony Gishford

by Makoto Ino

For my daily commute to the Nagata Acoustics Tokyo office, I take the subway to the closest station, which is Hongo 3-chome. Near this station is a used bookstore named Daigakudo. According to Dr. Nagata, the store's original location was just outside Tokyo University's Akamon gate.

At Daigakudo, many of the books for sale fall into the category of either popular culture or the arts. The shop's owner laments the decreasing number of students who come to buy used books, while the store fills with people who look the other way and stand reading the books and plowing through the piles of old magazines without making a purchase. The practice of standing in a bookstore and reading an un-purchased book or magazine is a decades-old Japanese habit, so common that it has its own verb: tachiyomi-suru, and is a practice that continues unabated and connected to declines in used-book sales.

Among Daigakudo's used books, I found the volume Grand Opera, The Story of the World's Leading Opera Houses, edited by Anthony Gishford (Japanese translation by Atsushi Miura and Genri Nakagawa, published by Ongaku-No-Tomo-Sha). Since this book was published in 1975, it is only available from used booksellers. Nevertheless, it presents the history of opera from the perspective of the world's opera houses and garnered my interest strongly enough that I decided to share a summary of some of its pages with Nagata Acoustics News & Opinions' readers.

<< Opera's Origins and Delayed Introduction to Japan >>

According to this book, opera dates to the latter years of the Renaissance, at the end of the 16th century. Opera was born out of the philosophical debates and experimentation of the Florentine Camerata movement's poets and musicians. At exactly this time in history, in Japan, Izumo no Okuni is said to have begun performing the dance form that evolved into the Kabuki genre, which also combines highly dramatic theater with music and dance.

Japan's period of the Warring States was coming to an end and the stability of the Edo Period (1603-1867) was in the process of being extended throughout the country. While the opera genre of the western world prospered and flourished during the next several hundred years, once the Shoguns of the Edo Period consolidated their control, they closed Japan to the outside world with the sakoku foreign policy of national isolation, effectively stopping all commerce and intercultural communication with the West. Japanese arts lovers' first opportunity to discover and develop appreciation for opera and western classical music came with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The first recorded opera staged in Japan was a performance of Gounod's Faust in 1894. Thereafter, more than one hundred years passed before the 1997 opening of Japan's New National Theatre in Tokyo, containing Japan's first hall specifically designed for opera.

<< Common Elements of Opera House History in Europe >>

Throughout Europe, opera spread across the continent because royalty in each country ordered the construction of palace opera houses. Opera began as an entertainment form exclusively enjoyed by aristocrats and people of great wealth. Most of the palace opera houses were small-scale theaters that seated 700 to 800 guests. From the middle of the 18th century and continuing into the start of the 19th century, the industrial revolution brought many changes to European society and average citizens acquired the desire and means to attend opera performances. Naples' San Carlo Opera House, Milan's La Scala, the Berlin and Dresden opera houses, Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Vienna Staatsoper, and Paris' Palais Garnier all date to this period. These opera houses have seating for more than 1,500 and, typically, have seat counts in the range of 2,000 seats or more. La Scala's first building, built in 1778, boasted the extremely large seating capacity of 3,500.

Venice's Teatro La Fenice ("The Phoenix"), which opened in 1792, already used a design competition to select the architect for its building project. As opera house architects came into the limelight, the halls they designed became targets for sometimes vitriolic judgment and criticism from monarchs and regular citizens alike, and some architects' opera house designs apparently even led to their untimely deaths.

Before electric lighting became the norm, opera houses used candles and oil lamps to light their interiors, which inevitably resulted in many opera houses repeatedly sustaining damage from fire and needing to be rebuilt. Germany's and Italy's opera houses suffered damage from bombs and fire during World War II, and even New York's Metropolitan Opera House burned to the ground in 1892 and needed to be rebuilt. The cycle of fire damage and reconstruction pervades the stories of the world's opera houses.

At the start of the 20th century, the preponderance of European monarchies breathed their last moments. Then came World War I, revolutions, the Great Depression and other economic and social upheavals. The West's great opera houses dodged the vicissitudes of history to endure and prosper.

<< The Place of Artistic Directors in Opera House History >>

Editor Anthony Gishford's work also delves deeply into the stories of the composers and conductors who played significant roles in the histories of the West's great opera houses. The book gives so much detail about specific individuals' connections to each of the great opera houses that I could not begin to document even a portion of the information here.

Among all of the kinds of people mentioned in this book, I particularly noted the important role played by the opera house musical directors and artistic directors. Opera house history can be seen as the chronicles of royalty and aristocratic patrons being consulted, advised, and perhaps even cajoled about everything from fundraising to the commissioning of new compositions. Opera houses require decisions on forming and nurturing orchestras, finding and retaining singers, and ordering and overseeing the creation and building of stage sets. All of these activities come under the responsibility of competent opera house managers, with the title of musical director or artistic director. The individuals in this role have sustained the entire operation of opera houses for some 400 years.

Since opera may be the ultimate confluence of performing arts genres, it makes sense to me that it often takes the combination of a person of natural genius and the authority of a dictator-like role to make an opera house and company successful. Of course, in our day and age, this is extremely difficult to achieve.

The original 1972 edition of Grand Opera was published under the imprint of Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London.


Nagata Acoustics Inc.
Hongo Segawa Bldg. 3F, 2-35-10
Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033 Japan
Tel: +81-3-5800-2671, Fax: +81-3-5800-2672

(US Office)
2130 Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 307A,
Los Angeles, CA 90025, U.S.A.
Telephone: (310) 231-7818
Fax: (310) 231-7816

E-mail: info@nagata.co.jp

[ Japanese Version ]