Midgette on World's Best Concert Halls

Midgette on World's Best Concert Halls

By Aaron Britt
I had the good fortune to meet Anne Midgette, a classical music critic for the Washington Post, a while back at the Post offices. Though we talked more about German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau than design, I decided to ask her which concert halls hit the right notes in terms of acoustics, design, and ambiance.

Frank Gehry's Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is certainly a star, though he made waves at Bard College with the Fisher Center long before. Photo by Peter Aaron.

Here's IM Pei's Meyerson Symphony Center done up for the holidays.

Midgette's qualms with Jean Nouvel's opera house in Lyon are many. Not least of which, the rough effects of the grates on the floor on high heels.

Cuvilliés-Theater, Munich, Germany.
It’s hard to know whether this counts as a "new building" or an old one. The original interior of this Baroque theater was removed and put in storage during World War II, six weeks before the building where it had been housed took a direct hit in an Allied bombing raid. After the war, the electoral/royal residence was reconstructed and this interior was set up in a corner of the new complex. From outside, you can’t see a theater as such; inside, you’re in a golden Baroque gem that seats about 500 people. There is no better place in the world to experience a Mozart opera.

Fisher Center, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
Disney Hall in Los Angeles and the new New World Symphony building in Miami are on my life wish list of places I want to hear concerts. But until I get to them, I have my own favorite Frank Gehry concert hall: the Fisher Center at Bard College. Its main theater is that rarest of birds, a mid-sized concert hall (900 seats), more appropriate for so many performances than the great 2,500-seat barns that we usually see. The acoustic is great, if a little live. And the setting is gorgeous: the building sits on the green lawn like a lake or a piece of sky landed from above, captured in Gehry’s silvery curves.

Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas
Stone and glass without, warm wood within, and a signature spaceship-like canopy over the stage: I. M. Pei’s hall for the Dallas Symphony, opened in 1989, still holds up well in international comparisons as a wonderful cocoon of sound for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. It's also the anchor of what has become, with the expansion of the Dallas Museum of Art, the opening of the Nasher Sculpture Center and, last year, the Winspear Opera House, a significant arts district in downtown Dallas.

(Dis)honorable mention:
Opera Nouvel, Lyon, France
This building represents a fascinating use of space: Jean Nouvel gutted the historic edifice and placed a new, womblike red interior within the historic shell, tethered to the outer skin by a web of metal hallways and gratings. Visually, it's remarkable, but it's also strikingly uncomfortable; the architects clearly never thought about negotiating those gratings in high heels.

The Cuvilliés-Theater in Munich is a gilt fantasy.


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