Sound snobs, this one’s for you. Yeah, you know who you are – and you’re proud of it. After visiting a Maison Symphonique de Montréal, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal’s new Concert Hall, this week I can breathe a pitch-perfect sigh of relief. The place is tailor-made for those who believe acoustics can make or break any musical performance. So get ready for a lot of performances of the make variety…
Montreal has been waiting a while (30 years some say) for an orchestral concert hall this acoustically and aesthetically modern – just what Diamond and Schmitt Architects had in mind, creating a building that fits perfectly into the downtown core but with an elegance all its own. The foyers and even the stairwells in the OSM’s new space are all about letting light in and keeping it there – the outside walls are floor-to-ceiling glass, allowing for a great view of the Place des Arts terraces and surrounding big-city sights, a metallic, curving sculpture hangs from the second-floor ceiling, reflecting the light. We’re at once in the middle of downtown’s fast-paced action and in a calm oasis away from it all.
And the concert hall itself, co-built with acoustic-theatrical designers Artec Consults Inc. and engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, really is an oasis: its box-within-a-box structure uses rubber isolators to stop vibration from coming in. Done almost entirely in light wood (primarily beech), save for the acoustic-panelled ceiling, with light grey seating and plenty of fresh air, the hall seats over 2000 people, including the three balconies and a choral area behind the stage (open to audiences when not occupied by a 200-person choir, of course.) And just above the choral area hang some of the huge, asymmetrical pipes of the concert hall’s organ, a work of art in itself to be complete in 2014.
But let’s talk acoustics for a minute: the nine-part system of motorized reflectors is fully adjustable to the size and style of the performance, non-amplified or amplified, with motorized sound-absorbing fabric on the walls to further enhance the sound environment. Fancy. And it sounds awesome.
What would a state-of-the-art concert hall be without excellent programming and talent making it come alive? The OSM’s autumn programming is packed, stand-outs including OSM’s music director and conductor Kent Nagano and Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie (September 13–14), featuring pianist Angela Hewitt and ondes Martenot player Jean Laurendeau, as well as violinist Joshua Bell performing the Glazunov Violin Concerto and, headlining the Pro Musica concert on October 10, is violinist Pinchas Zukerman. For something a little different, pop punkers Simple Plan play with the Orchestra on September 20 and on October 5, singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright joins the OSM to perform songs by Berlioz, Shakespearean sonnets he has set to music and songs of his own.
Two of the world’s most prestigious orchestras visit this fall too: Mariinsky Orchestra of Saint-Petersburg with Artistic Director Valery Gergiev on October 22 and The New York Philharmonic with Music Director Alan Gilbert on November 4 and 5. Plan for the holiday season now as Ludovic Morlot conducts Holst’s Planets on December 6 and conductor John Oliver (director of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus) takes the reins of Handel’s Messiah December 21 and 22.