A Performance Pearl

 

Bigger, brighter and much better-sounding, USC’s new Alfred Newman Recital Hall is winning raves from musicians and engineers alike.

Even before the dedicationceremony last January, 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, soon passed the word that the new 300-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,” says pianist John Perry who has performed there several times. Ronald Leonard, holder of USC’s Gregor Piatigorsky Chair in Violoncello, agrees. “Before, you could go to various parts of the hall and hear a different concert,” he says. “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.”
There’s an urgent need for recital halls, according to last year’s “Atlas of Southern California,” an annual trend study prepared by USC’s Southern California Studies Center, which identified “a noticeable paucity of music-specific facilities.”

That’s fortunate
, because the new space is sorely in demand. In the two months between Newman Hall’s completion and its dedication, the music school alone booked more than 30 concerts and recitals there; and the school’s spring concert schedule lists another two dozen bookings.
“The Thornton School of Music has long awaited a concert venue which is designed for and acoustically treated to hold the world-class concerts given by its faculty and students,” says dean of music Larry Livingston, with obvious pride.
“At the same time, we’re proud to offer the city a much-needed new recital hall of such flexibility and sonic excellence. In that regard, the school reaffirms its long-standing and vital role in the concert life
of the city.”

Newman Hall stands out among new auditoriums, which usually “seem so harsh, lacking in any visceral quality or richness,” says Perry.
“Cellists have their own idio-syncrasies,” notes Leonard, who is also principal cellist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “The usual complaint is that the piano’s too damn loud.” Leonard had no such gripe earlier this year at his Newman Hall performance of a Beethoven quartet.
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.

Alfred Newman
, who died in 1970, scored more than 300 films and television programs in a career that spanned more than 50 years. He headed the 20th Century Fox music department, receiving nine Academy Awards and earning 45 nominations — a record only second to Walt Disney’s 54 nominations.
Newman’s original film scores included The Prisoner of Zenda, Wuthering Heights, How Green Was My Valley, How the West Was Won, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Greatest Story Ever Told and Airport. His film adaptations included The King and I, Camelot, Carousel and South Pacific.


 

 

 


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