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New York State Theater No. 18 - Proscenium & Orchestra Pit

“Balanchine looked at the orchestra pit and decided it was much too small. Johnson had not realized that the ballet planned to use a larger orchestra in the new house. Although the pit was fixed in structural concrete, the wall was demolished and rebuilt, sacrificing the front row of orchestra seats.” [1]

“Johnson, in his early design studies for the ballet theater, turned to a Danish acoustician, Wilhelm Jordan. Needing an American associate, Jordan used Cyril Harris, a professor at Columbia University. Johnson's success in working with Jordan and Harris led Harrison and the Metropolitan Opera to choose them as well. For the Juilliard building, Belluschi and Juilliard chose a German acoustician, Heinrich Keilholz. The requirements for optimum acoustics frequently interfered with clear sight lines to the stage. To cope with these and similar problems each architect needed a theater seating specialist. The one preeminent expert in that field was Ben Schlanger, and all of the architects turned to him for advice and seating design detail. Schlanger understood and respected acoustical principles and in addition had developed his own system for designing the layout of individual seats to provide as nearly ideal sight lines as possible.” [1]


Despite best efforts put forth to achieve high quality acoustics in the theater, concave structures on the walls created dead zones, loud zones and echoes but focusing the sound towards pinpointed locations.

"Nobody ever has been in a position to do anything about the State Theater sound, though consultants have been asked for advice. The problem is three-fold. One problem concerns the echoes, which make the sound from the stage and pit seem to come from elsewhere. The second problem, and most serious of all, has to do with the ceiling. It is a false ceiling, and is responsible for a large loss of energy. Singers have to work twice as hard in the theater as they do anywhere else. In addition, the false ceiling traps sound, which accounts for the deficiency in the bass and midrange frequencies. The third problem involves the orchestra pit, which is too small and too deep. A fairly complicated - and expensive - change in that direction is contemplated” [2]

To combat these issues, a renovation occurred in 1981. The proscenium (disparagingly referred to as The Eyebrow" was designed by Edward Meshekoff and installed to reflect sound from the orchestra pit back down to the audience instead of getting lost in the ceiling. The concave structures on the wall were replaced with convex structures that scattered the sound in all directions more evenly rather that pin pointing it.

[2] Harold C. Schonberg in New York Times, January 8, 1981

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