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Carnegie Hall – Isaac Stern Auditorium

New York, New York, USA


Polshek Partnership, Architect; New York, NY
Abraham Melzer, Acoustics Consultant for original remodeling; collaborating consultant for corrective modifications; Tel Aviv, Israel

Project Description

The legendary quality of Carnegie Hall’s acoustics were the result of numerous progressive architectural modifications to the room, including the removal of part of the stage ceiling in a pre-1900 effort to stage opera in the space.

Generations of performances were played under canvas reflectors to cure the fundamental flaw in the ceiling geometry. A curtain above the canvas reflectors eliminated an echo condition that followed a curious path from stage to rear wall of the main floor, back to the rear wall of the stage and then to the center boxes at both tiers. Listeners in those boxes experienced echoes attached to the direct sound.

Another fundamental problem was revealed while listening on stage during a piano concerto rehearsal. Near the center of the stage, the sound of the piano was being so strongly focused by the ceiling that the piano sounded as if it were suspended from it. The focused sound heard in the middle of the stage returned to the ceiling and was refocused back to the downstage area, giving the impression of a double-strike of the keys.

Following a 1986 renovation, Kirkegaard Associates was retained to assist in making the post-renovation architecture better match the pre-renovation acoustics. The echo problems to the boxes were solved by introducing diffusion elements at the rear of the main floor which solved the problem for the first tier of boxes and thick wool felt in the panelized upstage wall to control the echo for the second tier boxes. The introduction of high-frequency sound absorptive material in key focusing areas above the stage reduced the levels of the focused sound without killing the liveness of the stage. The thickness was tapered from 1/16” at the edges to about 5/8” in the most serious echo zone.

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