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Humming Along With Mahler

An electrical problem at O.C.'s new concert hall made its own opening- night contribution.

September 17, 2006|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

Generating a buzz was pretty much the point of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall's gala opening Friday night. But not this kind of buzz.

Under the baton of conductor Carl St.Clair, music director of the hall's resident orchestra, the music poured forth as planned inside the $200-million maple and red-velvet showcase for classical music in Costa Mesa, from the opening rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" to Placido Domingo's singing of "Canciones de Lorca."

But something went amiss during the evening's home stretch, the final movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1, called "Titan." About 10 minutes from the end of the 54-minute piece, a sharp crack was heard in the hall, and when the music subsided to a soft passage, there it was: the kind of low, rumbling buzz you get when your stereo isn't properly grounded.

It lasted several minutes, until the orchestra, playing on unruffled, swept into the piece's crescendo ending.

Some thought maybe the timpanist had been creating that continuous sound, but Artec Consultants, the venue's acousticians, later confirmed that there had been a malfunction.

"I actually heard the pop," said Damian Doria, right-hand man to chief acoustician Russell Johnson. "It sounded to me like a ground fault problem. The ironic thing is that I've been working five weeks there, and others have been practically living there for the past three weeks, and none of us heard anything like this."

The unwanted buzz made a prophet of architect Cesar Pelli, who had said as he entered the concert hall that he would be keeping a watchful eye out for needed tweaks. "I'll be everywhere, seeing what needs correcting," he had said. "There always is something."

On Saturday, Artec technicians traced the problem to a surge arrester that went off when workers outside the hall powered up equipment needed for the post-concert bash.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who listened from a seat near the front, downplayed the electrical buzz. "To open a new concert hall is a hazardous business anyway," he said. "So if something technically goes awry a little bit here and there, it's normal."

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