Sunday, December 09, 2012

Zellberbach Hall

Photo: UC Berkeley Facilities

Okay, after two orchestral concerts at Zellerbach in the last few weeks, I'm convinced that it is the deadest, most acoustically dull space I have ever been in. The orchestras in question? Berkeley Symphony, sounding very, very good under Joana Carneiro, and the Philharmonia, under none other than Esa-Pekka Salonen.

It's as though the sound stops right at the edge of the proscenium. You can see the players moving, you can hear something, but the sound is flat; there's no reverberation, no feedback, nothing.

I don't love the sound at Davies, where a big orchestra sometimes makes the hall sound congested, but at least there's a physical sense of the sound coming at you and having impact. At Zellberbach? It's like the sound is hauling itself through a thick layer of cotton, or maybe mud.

I know that Zellerbach has a fancy Meyer sound system, and also that SFO is planning to use one in their planned 350-seat theater in the Veterans Building. I am extremely curious what Zellerbach sounds like without it.


Anonymous said...

I usually refer to the front orchestra section of Zellerbach as "the pit," because that's what the sound is like.

The equivalent section of the California Theatre in San Jose is just as bad, but at least there the sound becomes more splendidly vivid the further away you get, which is certainly not true in Zellerbach.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Interesting - I've been to the California Theater just once, for Idomeneo, and in operatic setup, with the orchestra in the pit, the sound from the stage was fine and the orchestra sound was fine. I was somewhere in the orchestra.

A friend who often sits upstairs in Zellerbach says "sit in the second balcony." I have to try that some time.

Anonymous said...

The sound at CT is indeed probably better in the orchestra section when the players are in the pit; that is what the theatre was designed for. I've heard opera there, and the sound was fine from main floor locales I sat in, which weren't front & center.

Also, the entire main floor is not that bad. Parts of it, further back or to the sides, are fine even for concert music, though as in most such theatres you want to avoid being too far under the overhang.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That all makes sense. And (unlike the concrete horror that is Zellerbach), it is a lovely theater.

Michael Strickland said...

Thanks for saying it. I'm not sure I ever want to hear a concert in Zellerbach again. The sound is so dead that everything has to be amplified, and it just sounds...wrong.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Einstein on the Beach, which was explicitly amplified, rather than fake amplified, worked reasonably well.

I didn't have a problem years ago with von Otter, who sang in front of a shell. Maybe that was before they installed the Meyer system, I don't remember.

Dr.B said...

I have heard Jonas and Cecilia in there with no problems. But then I set in the side tiers.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I had no problems with Kaufmann, can't remember if he had a shell behind him, and I was in the first tier.