Symphony Hall


ABOUT THE HISTORICAL PHOTOGRAPHS Boston's Symphony Hall, built in 1900, is rated one of the three great music halls in the world from the point of view of acoustics. The other two are in Vienna and Amsterdam. A fourth, the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Germany, was destroyed in World War II. The architect was Charles McKim, whose famous New York firm, McKim, Mead & White, designed such notable buildings as the Boston Public Library, Harvard Stadium, and the original Pennsylvania Station. McKim's first design for the venue, which got as far as an elaborate wood and plaster model, was a semicircular hall like a Greek theater. But the symphony's founder and chief donor, Henry Lee Higginson, chose the safer path of imitating the compact rectangular shapes of two halls known to be successful acoustically: the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Music Hall in Boston, where the BSO played for its first 19 seasons. (The Music Hall still exists as the Orpheum, now used largely for rock concerts.) Higginson and McKim also benefited from the advice of a young Harvard physics professor, Wallace Sabine, who was in the process of inventing the science of acoustics. Clients and their architects don't always see eye to eye, especially on the subject of costs. McKim complained that his building was "denuded by … ruthless economies." By the standards of concert halls, Symphony Hall is indeed austere, reminding us, perhaps, of the legendary Boston ladies of the Victorian era who would leave new gowns from Paris in their closets for a year before wearing them, in order to avoid looking too fashionable. The message of the architecture is that the hall is a place for serious listening. It is emphatically not -- as is, say, the luxuriant Paris Opera -- a setting for ostentation or social preening. -Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker, "CITYSCAPES - Organ Transplant", Boston Globe, 8 May 2005

Constructed, Oct 15, 1900
Renovation, 2004


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