Recession blues aren't heard in nation's new concert halls

Culture may be facing a cutback in funds - but you'd never know it from the way new concert halls are opening up.

Four of them are just completed - Toronto, Baltimore, Eugene, Ore., and Peoria, Ill. New Orleans also has renovated its old Orpheum Theater.

Funding for the five projects totals some $150 million (plus another $5.3 million if one includes the just-unveiled New York State Theater acoustical renovation).

It's an unprecedented outlay of private capital. Eugene's Convention Center and Concert Hall was funded without federal or state help. In Toronto, $4.5 million went into the Roy Thomson Hall. Baltimore's Joseph E. Meyerhoff Concert Hall received $10 million.

Eugene and Peoria are multipurpose halls. Toronto, Baltimore, and New Orleans are concert halls (though the latter will also be able to present staged opera). All five represent the latest thinking from two of the nation's three top acousticians - Christopher Jaffe and Dr. Theodore J. Schultz. The third, Dr. Cyril Harris, was responsible for the acoustical success of the New York State Theater in Manhattan's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Dr. Schultz believes in concert halls which allow the acoustics to vary according to the performance - from a chamber or concert opera to a full symphonic program. In Toronto, as in an earlier hall in San Francisco, he achieved this variation through retractable banners that control reverberation, and by adjustable acoustical disks or ''clouds'' that hang over the stage to deflect and focus the sound out into the audience.

His acoustics have proved fairly successful in Toronto, based on two different concerts there. When the thousands of jersey-covered poles are down, the sound has a nice glow without an obscuring resonance. These features also give the ceiling of this beautiful hall a high-tech look. It also provides the only touch of color in architect Arthur Erickson's ascetic concrete, gray, and silver-gray interior.

The hall seats 2,812 - 1,598 in dramatic, podlike balconies that sweep down the walls to a vantage point over or near the stage, so that no seat is further away than 107 feet.

In Baltimore, Schultz took a less fussy approach that achieved a richer, warmer sound than at Thomson Hall in Toronto. In Baltimore, architect Pietro Belluschi opted for a traditional-looking 2,467-seat hall - though it, also, has sweeping balconies that look something like a school of beluga whales. Few of the typical Schultz trappings are in evidence, except for the hanging disks. In this case they are in wood, to match the front area of the hall. The screw-head-shaped deflectors affixed to the ceiling are Mr. Belluschi's design to break up a flat surface - the crucial need in creating a good acoustic in any hall.

Schultz is no fan of the basic ''shoe box'' concept that Dr. Harris has decided is the only way to get a concert hall to work well acoustically. Schultz finds the oval shape of Toronto's hall highly satisfactory because it permits the architect to design the hall to put the audience closer to the stage than it would be in such a shoebox rectangle. Dr. Schultz also raises a suspicious eyebrow at the mention of microphones or electronics in the design plans for concert halls.

Christopher Jaffe, on the other hand, has successfully used electronics as an art form in his acoustical planning. In Eugene and Peoria, multipurpose was the operational word - anything from piano recital, through symphony orchestra, to Broadway-type shows. The Peoria Civic Center Theater incorporates a sound system in its 2,185-seat hall. At Mr. Jaffee's recomendation, the ceiling is sound ''transparent,'' with movable draperies above it.

The Eugene Performing Arts Center is designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, and seats 2,450. It is basically shaped like an opera house, with handsome sloping balconies, a braided ceiling, and a sophisticated, computer-controlled electronic sound system. At the flick of a switch that sound system will allow the acoustics to be changed from the style of Boston's Symphony Hall to that of a small chamber recital hall. As Mr. Jaffe states it, ''The systems enable us electronically to 'raise' and 'lower' ceilings, move walls in or out, increase room volume and float nonexistent clouds and panels in space.''

Jaffe refers to such adjustments as ''electronic reflections.''

''I can change the frequency response, time of arrival of the signal, and even the gain structure (volume) of a reflection,'' he says. These are the elements that give a hall its sound, its warmth, transparency, and ambience. He sums up his approach by saying, ''the question is to get the physical needs of a hall to match the requirements of the music to be played in it.''

Jaffe was also involved in the restoration of the New Orleans theater. At $2 million, this is the bargain of the lot. Yet it represents an important step forward for the cultural awareness of the city, whose orchestra now has a permanent home of which the city can be proud. In fact, despite all the acoustical details, civic pride is the raison d'etre of all the projects unveiled this month.

Baltimore was bursting with it. Toronto celebrated the opening of its new jewel in grand style, pulling out all stops in news coverage of the event. Civic boosters in Peoria and Eugene are expecting their centers to revitalize culture and attract convention business, and at the same time, to restore flagging local economies.

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