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July 26, 2006

Luxury Seating, part two

by Barbara Jepson

To answer Doug's questions: The absence of boxes as they exist in the great 19th century halls and their imitators
is viewed by some architects as a way to break down the barriers between what Frank Oteri calls "the haves and the have nots." Everyone sits on the same kinds of seats. (Disney Hall is a prime example of this.) There are no
areas with private entrances for box holders only, and everyone has the same amount of leg room. At Strathmore, in Bethesda, Maryland, architect William Rawn provided an extra 4 inches of leg room between seating rows; he's 6'8", and was tired of feeling cramped.

But of course in halls without boxes, some seats are still better than others in terms of acoustics and sightlines, so you still have tiered pricing. The "democratic" part is an aesthetic illusion, or an attempt at one. I think there is a genuine component of wanting to make the concert hall feel less formal.

As you say, a luxury box need not follow the old, red-velvet model--and it will be interesting to see, with 4 halls
opening this fall in North America, how they handle that issue. For myself, I love the experience of hearing music at a traditional shoebox rnegie Hall, with its red-velvet boxes, old-world feel, and pleasing acoustic, and I love the
informality of Zankel; if there was a way to replace Avery Fisher Hall with a hall that had the vitality, innovation and and generally fine acoustics of Disney Hall my concertgoing life would be complete, at least acoustically and aesthetically. I'm not bothered by the idea that you dress a bit more to go to some events at some concert halls,
nor do I feel compelled to dress up to the max. (But I've noticed that in cities outside New York, people
tend to dress up more for the symphony or opera than they do on normal (vs. gala opening) nights here, so maybe
that's more onerous in the Seattle area.

Here again, we're in a period of transition, and some new approaches to seating, feel, and layout are being tried. I think that's healthy, but I don't know if it would really make a difference to someone who has never contemplated going to the symphony or opera, or who is thinking about it but perceives it as formal and intimidating. What got me there in the first place was the transcendent beauty of the music itself, and that's what draws me back, again and again. That, and the special thrill of live performance.

Posted by bjepson at July 26, 2006 03:39 PM


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