Something is wrong with the RPO sound in the Eastman Theatre.
The acoustical changes to the Theatre, completed in 2004, have yielded a sonic parody of a great hall, a misguided attempt to make the sound of classical music louder and more impressive, and damn the consequences to any possible warmth and clarity.
The new sound is indeed louder, with falsely resonant upper bass, and a false spaciousness related largely to one dominant delayed reflection. In some seat locations the sound is edgy and even harsh, especially when the music gets louder and more complex. Clarity is lacking, except in the balcony. Even there, a bright edge and residual haze makes listening less fulfilling than in the past.
One Eastman School of Music student, a clarinet player, told me that there is consensus among the woodwind students that it is now more difficult, or even impossible, to focus in on fine details while listening from orchestra seats in the hall, although much easier to hear each other while playing onstage.
EastmanSchool historian Vince Lenti's recent book documents performances by many world-class musicians at the Eastman Theatre during its first decade. There is no record that any of them complained about the new Theatre's acoustics, or perceived them as problematic.
During the ensuing decades, right up through the famous '50's and '60's Mercury recordings, the venerable sound of the Theatre remained unquestioned and admired, except sometimes by the musicians on stage, who had never received much of their sound back from the hall. Ironically, the recent resolution of that problem seems linked to the creation of serious new ones for those who pay to listen.
The 1920's manufacturer's brochure for the Zenitherm wood-fiber wallboard used throughout the Eastman Theatre (in a faux stone look) claimed useful acoustic properties: "The surface texture and composition of Zenitherm break up reverberation of sound. Where Zenitherm has been used in churches, theatres, or auditoriums, the acoustical values of the interior have been greatly increased."
Was any empirical testing done before slapping a coat of polyurethane on the Zenitherm? The new orchestra shell could be acoustically fine tuned at any time, or even removed, but we are stuck with the treated walls in perpetuity, short of hanging tapestries to break up the new glare.
I have little faith that the proposed Phase Two shortening of orchestra-level seating and adding box seats along the walls will automatically fine-tune the ambience toward warmth and clarity. Change it, yes.
What concerns me most is the acoustic philosophy of "louder, brighter, more impact." Such attributes are superficial compared to the music itself, and their implementation at the Eastman Theatre has obscured the music. Emotional affect is being smudged and weakened within a superficially impressive sonic muddle.
Since the renovation, input from end users (that's you and me) has not been solicited. Who will risk telling the Empress that her new clothes are too gaudy?
For a broader examination of this topic, please visit: http://users.ohiohills.com/boblaird/eastman-theatre-acoustics-complete-essay.htm.
Bob Laird, Sprongs Bluff Drive, Sodus
In response to Carl Smith's letter, "About That Village" (The Mail, November 30): while a certain amount of tact would have improved his point, ItaloSavella did make a good case.
During many times in history, areas of the poor and impoverished have served to create not crime but art and culture (such as the Harlem Renaissance). Poverty does not equate with crime; it is a socially created demon. In the 1800's, Italians shared the same fate that many blacks would see: denial of employment, housing, and basic necessity based on race. During World War II, the Japanese saw internment camps and Jews saw the Holocaust. Whites have even served as slaves in history. Humans can be a sometimes disgusting species, regardless of race.
Mr. Savella wrote that the "African-American community is suffering from a colossal failure of parenting and an abysmal lack of life-giving moral values." This has been stated by many black leaders themselves and is becoming dreadfully true of society as a whole. But who is at fault? Who cares! We all owe it to our children to do our absolute best to raise them to be respectful to all races, sexes, ages, and orientations. Anything less is an inadequate preparation for life in the real world, where consequences exist for both their actions and inactions.
"Affordable housing" does exist to the extent feasible. Between taxes, a mortgage, and repairs, the cost of housing is as low as it can be in many of the neighborhoods that Mr. Smith cites. Check any local rental listings for verification. Landlords often own homes not for income but equity. You can cut the cost slightly by reducing taxes, but tax income is needed to support the social services these neighborhoods often require for survival.
Businesses choose not to move into these neighborhoods due to high crime rates and the abysmal number of skilled workers. Reviving these neighborhoods requires a commitment to build up the community from both sides of the table.
It is this fundamental socio-economic flaw that creates the "segregation" Mr. Smith refers to.
Please do not take criticism from "outsiders" as insult. The lack of open-minded and honest dialogue only serves to escalate racial tensions. I can only hope that Mr. Savella's comments were intended to say: "Hey, things don't have to be the way they are."
Peter Kline, South Avenue, Rochester
The Vatican has about as much to gain by banning homosexuals from its ranks as Coke had by messing with its original formula some years ago.
Mark Mason, Oxford Street, Rochester
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