Musicians grouch about the sound of Walt Disney Hall

Musicians grouch about the sound of Walt Disney Hall


norman lebrecht

September 27, 2017

Members of the LA Phil say that what they hear depends on where they sit. Percussionist Perry Dreiman says: ‘The stage has 101 acoustical micro-climates. Every seat on that stage is different.’

That involves frequent changes of seating to deliver the best sound picture to the audience.

There’s some interesting detail in this podcast.

Listen here.


  • Bruce says:

    I listened to the whole thing, and it really didn’t sound like “grouching” to me, just a description of what things sound like on stage. The worst part was when the reporter played a section of the Scythian Suite saying “here’s what it sounds like from the audience” [lush strings with rhythmic trumpet figures providing rhythmic backup], and here’s what it sounds like back where I’m sitting” [loud trumpet figures with vague string noises happening off somewhere].

    It’s a little bit like doing a report where an actor explains that they have to wear a lot of makeup onstage (or on camera) in order to look normal for the viewers, and then giving the article a headline it “actors grouch about stage makeup.”

    • Anon says:

      That’s right. Anyone who knows how it sounds int he middle of any orchestra section knows, how different it sounds to the blended sound ‘out there’.
      That by itself is not yet a qualifier for good or bad stage sound. It’s a bit more complex than that.

    • David Osborne says:

      Agreed, nothing to see here, all stages are different. The strangest one in my experience is the Sydney Opera House concert hall, where for a violinist at least you can hear yourself clearly and not much else. Very disconcerting, especially if like me, you are a compulsive faker.

  • Bernhard G. says:

    Such visually conceived ‘circus arena’ stage layouts are by definition complicating matters acoustically. The projection of the orchestra is multidirectional and more random.
    Unlike in conventional designs that resemble more the stereotypical shoebox design, which are basically a stage with reflecting surfaces on three sides.
    Some acoustic designers like M. Toyota also have ill-conceived ideas about stage resonance (among other oddities in their design ideas). Stage floors with the wrong resonant properties then can create additional problems on certain listening positions.

  • phf655 says:

    I am an audience member used to – and in love with – the sound at the front of the top level of both Carnegie Hall (New York) and Symphony Hall (Boston). I have been to Disney Hall twice, sitting in two different places – once at the front of the top level (the balcony) and once, I believe, in ‘Orchestra East’, an area raised above, and to the side of, the orchestra’s platform. Both times I found the sound wildly overrated, with climaxes lacking in brilliance, warmth and presence. I wonder if the conventional wisdom about the acoustics of Disney Hall isn’t the product of a collective’s opinion whose members are isolated on the West Coast, rarely, if ever, experiencing truly great orchestral sound.
    Am I alone?

    • john f kelly says:

      Nope. I concur that you enjoy the sonically best seats in NY and Boston (the latter being a better hall in almost every location). My experience at Disney Hall (one concert sat in two places including roughly where you sat for a Bruckner Symphony) is that it is a good, but by no means a great hall. Berlin Philharmonie is much better, Dallas (Birmingham) is superb and I have a soft spot for Orchestra Hall in Detroit which is wonderful upstairs…………..

      • David Osborne says:

        Philharmonie very much depends where you sit. I’ve sat in many different parts of the Konzerthaus, the classic shoebox, and it’s utterly consistent. I know which I prefer

      • Anon says:

        Berlin Philharmonie is not a great acoustic, the variation of the perceived quality of sounds fluctuates enormously, depending on where you sit. Also it lacks strength, particularly in the bass register, which is why it is a hall that does not help much in getting the ‘goosebumps’ across. It’s good for complex modern music, where the texture of the score requires clarity and less blend.
        By now a most excellent resident orchestra like the Berlin Phil knows, how to make sound in – and with – this hall, but it is a lot of work and needs a lot of extra energy. Some deficits, like the bad balance for any directional instruments or voices on the side and the rear seats, can in principle never be overcome. It helps to have the press and important dignitaries to be seated in the few better sections, very rear of block A and front of block B.

        • David Osborne says:

          Well said Anon, there is also great variability between the back seats. The ones at the back on the side are well, shall we say, particularly crap.

  • Maria says:

    And this is a modern hall, not a 1950s mistake.

    Depart from the shoebox design at your peril, or if you’re feeling very very lucky.

  • Violist says:

    I’ve played a number of concerts (not LA Phil) in Disney Hall over the past years, and from the viola section (inside the ‘celli) it sounds like one is completely exposed, so we had better nail every note in every passage. [Please, no viola jokes … lol] When I have sat in the audience, the LA Phil sounded extremely lush, from my seats right smack in the middle of Disney Hall.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    I think the word you’re looking for is “grouse.”