Even before the dedication ceremony in January 1999, there was a buzz about the Alfred Newman Recital Hall. Faculty musicians and other experts who'd had a chance to preview the space, which was completed in November 1998, soon passed the word that the new 280-seat recital hall is a pearl, unlike any modern concert venue in the region. "It's unique in that it's good. It's very, very good," said pianist John Perry who has performed there several times. Ronald Leonard, former holder of USC's Gregor Piatigorsky Chair in Violoncello, agreed. "Before, you could go to various parts of the hall and hear a different concert," he said. "Now the sound has been evened out. The sound is warm." Before? Newman Hall isn't really new. The product of $2 million in remodeling and acoustical re-engineering, the recital space is actually the reincarnation of the 57-year-old Allan Hancock Foundation Building auditorium. It was named for legendary film composer Alfred Newman in recognition of a gift to the university from his widow, Martha Newman Ragland. The acoustical design was done by the Illinois-based firm of Kirkegaard & Associates, consultants for recent auditorium renovations at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall and the Chicago Symphony Center. Concert halls generally develop their acoustical reputations over years, according to Joseph Myers of Kirkegaard & Associates. But after listening to several instruments in Newman Hall, the acoustical engineer promptly pronounced it "a wonderful, wonderful little recital hall."
It's not only sound quality, however, that has improved in the new hall. The diminutive Hancock stage has grown to accommodate a 40-piece orchestra. An overhead reflector shell and a new lighting system now hover above the stage. Automatically retractable curtains frame the side and back walls. The hall's interior has been strikingly refurbished, with seats covered in light-green sound-absorbing material. The foyer—renamed in honor of prominent arts patron Mary Adams Balmat—was also substantially renovated, with new carpeting, lighting and wall treatments.
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