Quietness, Comfortable Sound and Excellent Acoustics NAGATA ACOUSTICS

News 11-02 (No.278)

Issued : February 25, 2011

[ Japanese Version ]

New World Symphony's Home Hall Opens in Miami

By Yasuhisa Toyota

NWS performing world premiere of Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra (music by Thomas Ades and film by Tal Rosner) copyright Rui Dias-Adios
NWS performing world premiere of
Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra
(music by Thomas Adès and film by Tal Rosner)
copyright Rui Dias-Adios

On January 25, 2011, in Miami, Florida, a new concert hall for the New World Symphony (NWS) held its gala opening celebration and the first night of a series of inaugural concerts. The NWS is the United States' only full-time orchestral academy, where the best-of-the-best of promising young graduates from music universities and conservatories get to spend three years perfecting their artistry before becoming members of professional orchestras.

Officially named "New World Center", the new concert hall building has a 756-seat concert hall that the NWS will use on a daily basis, plus an assortment of 30 coaching rooms, ensemble rooms and technical suites of varying sizes. Architect Frank Gehry (Gehry Partners, LLP) conceived the architectural design, Theatre Projects Consultants (TPC) provided theatre equipment design and specification services, and Nagata Acoustics served as the project's acoustical consultant from the design phase through the completion of the project.

Our readers can find details about this project's programming and basic design in an article I wrote in the Nagata Acoustics February, 2008 newsletter, shortly after the building's architectural design completed. Here I will briefly summarize highlights of the design.

  1. The hall combines a stage that accommodates a full-scale orchestra configuration with an audience seating area of 756 seats, a seat count typical of a small scale hall.
  2. The audience seating surrounds the orchestra in an arena configuration.
  3. Five large white wall surfaces set above the audience seating make it possible to project lighting and other images that can be seen by the entire audience. (The hall has 11 projectors.)
  4. A portion of the stage and the orchestra-level seating can be raised or lowered to either stage or seating floor height, maximizing the layout's flexibility.
  5. In addition to the main stage, the hall has four small satellite stages interspersed with the audience seating. These stages will be used for programs that include solos or small ensembles performing simultaneously with each other and/or musicians on the main stage, and can also be used for consecutive performances.

<<Performances on Satellite Stages and a Music & Movie Collaboration >>

New World Center Wallcast trade mark  Copyright Tomas Loewy
New World Center Wallcast™
Copyright Tomas Loewy

The hall's inaugural concerts, under the artistic direction of the NWS founder Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, spanned three days of ambitious and varied programming that showcased the hall's features and equipment. On the first evening, 11 string, woodwind and brass musicians placed themselves on the small satellite stages located amidst the audience seating to perform the prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 2, using an arrangement scored especially for this inaugural concert. The acoustical effect of locating the performers on the small stages gave new meaning to the term "surround sound" and the beauty of the sound that flowed through the hall during this performance truly took my breath away.

Among the works performed on the second day of inaugural events, the world premiere of Thomas Adès' "Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra" was particularly noteworthy because of the movie collaboration that accompanied the music performance. The movie, produced specifically for this collaboration, was projected onto the five large walls above the hall's audience seating. This kind of combined music and visual concert offers one possible evolutionary path for orchestral performances. The combined music and movie collaboration was jointly commissioned by several orchestras, including, among others, the New York Philharmonic. It will be interesting to see how the movie portion of the performance will be implemented in the halls of the other orchestras that commissioned the work.

The third day's inaugural program bore the title "A Schubert Journey". The NWS prepared an extensive sampling of the composer's works, spanning the genres of Lied, piano composition, chamber music, choral works and orchestral pieces. This marathon concert lasted three hours, punctuated by two intermissions. The program made full use of both the main stage and the small, satellite stages as musicians seated on one stage played a portion of a Schubert piece, such as one movement from one of his symphonies, and then another group of musicians, seated on another stage, continued the program with a portion of a different composition. The experimental manner of staging "A Schubert Journey" gave the audience a taste of how the new hall can be used.

<<Wagner and Copland Showcase the Acoustical Value of the Hall's High-ceiling Design >>

This project's key acoustical challenge came from the hall's combination of a small, 756-seat audience seating area with a stage that accommodates large-scale orchestra configurations. We specified an extremely high ceiling height for a hall that seats on the order of 750 persons. Above the stage, the ceiling height soars to 15 m. (49 ft), a height commensurate with the ceiling height of halls that seat on the order of 2,000 persons, such as Los Angeles' Walt Disney Hall.

The acoustical value of implementing such a high ceiling was perhaps most apparent on the second day of concerts, during the performances of Wagner's Overture to the Flying Dutchman and Copland's Symphony No. 3. During both of these works the hall proved that it graciously delivers the rich acoustics of a full orchestra. I found that the hall handles the range of dynamics from pianissimo to fortissimo with ease.

Based on these full-orchestra performances, I'd suggest that the NWS will benefit from becoming more familiar with this new hall. After all, these are young musicians and they gave the impression of performing at full power. They can produce this same sound volume while easing up a bit. Being able to do so should be simply a matter of time as the performers become comfortable in the new hall. With the short duration of just two months from the completion of construction to opening night, the full orchestra had only a few rehearsals before the NWS performed the inaugural concerts. As the NWS continues to practice and use the hall, the orchestra will make it their own. It takes some time for an orchestra, and especially one full of young artists, to perfect the sound in its home hall.

<<Media Attention >>

The hall's inaugural concerts drew attention from U.S. east coast mass media outlets, including reporters and music critics from New York and Washington, D.C. Perhaps because Miami, Florida is about as far away from my native Japan as anywhere on the globe, a Japanese mass media presence at the concerts was conspicuously absent.

However, I do know of one Japanese woman who came all the way from Japan for the inaugural concerts. Her name is Hiroe Ushio, and she is a huge fan of Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas. Ms. Ushio publishes aJapanese Web site about Maestro Thomas and his other orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). Through her loyal dedication to Maestro Thomas and the SFS, she has established a direct connection with the SFS and she provides Japanese readers with timely and official information about the SFS' activities. This time, she flew to Miami for the hall's inaugural concerts and wrote in detail about the events. As a result, even "half-way around the world" in Japan, classical music lovers can read the full story of the opening concerts of the NWS' New World Center Hall.

Nara's Todaiji Cultural Center Completed

By Nobuhiko Hattori

Kinsho Hall
Kinsho Hall
Kinsho Hall

In 2010, Japan's Nara Prefecture enjoyed attention from media and tourists as it marked 1,300 years since the 710 CE establishment of the ancient Heijo Capital. In the autumn of that year of celebration the new Todaiji Cultural Center opened on the grounds of Nara's most famous sightseeing destination, Todaiji Temple.

<<Overview of the Cultural Center Building >>

The new cultural center is located adjacent to Todaiji Temple's Great South Gate on land under the temple's administration. Before the construction of the cultural center project, a private middle school and high school run by the temple stood on the cultural center's site. The cultural center project included building a new exhibit hall and storage facility and renovating the schools' gymnasium (originally designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa) for use as an auditorium.

The exhibit hall and storage facility house the temple's collection of Japanese national treasures, such as Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu statues and officially designated Important Cultural Properties. The new building has three areas: a space for exhibits open to the public designed with special attention to its ability to structurally withstand earthquakes; a storage facility for parts of the temple's collection not on display; and a library. The systems that control the interior environment of this part of the cultural center, such as its temperature, humidity and lighting are currently being tested and adjusted toward a planned opening date in autumn, 2011, one year after the completion of construction.

The architectural firm Archivision designed the new cultural center and Obayashi Construction served as the general contractor. Nagata Acoustics participated as the acoustical consultant for the auditorium.

<< Acoustical Design of Kinsho Hall >>

The planned uses of the renovated auditorium, which is named Kinsho Hall and has an audience capacity of 321 seats, include ceremonies, presentations and lectures, as well as video showings about the temple's collection. In addition, the auditorium will be used by local schools and other community groups for musical recitals. To accommodate these diverse uses, we specified three new deployable or retractable features. On the stage, we added a sound reflection panel system and a screen for video showings. Along the walls of the windows of the audience seating area side walls, we installed blackout roller shades.

Acoustical Design Elements on the Stage

In particular, because of the narrow dimensions of the room's original stage, we devised a sound reflection panel system that minimizes the need for storage space. The side portions of the sound reflection panel system have wing curtains attached to their reverse sides so that, by simply rotating these panels, they become part of the stage curtain configuration and require no storage space. Also, at the rear of the stage, we installed a rail along the ceiling for sliding the stage's rear sound reflection panel into place, using a design similar to designs for room dividers.

Sliding this rear sound reflection panel to its storage area reveals, at the rear of the stage, a permanently installed altar that has sides carved with Buddhist imagery. Encountering the altar at the rear of the stage makes the visitor truly aware of being on the grounds of Todaiji Temple.

Acoustical Design Elements of the Audience Seating Area

In the portion of the gymnasium building where the renovations transformed the space into the auditorium's audience seating area, we honored the architect's design request to retain the shape of the original building's hipped ceiling and the original windows of the side walls. While preserving these elements of the original building, we also implemented changes and additions to achieve our desired acoustical objectives.

Specifically, while we retained the original gymnasium's basic hipped shape for the ceiling, we added a stepped configuration around the ceiling perimeter to increase the generation of early sound reflections from the ceiling. In addition, in front of the interior-facing surfaces of the windows we installed vertical louvers made with round wooden poles. This acoustical design element addresses the risk of flutter echoes that might otherwise have been a concern because the glass windows cover a large surface area of the side walls. We also specified window frames made of wood ribbing to prevent the generation of strong sound reflections from the window frame surfaces. This design element prevents undesirable sound focusing on the stage.

Kinsho Hall Reverberation Time

The sound reverberation time in the post renovation hall measures approximately one second (at 500 Hz, with the hall empty).

<<A Delightful Escape from Nara's Summer Heat >>

I visited Kinsho Hall last summer, arriving in the middle of a sunny day during an especially hot spell. The wood interior of Kinsho Hall provided a relaxing haven from the summer weather.

We installed the vertical louvers made with round wooden poles for acoustical design reasons. I was pleased to discover that the louvers also help with keeping out the sunlight on Nara's hot summer days.

Executive Director Tetsuo Kuwaya and Za-Koenji Public Theatre's Innovative Programming

By Toshiko Fukuchi

Executive Director Mr. Tetsuo Kuwaya
Executive Director Mr. Tetsuo Kuwaya

Ever since the May, 2009 opening of Za-Koenji Public Theatre, as featured in Nagata Acoustics' June 2009 newsletter, the theatre has consistently forged a unique programming approach. Recently, I met with Executive Director Tetsuo Kuwaya and asked him to share some of the secrets of this theatre's success.

<<Highlights of Mr. Kuwaya's Career prior to Za-Koenji Public Theatre >>

Tetsuo Kuwaya began his career as a lighting designer for small theatres. Building on this technical expertise, he became involved in the establishment and operations of Nagano Prefecture's cultural center, Setagaya Public Theatre, Kani City Public Arts Center and, now, Za-Koenji Public Theatre. His career spans nearly 30 years of work focused on both audience-facing and more behind-the-scenes aspects of operating theatres. The theatres and halls associated with his name include both large-scale facilities with seating capacities for 2,000 people and small theatres designed specifically for drama performances. Whether large or small, each hall or theatre where Mr. Kuwaya has put his efforts became identified as a trendsetting facility. In each case, Mr. Kuwaya developed unique programming suited to the specific hall or theatre's physical features and the local community.

Mr. Kuwaya says "theatres are places where people can experience works of art in-the-making". His contributions to the programming and activities of various venues testify to this view of what a theatre should be. For example, at Setagaya Public Theatre, Mr. Kuwaya initiated four innovative programs: backstage tours; classes to nurture theatre arts skills and talents; children's theatre events; and "Watch Radio Drama" programs that brought audiences into the theatre for staged readings of radio scripts.

Mr. Kuwaya can recount a specific incident or experience from early in his career that he credits as the inspirational spark for each of these program initiatives. As a young man, he did part-time work at Nissei Theatre and gained valuable knowledge from the theatre veterans who mentored him. This experience inspired the theatre-run theatre arts classes he initiated. He includes programming designed specifically for children because, as a child, a play staged at his elementary school played colorful lights on a drop curtain, inspiring Mr. Kuwaya to pursue training as a stage lighting designer. He became a fan of staged radio script readings after being especially moved by this kind of performance given by the famous Japanese actors Hisaya Morishige and Tetsuya Takeda at the cultural center in Nagano Prefecture.

<<Mr. Kuwaya's Programming and Other Innovations at Za-Koenji Public Theatre >>

This background discussion brings us up to the present and Za-Koenji Public Theatre. Of course, Mr. Kuwaya has included some of his above innovations in this theatre's programming. In addition, he focuses particularly on programming especially suited to a small theatre. He began his career designing the lighting effects in small theatres and has now returned to a small theatre space. At Za-Koenji Public Theatre, Mr. Kuwaya aims to instill his principles of fostering a free-thinking approach to theatre that includes repertory productions, traveling theatre, "theatre beyond walls", and educational activities.

Za-Koenji Public Theatre produces plays at the pace of two or three a year and performs the productions throughout Japan. These productions fulfill his commitment to both local repertory theatre and traveling theatre. When Za-Koenji Public Theatre opened in 2009, the theatre produced a play based on Hans Christian Andersen's "Jack the Dullard" story. The production received great acclaim, so the theatre scheduled another series of performances in 2010. Also, because the tale is a children's story, Za-Koenji Public Theatre invites local fourth grade classes to come to Za-Koenji and see the play.

While continually working on these programs, Mr. Kuwaya also pursues the same kinds of connections to the local community that he built for Kani City Public Arts Center. Many public halls and theatres only open their doors to the public when performances are scheduled, but Za-Koenji Public Theatre opens its doors to the public daily. Mr. Kuwaya calls this the "theatre as town square" theme that infuses the theatre's operations.

Together with other Creative Theatre Network collaborators, Mr. Kuwaya plans programming for Za-Koenji Public Theatre and manages the theatre's operations. Obtaining funding for both ongoing and new programming and activities is a constant challenge. Mr. Kuwaya applies his many years of theatre experience to this task as well. He has implemented creative ways to increase ticket sales, such as schemes of discounted, multiple-use advance-sale tickets that patrons can use at a variety of performances and events. He also pursues other ways to supplement the theatre's income, such as a counter where other performing arts venues and businesses can rent space to put flyers about their events and businesses. In these and other ways, Mr. Kuwaya continues to innovate beyond the typical efforts of many venues.

The three stages at Za-Koenji Public Theatre all have very high usage rates. Their easy-to-fill audience sizes surely help in keeping Za-Koenji Public Theatre a popular venue. Nevertheless, this theatre's ongoing success also owes much to the untiring day-in and day-out work of its Executive Director.

To learn more about Za-Koenji Public Theatre, visit the theatre's Web site at http://www.za-koenji.jp/.

Nagata Acoustics Inc.

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[ Japanese Version ]