How does it sound? First acoustic review of the Philharmonie de Paris

How does it sound? First acoustic review of the Philharmonie de Paris


norman lebrecht

January 14, 2015

The author is a former head of music at London’s South Bank, notorious for its inadequate sound. He’s not too impressed by the Nouvel hall. Read Marshall Marcus here.



  • BM says:

    are we reading the same blog?
    “The big, and I guess good, news, is that there is a fair amount of the two really fundamental requirements of the acoustic of any successful concert hall, viz. bloom and clarity of sound. It’s certainly not overly warm compared to the world’s three really iconic concert halls (Boston Symphony, Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Vienna Musikverein). Forget bathroom synonyms for example, but there is enough brightness here to be going on with, and with that relative, but not huge, level of bloom, comes a pay off of epic proportions in terms of some really interesting clarity, and for me that’s an incomparable gain…Time and again though, details amazed me. Big final chords positively erupted into the hall with a reverberation that is still, the following day, an excitement to remember. Yet the pianissimo trumpets in the second half of the Rite of Spring played quieter than I can ever remember hearing a brass instrument at that distance, whilst being perfectly balanced and easy to hear.”

    there are mixed elements to this review – it seems that the hall isn’t fully ready and there are of course kinks to be worked out . but he seems quite impressed indeed, tbqh.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      BM, I read Mr. Marcus’ report (see link above) and agree with your summary.

      • elizaf says:

        Of course he knows he is misinterpreting the report! NL is a professional click-chaser. Good, honest headlines just don’t get the job done.

    • sdReader says:

      He forgot Suntory Hall, the best of all and a serious omission when discussing Yasuhisa Toyota.

      • Pirkko says:

        According to Toyota himself, he made all the available mistakes with the Suntory Hall.

        • sdReader says:

          Toyota was at the start of his career, working for Nagata Acoustics, as he still does (in L.A.), and it was Nagata himself who headed up the Suntory project, I believe.

          No expense was spared; whisky paid for it all! Karajan call the result a jewel box of sound. It’s a fabulous place, of great quality but at the same time not flashy. There are three gardens on the roof, and four adjacent, by the way.

          I think the reason Toyota refers to errors at Suntory, as he has been doing for at least 17 years, is that the rssults there have never been bettered, and it is hard to proceed with new projects on the basis of no progress. He should refrain, however.

      • The Emperor's new acoustics says:

        Toyota and Suntory hall? It was Nagata who designed it, no? Toyota was one assistant only. Credit where credit is due. The same for Disney hall. Nagata died between planning and building. Toyota was overseeing the building process, based on his mentors intentions.
        The halls Toyota designed alone since, Copenhagen, Helsinki, are discussed very controversially and are problematic acoustically, to say the least.
        Nowhere can it be said he is a “master acoustician”, the halls are too controversial and not satisfactory acoustically.
        Acoustics is a difficult subject because there generally there are polarizing opinions, and few educated people, who could actually judge an acoustic reasonably well.

      • Anon says:

        Suntory hall was not designed by Toyota.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Oh, sdReader, why do you keep trying to pretend you are the great expert on everything and anything, Mozart, counterpoint, concert halls, acoustics, anything and everything, when you keep falling on your face with that? Don’t you realize how transparent you are with your casually dropeed pseudo-snobbish nonsense comments? Hmm…

        • sdReader says:

          I’ve attended more than 60 concerts there. You?

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            None. Never been to take, spent quite a bit of time in Osaka, but never made it further north than Fuji-san.
            And what does that have to do with anything? Did I offer an opinion on the hall? No, I didn’t. But you did, in your usual way, as if you really knew what you were talking about, but then it turned out you didn’t even properly understand who designed it. This time I wasn’t the one who called you on your BS, the others here above me did, I am just standing by the sideline and laughing.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            “…to take”? Where did that come from? Of course, I meant “to Tokyo”.

  • Michael says:

    Jean Nouvel didn’t attend the opening because they opened far too early, didn’t respect his opinion and especially haven’t done any acoustic tests yet…

  • Max Grimm says:

    While Mr. Marcus did point out some areas that would benefit improvement, he didn’t sound like someone who is not “too impressed”. The conclusion of his review reads quite differently in fact:

    “…, when the storm over the Salle Pleyel has died down – and it will – then this will be one of Europe’s best halls. And so in the end this is nothing but a cause for celebration, a bold enterprise in an age noted more for anxiety and doubt than confidence and self-assurance.

    The other two Alpha+ cities of London and New York will – for now – only be able to look on with envy. Of course New York has Carnegie, but if London ever needed an argument for having a great conductor and a great orchestra (and we all know who I am talking about) inhabit a great hall, then the Philharmonie in Paris is indubitably it. Well done Paris, well done master acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota and well done Laurent Bayle, the quiet super human who in the end has made this success a financial and political possibility.”

  • Emil Archambault says:

    Mr Marcus says it has the potential to become “one of Europe’s best halls”, and yet you say he is not too impressed? What would it have taken? A “musician’s hall” with great acoustics is not enough?

    If that’s a bad review, I want to read a good one…

  • Papageno says:

    I’d actually be more curious to hear what musicians of the ODP and other ensembles who play on stage think of it (we’ll have to wait on that though).

    • Anon says:

      What musicians think of an acoustic (on stage) is interesting and important, but less than half of the whole story. Ultimately, after a period of getting adjusted to a new environment, musicians have to have a reasonable acoustical environment and awareness of their presence and balance in the hall. But what matters most is how it all sounds out there to the audience.
      Modern halls of the vineyard style have the tendency for the musicians to be detached from what is going on in the bigger hall.

  • John Nemaric says:

    These are great news. A great new hall has began to function. It will take some time to find all its possible combinations, but it will. More important of all will be in the end the musicians’ verdict: can they hear each other? That’s what makes a good music hall. Musicians I know complain very often that they can not hear each other and they hate that!

    Congrats Paris, a new child has been born. Now it has to be nurtured to maturity.

  • Papageno says:

    I’ve spoken with several musicians who’ve played in the Los Angeles Philharmonic (as well as a few other visiting orchestras) that admitted they can’t stand playing in Walt Disney Concert Hall since nobody can hear one another on stage.

    “Master acoustician” Yasuhisa Toyota was also responsible for that one. That’s why I’m interested in what musicians will have to say about the Philharmonie de Paris.

    • Pirkko says:

      And in Helsinki’s Musiikkitalo everyone can hear everything on stage, it is said. That was by Toyota, too.

      • Paavo says:

        Yes, in Helsinki’s Musiikkitalo musicians can hear each other quite well, but in the audience aural perception varies very much. Soft music and soft orchestral solos are clear. When the volume increases, trouble begins: compressed and lifeless dynamics, lack of brilliance, lack of high harmonics, all depending heavily on the directivity pattern of the instruments. Indeed, that was by Toyota, too.

        • Anon says:

          Apparently Toyota made himself a name by taking credit for his mentor Nagata’s designs and knowing how the business runs. If he makes musicians, particularly chief conductors of future concert halls, and all the other political decision makers, who have no clue about acoustics, feel that he is the wizard who can do it, then they will give him the job. Who cares what the audience needs. The audience has no saying in the process.
          If you think conductors know much about acoustics, that’s not the case too. Conductors in general have a good understanding how an orchestra should sound when they are standing on stage. But how that translates to the majority of the audience is a very different matter and conductors know little about it. Which is the problem with most of these modern amusical vineyard halls.

          Later, when all the money has been spent, it will be politically prudent to protect the image of the hall and critical voices will be suppressed. It happened in Copenhagen, in Helsinki, it will happen in Paris, and it will happen in Hamburg.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Conductors don’t know how sound unfolds in a hall because they have never been to a concert or opera performance as a listener themselves? I would say that’s total nonsense.

  • Marshall Marcus says:

    Many thanks for all the very good points above by everyone who has commented on my article at . In particular, one thing that my review did not mention, but which is vital, is, as John Nemaric says, what do the musicians feel about the ability to hear others whilst playing? And in answering that question, it’s unlikely that we will have an accurate response for a while, as the following piece about Nouvel’s boycott of the opening concert shows. It’s a case of what the hall will become as well as what it now is:

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Calling London an alpha+ city in terms of venues for classical music is a huge joke. It is nothing short of scandalous that over a hundred million pounds was spent on refurbishing that city’s Royal Festival Hall only to find that you can now hear all the trains rumbling across the Hungerford Bridge more clearly than before. The Barbican is a venue which most fastidious musicians abhor, and no wonder the LSO is finding it difficult to get Simon Rattle to commit to them. As for the Royal Albert Hall, it’s like hearing any performance through multiple sheets of gauze. Lucerne, Luxemburg, Copenhagen, Valencia and come 2017 Hamburg with far, far smaller populations than Europe’s biggest city have world-class concert-halls. London doesn’t have a single one (if you discount the far too small Wigmore Hall), and not a single one of the philistine caste of current British politicians is prepared to stand up and fight for the new hall that London so badly needs.

    • Marshall Marcus says:

      Alexander, my Alpha+ ranking for New and London was not intended as a classical music venue rating. Far from it (although I can see how it might have looked like that). And in fact it is not my ranking. It comes from the Globalization and World Rankings Research Institute as a general measure of world cities: Interestingly London and New York come out as the only 2 Alpha++ cities in the world. My point was the contrary: as leading world cities, they are lagging behind the likes of Paris following the opening of a hall like the Philharmonie.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        Thank you for making your original intentions clear.

      • NYMike says:

        Besides NY’s Carnegie (near the top acoustically), we’ll have to wait to see/hear what happens to Fisher Hall (to be renamed) after its 2019 reconstruction. Hope springs eternal…..

  • John Borstlap says:

    Why are modern concert halls so UGLY and look like star trek convention halls?

    One of the functions (!) of a concert hall is to create an atmosphere, different from daily life, to prepare the visitor for the musical experiences awaiting them.

    • Dave T says:

      Daily life for you is going to Star Trek conventions? Hmm… must be nice to have all that free time.
      As for the Paris hall, based on a few photos, I find it thrilling. One never knows, of course, until actually being in the space. Photos are never sufficient.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Not all old concert halls look great, at least not to my eyes. The Goldener Saal at the Musikverein in Vienna for me is just too golden, too kitschy, too 19th century bourgeoisie showing off their wealth. I find a more sombre and laid back design preferable, in new as well as in old halls.

  • PGynt says:

    Have a look at Copenhagen’s new hall, also Nouvel-designed. Stunning.

  • Anon says:

    It is a huge irony, that these halls with audience all around them, these vineyard halls that started with the Berlin Philharmonie, were built with the architect’s idea to create a more democratic and equal experience for the audience. But in reality these halls are the most undemocratic and aristocratic ones.

    Why? Because they have more seats that have bad acoustics than conventional shoebox halls, and only the very expensive seats have decent acoustics. So the public is segregated more than ever.

    Unless all you understand is visuals. Now did I say architects had an idea… Oh well…

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      No, the majority of seats in the Philharmonie have very good acoustics. I have lived in Berlin for a long time, went to probably hundreds of concerts there, sat everywhere in the hall. It is counterintuitive, but the layout of the hall works amazingly well.

  • Acoustician says:

    The acoustic design company for this hall, Marshall Day, describes the project in their website:

    Interesting bit from the technical design brief:
    the requirement to provide ‘high clarity with ample reverberation”.

    Who wrote that design brief? They make it sound as if there can’t be enough clarity, which is of course not so. A good concert hall has a good balance of clarity vs blend for the intended mainstream repertoire. Too much clarity is not desirable, as is too little of it.

    And is this seriously the design brief? Because now lawyer could sue a designer who didn’t deliver, based on such a blurry esoteric description.

    • sdReader says:

      Interesting. Is clarity the opposite of blend? I never imagined that.

      I do understand that a 2-second reverb, uniform across the sound spectrum (low Hz to high Hz), is considered optimal. Also unachievable!

  • Tremaine says:

    Papageno says: I’ve spoken with several musicians who’ve played in the Los Angeles Philharmonic (as well as a few other visiting orchestras) that admitted they can’t stand playing in Walt Disney Concert Hall since nobody can hear one another on stage.

    Oh, really? Since that hall opened over 10 years ago, I’ve read and heard nothing but praise for that space. My own perceptions of the sound experienced live from within and heard in recordings bring nothing but a smile to my face. So what you’re implying would be actually rather controversial, unusual and even an outlier.

    By contrast, the acoustics of Carnegie Hall strike me as being overrated, and although the sound in the Concertgebouw, Musikverein and Boston Symphony is better, it’s not necessarily “all that,” which Marshall Marcus seems to suggest in his review where he compares and contrasts those halls with the new place designed by Jean Nouvel in Paris.

    Speaking of which, I don’t know why Norman Lebrecht characterizes Marcus’s critique as negative. Perhaps Norman is offended and resentful (even though he’d be the first to sniff at the quality of the concert halls in London) when the writer proclaims “the other two Alpha+ cities of London and New York will – for now – only be able to look on with envy.”

  • Neil Thompson Shade says:

    The architect is Jean Nouvel, with the acoustic design led by Marshall Day Acoustics. The design brief was provided by Kahle Acoustics of Brussels. Nagata Acoustics served as personal advisor to Jean Nouvel.

  • Nydo says:

    I have heard the same criticisms of Walt Disney Hall from one of the members of the LA Philharmonic, with the additional information that there are dead spots on stage where the musicians have to work incredibly hard to be heard out in the hall.

  • Nicholas Edwards says:

    I am attending a concert at the Paris Philharmonie on 19th Feb 2016 to listen to the hall.

  • Nicholas Edwards says:

    We attended a concert in the new Philharmonie Paris, and were surprised to find so many seats located behind and beside the orchestra. Not one of these seats, nor even the ones in front of the platform, has good sightlines to the orchestra.

    The form of hall adopted for the Philharmonie is closer to the steep rake of the anatomical theatre than that of a concert hall. Every seat looks down on the orchestra, with many seeing less than 50% of the concert platform.

    While the audience should envelop the orchestra, just as sound should envelop the listener, the concert hall evolved from a flat floored room with a raised platform at a “sending end”. The reflective surfaces around the platform collect the different timbres radiated by instruments in all directions and deliver them to the audience in the body of the concert hall.

    If the orchestra is placed in the geometric centre of the audience, listeners behind and beside the orchestra receive sounds they should not, such as sound direct from the bells of the horns. Also, these audience members absorb some of the sound that would otherwise be reflected to give the audience in the body of the hall the full timbre of the instruments. Listeners in these seats have a compromised acoustic and their sound absorption reduces the overall quality of the sound for everyone.

    The concert hall of the twenty first century should not be a slavish copy of the great nineteenth century halls, but neither should it be modelled on the seventeenth-century anatomical theatre. It should respect the laws of physics that create a great acoustic while providing a new architectural interpretation.

    (I am an acoustical designer of concert halls, opera houses and theatres. I designed Symphony Hall Birmingham, the Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, Philharmonic Hall in Omsk, Siberia and the Royal Opera House in Muscat).

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      I thought the Philharmonie de Paris was more obviously modeled on the one in Berlin than on the “anatomical theater”. I haven’t been to the former though, have only seen it in pictures, but I have heard literally hundreds of concerts in the latter. And, counter-intuitive as it may be, overall it works really well, and you can also see very well from most seats. I think that is important, too.

    • Mr Bartok says:

      “Acoustics is a difficult subject because there generally there are polarizing opinions, and few educated people, who could actually judge an acoustic reasonably well.”

      Reading this months later, is fascinating after brexit, the deepening EU financial crisis and the sheer scale of folly that socialists do best -as Thatcher said “socialism works fine spending other people’s money until it eventually runs out”.

      Acoustics is NOT difficult, it’s a well studied science.
      I can’t think for the life of me why they didn’t use home grown specialists who worked for CNRS, such as the one who made the monumentally successful “roque d’Anteron”.

      Compared with the “Roque” and Grange de Meslay, privately financed, this giant public “pump and dump”, hall in Paris is another white elephant high up on the “socialist richter scale”.

      One thing you can be 100% sure of:-

      Any hall which gets critical acclaim (St Petersburg springs to mind) is either being deliberately “pumped” and is usually pretty lousy or ergonomically disastrous, or has a pretty big interest group behind linked to the media, justifying their vast waste of precious resources, which could be much better directed to educating young people ACTUALLY to GO to said concerts.

      Maybe at that price FOR FREE, like it used to be for students.

      Interesting to read first hand Nicholas Edwards.
      I can remember large numbers of concert halls in China, where thye have limitless resources.
      Clearly it’s not good enough, because like the Europeans with their “digitally destroyed hearing” they have no idea what constitutes a good sounding hall.

      JUST ONE sticks out in my mind as being “relatively correct”, and even then…
      Oriental Art Center (Shanghai)