Saturday, February 02, 2013

Hill Auditorium at 100 years old


Today we attended a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Hill Auditorium, a famous and acoustically "perfect" space designed by Albert Kahn. We remember many enjoyable concerts there over the years, by many famous music stars who seemed to love performing there. Among our memories: Andres Segovia, Vladimir Horowitz, Leontyne Price, Cecelia Bartoli, and our own daughter who once performed there with Michigan Youth Symphony.

The celebration started with a lecture on the way Hill's acoustics work, sponsored by Saturday Morning Physics. The lecturer was Scott Pfeiffer who served as the lead consulting acoustician on Hill Auditorium’s 2004 renovation. We learned a lot about the original design, as well as about the renovation and its goals. The parabolic shape of the interior was invented for Hill, and has unique results in terms of amplifying the sounds onstage, especially those at the focal point of the parabola. The size of Hill is also exceptional among other acoustically renowned auditoriums -- it seats 3700 people, more than twice the average size of a similar venue. You can hear a dime dropped from a few inches above the floor -- as the lecturer demonstrated.

After the lecture the audience was invited to a self-guiding tour as well as to other presentations throughout the day. Above, a photo of the real organ pipes as seen from behind the stage, which one rarely gets to see. They are impressive though the place where they are located is very crowded; we waited in a long line to view them after the lecture. Here are a few more photos from this morning.


The organ was built for the 1892 Columbia Exposition and purchased shortly thereafter by the University of Michigan. This morning to start the day's events, a music school organist played variations on the Star Spangled Banner -- a popular piece over 100 years ago. The same variations were performed in 1895 when the organ was new at Michigan, obviously before it found its current home in Hill.


The organ pipes as seen from the stage are just for decoration. The real pipes are behind the decorative ones, and look completely different -- instead of neat rows, they are almost chaotic and very close together.


The view from the stage is quite different from the view from the audience --



In a dressing room behind the stage they had recreated what might have been there when Leonard Bernstein performed. He gave his cape to the head of University Musical Society as a gift, once, and they had it in the closet --


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