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The Pavilion's Acoustics: Do They Need Fixing?

March 23, 1986|DANIEL CARIAGA

Abe Meltzer, chief consulting acoustician to the Music Center Operating Co. and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, leans back in a chair in a fourth--floor conference room at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center. A diminutive 59--year--old man of alert manner and a youthful personal style, Meltzer seems at once both wary and mellow--like a man with something up his sleeve. Something magical and mysterious. Something like his $3.5--million plan to fix the acoustics in the Pavilion.

Fix the acoustics? Why? How?

A native of Romania, a citizen of Israel, trained as a nuclear physicist in the 1940s, later a graduate in the 1960s of the Rotterdam Conservatory, Meltzer has been a consultant to the Philharmonic for nearly a decade.

What exactly is wrong with the Pavilion's sound depends on who's hearing it. It doesn't seem to please some ears, or to be as good as it ought to be--muffled in some seating areas, too loud in some sections, too brassy in others.

How does Meltzer intend to enhance the acoustics?

With chandeliers, for starters.

"Using chandeliers in the Pavilion is an elegant way to accomplish an acoustical end," he says.

"We should, I think, add six to eight chandeliers, in two rows, not for lighting, but for scattering the sound." He stresses that they would fit visually and aesthetically into Pavilion decor. "In these ways, the sound in the auditorium will be improved as much as it can be improved.

"We are talking improvement, no miracles."

He is also talking controversial corrections in a theater that some observers claim doesn't need fixing. Meltzer admits that the basic acoustical problem for orchestras playing in the Pavilion is the fact that "the auditorium is a multipurpose room, not a concert hall. Acoustically, this is not a bad house. As a concert hall, however, it is not really good."

In January, Meltzer's acoustical renovation proposals were placed before the Board of Governors of the Music Center Operating Co., which runs the Center and acts as landlord in representing the actual owner of the land, the County of Los Angeles. However, the board tabled the plan at that time, asking for more information at its April meeting. The board will receive the formal proposal April 24.

"Let's get this straight," says Ernest Fleischmann, executive director of the Philharmonic, "The acoustics in the Pavilion are OK. However, the lack of a full bass response is well known. It is also well known, and has been since the building was new, that the auditorium is very live--a condition not always negative. Winds and brass in this room tend to sound loud even when they are playing softly.

"Also, we know that the sound, not bad downstairs, improves as one moves higher in the auditorium. It's better in the Founders Circle, even better in the succeeding' balconies."

Recently, one longtime Philharmonic subscriber, Bob Reid of Long Beach, said he and his wife Diane changed their balcony seats to the second level of the loge (one level up from the Founders Circle)--but with no discernible change in sound quality.

During his 14 years attending concerts at the Pavilion, Reid has sampled sound in different parts of the auditorium. "I noticed a wild difference in the sound at different spots in the orchestra section," he says. "Some spots are really vibrant, and others considerably less so." The most resonant spot downstairs, Reid says, was behind the last row of seats. "From there, the orchestral sound just about knocked me over."

On the other side of the proscenium, conductors and performers trying to adjust to the Pavilion's acoustics have widely differing views on the subject.

Veteran conductor Roger Wagner, founder of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, a regular performer in the Pavilion for the first 21 seasons, says he has "always liked the Pavilion acoustics, though we all know the place has dead spots both on the stage and in the auditorium."

Over the years, Wagner says, "there have been some slight changes in the sound in the room--the Philharmonic has always played around with it. Right now, I think we are getting more bass (response) than we used to." In recent seasons, however, Wagner claims, "Ernest (Fleischmann) has opened up the back of the (orchestral) shell, and some of the sound now disappears.

"In this, Abe (Meltzer) and I disagree," Wagner says, !I think the shell should enclose the performers completely. Otherwise, the sound escapes upward, and the audience does not get all the tone the musicians are making."

Erich Leinsdorf, the veteran conductor and a longtime guest on the Philharmonic podium, says that "the continuing problem on the (Pavilion) stage is the fact that the players cannot always hear each other. Solving that problem would automatically fix some of the things that go wrong at concerts."

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